Among the many challenges that 2020 brought to many around the world, the closing of international borders and travel restrictions as a result of the pandemic further limited the already dwindling number of refugees accepted by the Trump Administration. Prior to the pandemic, the Trump Administration had reduced the number of refugees the United States was committed to welcoming. At the onset of the pandemic, the arrivals of refugees to Tallahassee halted altogether, and it wasn’t until the end of 2020 that new families began to arrive across Big Bend communities. This time, the newly arrived families were coming from Latin America. This was a first for the IRC in Tallahassee’s short four-year history, which has historically welcomed families from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria.
Una Bilic, Site Manager for the IRC in Tallahassee shares her experience as she readies her team and community partners to continue to welcome new neighbors:
“Since January 2016, IRC Tallahassee has resettled refuges from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria. In September 2020, the office received our first refugees from El Salvador and Colombia. Diversifying the population has been an exciting and enjoyable learning experience.
Many of our new arrivals have secured employment and have established deep community connections with faith-based organizations and friends! Understandably, it’s been easier for the office to recruit Spanish speaking interns and volunteers than those who speak Swahili and French, and many community resources and service providers in the area have Spanish speaking staff.
We look forward to welcoming more Latin American families into Tallahassee and further diversifying our community!” - Una Bilic, Site Manager, IRC Tallahassee
One of these newly arrived families is the Gutierrez Giron family, they arrived from El Salvador to their new home in Tallahassee. Santos Alberto Gutierrez, proud husband and father of three, shares the story of his family:
(Translated to English)
“We arrived to the United States with a great sense of uncertainty because of the circumstances around the reasons of our departure from our country of origin. To get here, we prioritized staying alive, learned what things were truly essential and accepted the fact that we had to leave our home in order to survive.
Now in the United States, we have a different perspective towards family, our personal lives and of work. Thanks to the IRC, we’ve been able to obtain the fundamental things we need to begin our new life. Their support has allowed us to obtain housing, enroll our children in school, begin English classes and much more.
Now we can begin to work toward our short-and long-term goals, with a renewed sense of hope towards life and safety for our children.
Our immediate goal is simple, we want to learn English and begin to work so we can achieve self-sufficiency.”
Refugees arriving from all parts of the world continuously demonstrate their resilience and willingness to contribute, belong and succeed. However, for refugees arriving from parts of the world that have similarities to American culture, the IRC’s support looks differently, but remains critical. Tara Catanach, Caseworker for the IRC Tallahassee shares her experience working alongside Latin American refugees:
“Similar to all refugees that we resettle, our Latin American families are noticeably determined to succeed in the United States. They are eager to work, provide for their families and create stable lives for their children. Starting over in a new country is no easy feat, especially when done during a global pandemic. We commend the resiliency of our Latin American families as they work hard to build their new lives in Tallahassee.” - Tara Catanach, Caseworker, IRC Tallahassee
The arrival of refugees from Latin America creates opportunities for many volunteers across Tallahassee who culturally identify with the newly arrived families and who can linguistically support families as they integrate in Big Bend communities. Volunteers provide interpretation services, mentorship to youth and more. Carolina, an IRC intern from Florida State University shares her story:
“My name is Carolina Chiari and I am a senior at Florida State University studying International Affairs and Communication. I was born in Panama and moved to the U.S with my family when I was two years old. I am currently in my last semester of undergrad and in my second semester interning with the IRC. I am so lucky to have the opportunity to return for a second semester. I have made great connections for my professional future as I hope to continue my work in nonprofit after I graduate. I have also made great relationships with some of our Latin American clients and have learned so much about the resettlement process during my short time with the organization. I am very excited for what this semester will teach me and what I will be able to give to this organization!” - Carolina Chiari, IRC Intern
President Biden’s early actions on immigration suggest that the United States is moving towards increasing the number of refugees who will be welcomed. Other reforms that have been suggested by the Administration, that aim to alleviate many of the fears and challenges immigrants and asylee seekers face in the United States, set the stage for the possibility of a growing and diverse refugee community in Tallahassee in the coming years.
To learn more about the work of the IRC in Florida and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Development Manager, JC Torres, at Juan.Torres [at] Rescue.org or 786-325-6257.
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