In March, the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration announced that they would temporarily pause refugee resettlement in response to COVID-19. Soon after, the U.S. State Department confirmed that they would suspend refugee arrivals to the U.S. from March 19 through April 6. As of this newsletter, there has not been a confirmed date of when arrivals will resume, and refugees booked to arrive in the U.S. in May have since been canceled. Despite this update, the IRC in Denver and our colleague agencies in Colorado will continue to provide services to our immigrant and refugee clients.
When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in our community, the IRC acted quickly to develop a comprehensive mitigation and response plan which is now well underway. We recognize that the effects of this crisis can be devastating on the people we serve—in terms of health, economic stability, basic needs, overall wellbeing, social isolation, and community integration—and we have pivoted to respond to the best of our ability.
How our services have been adapted
- Case management: Until the very day resettlement into the U.S. was paused, the Denver team continued to welcome refugee families and assisted them in settling into their new homes, while also helping existing clients to understand how to prepare for and comply with stay-at-home orders. Since then, the Denver team has adapted services to be provided remotely or with minimal contact and appropriate risk mitigation measures. Our team has been working hard to provide the most critical services that are life-saving or life-sustaining and to deliver care packages to clients and ensure that families have the essential items they need to get them through this trying time.
- Health: Our health team has been busy ensuring that our clients have accurate information—including linguistically and culturally appropriate material—about COVID-19, and that they understand why things like hand washing and physical distancing are important at this time. Additionally, our team has ensured that newly-arrived families have access to vital health services and that all clients have the tools needed to keep themselves safe and healthy and address any acute medical needs. When clients have received the difficult news that they have COVID-19, the health team has been there to counsel them, ensure they are connected to follow up medical services and check-in throughout their recovery period.
- Economic empowerment: The majority of the IRC's clients find employment in the industries that have been hit hardest by COVID-19, including hospitality, food service, manufacturing and distribution, transportation, and airports and airlines. Many of our clients have already been laid off or found their hours suddenly and drastically reduced. Refugees who have just arrived in the U.S. don't have access to much-needed jobs due to hiring freezes. Our economic empowerment team has pivoted to help guide clients through the process of applying for available jobs, applying for unemployment and other benefits when they qualify, and budgeting during this time. They’re also providing financial education, coaching, and counseling to support informed decision making and safeguard against exploitative practices such as stimulus check scams and predatory lending during a time of extreme financial stress, in hopes of easing the long-term negative effects of economic destabilization. In addition to continuing services that extend credit-building and vehicle loans to clients, our team is now unveiling highly flexible emergency loans to deliver much-needed relief to those in need.
- Remote learning: Last month the Denver team started to adapt its cultural orientation, job readiness training, and financial literacy curriculum to be delivered remotely. The team also reached out to ensure that as many clients as possible have access to the internet and laptops or tablets. In partnership with local schools, caseworkers and volunteers worked to facilitate connections to the tools needed for children to continue learning using virtual platforms and supported remote school enrollment for more recently arrived clients.
- Immigration: Our legal team has adjusted to provide remote services for clients who need to adjust their status to a lawful permanent resident so they can obtain their green card, file for family reunification, or pursue naturalization. These processes remain critical in the current context, as they offer important avenues for people to access legal protection. Through the Survivor Wellness Center that promotes rehabilitation for survivors of torture, the legal team is also continuing to connect clients seeking asylum to pro bono and low bono representation and has seen a steady stream of new referrals for whom services are being initiated remotely.
- Safety and wellness: The IRC team continues to provide family stabilization services, clinical case management, and psychosocial support services, with modifications to deliver services remotely. These supports are vital to client wellbeing in normal times, and even more so in the context of COVID-19—helping them manage stress and anxiety, and directly providing or facilitating access to services that address higher lever mental health needs. Our team is also working to prepare for summer camp and activities to support our refugee and immigrant youth in their social and emotional learning—whether the coming months mean that those programs ultimately can occur in-person or must be adapted for remote delivery.
- New clients: The IRC is performing remote intakes for new clients, including survivors of torture (regardless of their immigration status or lack thereof), asylees, Special Immigrant Visa recipients and refugees relocating to Colorado from another state as secondary migrants. To learn more about enrolling in our services, individuals can email IRC.Denver [at] Rescue.org.
How to support refugees & immigrants during COVID-19
The IRC remains committed to continuing to serve and support refugees and immigrants during this uncertain time. In fact, many families need our support now more than ever—and you can help!
- Donate to the IRC in Denver’s emergency fund, whether on Giving Tuesday on May 5 or at any other time that is convenient for you. Your generous support helps us ensure newcomers have the resources and services they need to get through this trying time. You can make your online donation here. Give much-needed hygiene, health, and food items through our Amazon wish list. Even if items are out of stock and anticipated to ship in the weeks and months to come, we will still be able to use them.
- Donate grocery store gift cards so that the IRC in Denver staff can purchase essential items for clients and give gift cards directly to clients to help them secure their own items including groceries and medicine. Target, Walmart, King Soopers, Safeway and Visa gift cards are greatly appreciated. Electronic gift cards can be e-mailed to IRC.Denver [at] Rescue.org.
- Take advantage of ReFUND CO to direct some or all of your state tax refund to the IRC in Denver. A project of the Colorado Nonprofit Association and implemented by the Colorado Department of Revenue and the Colorado Secretary of State, ReFUND CO allows Coloradans a fast and easy way to support what matters most to them. Click here to learn more about making a contribution.