Standing Up for Boston’s Refugees

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By: Jerry Rubin

A few days prior to Independence Day, I attended a graduation of English language students in our Hyde Park program. Students from Haiti, Venezuela, and El Salvador, among students from other countries, celebrated their progress from one level of English to the next and their attainment of new and better jobs. At the end of the ceremony, 20 students got up on stage and sang “This Land is Your Land” in perfect English, with a knowledge of the lyrics most native-born Americans don’t have. It was an inspiring and very fitting kick-off to the holiday.

This week I met a group of JVS students from our English for Advancement class on the T, who were on their way to a community health center and dental clinic to get free medical services. Many of the students, refugees and asylees from countries including Sudan, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and El Salvador, had never been to a dentist and knew how important dental hygiene is to successful employment. I met one Haitian gentlemen who has been waiting for more than six months for his work authorization papers, and though patient, is frustrated because he cannot begin working without them.

These students represent Boston’s greatest hope for continued prosperity and economic growth.  With our native birth rate continuing to decline and job growth continuing to expand at a super-heated pace, Boston employers are hitting a wall. Without new immigrants, there is little question that economic growth will soon be curtailed. Yet, in spite of the ostensible lowering of the refugee cap to 40,000 by the Trump administration, no refugees are arriving in Boston, as the state department sits on applications. This at the same time that there are more refugees around the globe than at any time in history. Rarely has a federal policy been as morally and practically bankrupt as this one.

Last month we celebrated World Refugee Day, and at JVS we kicked off Together We Rise, a joint initiative with Combined Jewish Philanthropies that will ensure that all refugees who have been re-settled in Boston and are stuck at the bottom of the workforce will have access to services that put them on the path to better skills, jobs, and economic security. We are deeply committed to serving the refugee community, despite what our current government says and does, both because it is the right thing and the smart thing to do.

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