On Wednesday, May 29, 2024, the International Rescue Committee in Denver hosted its annual Colorado Refugee Advocacy Daywith an Open House and panel discussion. The event brought together refugee clients, refugee stakeholders, community partners, and county and state legislators to engage in discourse on the experiences of refugee and asylum-seeking populations in Colorado.   

Panels for policy improvement

Apart from the opportunity for attendees to network and gather as a community, the event featured an informational panel on prevalent policy priorities: Legal Services, Housing Support, and Language Access and Digital Literacy.  

The panel was moderated by United Nations of the United States Regional Representative Amy Bryant and comprised of five distinguished panelists, including three State Legislators, Representative Iman Jodeh (House District 41 in Aurora), Representative Manny Rutinel (House District 32 in Commerce City), as well as Representative Chad Clifford (Representative of Arapahoe County’s District 37) and two members of the IRC in Denver Clients Advisory Committee, Bahar Biryia and Fahad Kiggundu.

The panelists and audience discussed the impact of recent policies and those in the Colorado legislative pipeline that were relevant to refugee communities. The state legislators provided valuable insights on the state legislative processes and the advocacy required for effective legislation to be implemented. Members of the IRC in Denver Clients Advisory Committee (CAC) shared about their experiences in the US, including navigating the immigration system, overcoming housing challenges, and accessing language and digital literacy resources. Their stories shed light on the obstacles faced by refugees during their integration into their new communities. 


CRAD 2024

Bahar Biryia, a member of IRC in Denver Clients Advisory Committee member, took the opportunity to share her insights. She spoke about the complexities and challenges that individuals often encounter when navigating the legal system in the United States. Bahar shared:

"The legal landscape in the U.S. can be daunting for many, especially those who are unfamiliar with its intricacies. The system, with its myriad of laws and regulations, can often be overwhelming. This complexity, coupled with the high costs associated with legal proceedings, makes it difficult for many individuals to effectively navigate the system."

Recognizing these challenges, Biryia requested support from the representatives on the panel:

" I urge all representatives present here advocate for the allocation of more resources to help individuals navigate the U.S. legal system. We need these resources to be readily available and easily accessible to ensure that individuals can effectively understand and navigate the legal processes they may encounter."

Expanding access to legal resources

This perspective was emphasized by Representative Manny Rutinel, who underscored the importance of prioritizing resources for refugees and migrants. He stated: 

" Refugees in the United States often grapple with limited voting rights and political power. Therefore, providing resources to these populations is not merely an act of support but a strategic investment in their ability to integrate into American culture and society. Furthermore, investing in refugees opens up opportunities for them to contribute to their local communities and economies,"

Creating employment opportunities for New Americans

Representative Iman Jodeh highlighted the Global Talent Task Force to address career-aligned opportunities for underemployed and highly educated New Americans. This initiative aims to provide pathways to ensure Coloradans have access to appropriate employment. She emphasized that accreditation from a U.S. institution is necessary for clients to navigate relevant career pathways in the U.S., making it imperative to have an infrastructure in place for newcomer job seekers in Colorado. 

CAC member Kiggundu emphasizes the importance of safe housing when people arrive in the U.S.:

"Insecurity around housing negatively impacts refugees’ mental health, social and economic development, and their ability to integrate into their new communities. With limited housing available for refugees, this challenge is expected to intensify as more refugees arrive in the Denver Metro area and housing demand increases."

Kiggundu advocated for Colorado to enact laws providing subsidized housing for newcomers. 

Representative Clifford noted the absence of an ongoing strategy for providing subsidies. Instead of using state funds for subsidies and other specialized housing programs, he highlighted the advantages of investing in community development projects. In contrast, Representative Jodeh proposed that the state invest these funds in emergency rental assistance packages to secure housing for clients while they strive to achieve economic self-sufficiency. One such policy could be to incentivize landlords to provide housing for clients who can demonstrate their employment or education status. 

 Takeaways from the Q&A Session:  

Equitable allocation of state resources was a critical issue raised by the audience, as there were concerns about the lack of adequate infrastructure and capacity to welcome newcomers in Colorado. Representative Clifford and Representative Rutinel explained that the state had been making strides in improving its ability to manage funding gaps for service providers, but it was evident that more needed to be done. A proactive approach was needed, with the state shifting from reactively identifying funding sources to proactively doing so.

The IRC in Denver is grateful for the support provided by Representative Iman JodehRepresentative Manny Rutinel, and Representative Chad Clifford, as well as the members of the IRC in Denver Clients Advisory Committee Bahar Biryia and Fahad Kiggundu, and moderator Amy Bryant, and all IRC in Denver partners that attended for making the Colorado Refugee Advocacy Days 2024 a success!