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Resettlement agencies, immigrants urge Trump to keep U.S. open to refugees

Local resettlement organizations and supporters praised the contributions of refugees in Western New York, and appealed to President Trump not to stem their admittance into the region and the country.

The Friday news conference was prompted by a report in Politico that said Trump was considering eliminating all refugee resettlement programs, beginning next year.

"We have seen thousands of refugees and immigrants – new Americans – start up businesses and create jobs," said Niagara Council Member David Rivera. "Our classrooms are full of culture, our neighborhoods are full of festivals that reflect the diversity in this beautiful city.

"So when we hear they are looking to cut, reduce, zero the amount of new immigrants coming to this country, it is shocking," Rivera said. "The United States has always been a place for new Americans."

Nearly 40,000 refugees around the world have been approved and are waiting to come into the United States. The potential change in policy comes at a time when the Trump administration is already being soundly criticized for not doing more to address the largest humanitarian refugee crisis since World War II.

New York State resettles the third-largest number of refugees in the country, and Buffalo resettles the largest number of refugees in the state.

"Sadly, state arrival numbers have fallen markedly over the last three years, dropping by about 80 percent since 2016," said Eva Hassett, executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo. "Buffalo, the City of Good Neighbors, has enormous capacity to help people, and enormous capacity to welcome refugees. We are ready, willing and able, and we do not want to stop."

The news conference was held in a room at the Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Assistance Program on Herkimer Street.

Immaculee Mukshimana, a student at Lafayette High School who came with family members to the U.S. from Congo to escape violence and who has dreams of being a doctor, worries other family members will be prevented from coming here.

Kham Sian, who resettled from Burma and is pursuing a degree in public administration at SUNY Buffalo State, praised the opportunities for work and education he has found in Buffalo. Sian said Nikola Tesla, who came to the U.S. from what is now Croatia, is his inspiration.

"Nikola Tesla was not an America-born scientist, but he had an opportunity in America and he changed the world," Sian said.

Gamileh Jamil, upstate director of advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition, said there were positive lessons to be learned from growing up as a Yemeni in South Buffalo.

"We were never different," Jamil said. "We knew the most beautiful people. It was amazing how people took my mom in like a sister, and I think that's what we have to do as a community. Take down this wall of fear, and say, 'Let me have coffee with this person.' This is how I grew up."

Molly Carr, president and chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County, one of Buffalo's four resettlement agencies, urged people to speak up and call elected officials.

"We still have the opportunity to make sure our voices are heard," Carr said.

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