New Haven’s refugee-resettler in chief invited President-Elect Donald Trump Tuesday to come to town meet the Syrian families who have made a new life in Connecticut.
Chris George (pictured at left), executive director of Integrated Refugee & Immigration Services (IRIS), issued the invitation at a pre-Thanksgiving event held at the Jewish Community Center on Amity Road to celebrate the state’s role in resettling refugees even in the face of national calls to shut down the resettlement program for Syrian refugees.
He was joined at the event by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and some of the refugees whom IRIS has helped resettle here.
George said that he believes that Connecticut has said yes to refugee resettlement because people here understand the issue. He said that in his first decade of resettlement work he had two community groups approach IRIS about welcoming a refugee family; over the past 12 months 50 groups have stepped forward to help resettle families in their neighborhoods. Those groups include the Danbury Area Refugee Assistance and five greater New Haven synagogues: Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel, Congregation B’nai Jacob, Congregation Mishkan Israel, Congregation Or Shalom, and Temple Emmanuel, which suport the work of the Jewish Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement. IRIS resettled 477 refugees, including 279 fleeing the brutal civil war in Syria, in Connecticut during the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30.
Trump ran for office as an opponent of immigration and accepting refugees from Muslim nations. His vice-president-elect, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, refused entry to his state of Syrian refugees whom Malloy then invited to New Haven, where IRIS helped them resettle.
“Why is Connecticut doing this more than other states? What’s so special about this state,” George said he is often asked. “You are probably more informed and there is a tradition of welcoming refugees, and you have an opportunity with this community co-sponsorship program, to do it. We believe that education is key. People who know about refugees, if they even know refugees, they love them. If they know them they will support resettlement. It’s hard to believe that people recently have been talking about ending the refugee program—suspending the refugee program from Syria. Our response is come meet them.”
That goes for President-Elect Donald Trump. George said he is inviting president-elect Donald Trump to come to the IRIS office to sit down for coffee with refugees. He said he invites Trump to meet refugees face to face and listen to their stories.
“Understand why they had to flee their own countries; why they have come to this place for opportunities for freedom, safety and the future of their children,” he said. “All the things that make this country great.”
One of Connecticut’s Syrian refugees, Wafaa, a 45-year-old Syrian refugee, could not speak English three months ago. As of Tuesday, she can say that she’s shared the stage with Gov. Malloy — and spoke to the public in her new language.
Wafaa (her last name is not given to protect her identity) joined Malloy at Tuesday’s celebration.
The mother of four told a packed auditorium that she and her family have settled into their new home in Danbury just fine. She has a job as a cafeteria worker and is working on her English every day.
“We’re very happy at everything,” she said.
Malloy said that there is much that the state of Connecticut and its residents, including those who have settled here from war torn countries, have to be thankful for this upcoming holiday season. One reason to be thankful: The willingness to step up to help others.
“Our state, and much of our nation, steps forward and does do the right thing even when political rhetoric ... otherwise splits us apart,” he said. “We stand up and we do the right thing.”
Malloy pointed out that the United States had recently reached its target of resettling 10,000 refugees from Syria. He also pointed out that Canada, which has a smaller population, in the same time period has resettled 30,000. But despite a divisive presidential election fueled in part by talk of cracking down on immigration and halting resettlement from countries like Syria, Malloy said he doesn’t believe that the United States would turn its back on the treaties it has signed, or that federal policy around resettlement would drastically change.
“We need to do our part as a nation,” he said. “To be here amongst people who ban together make life better for those in difficulty is really quite an honor. It is true to our constitution as a written document as to who we are, what we believe and how we act.”