Last week, three visitors from Turkey and Lebanon came to San Antonio to learn more about how groups in the U.S. are dealing with challenges related to refugees and migration. Although these visitors were accustomed to dealing with refugee populations on a much larger scale due to the influx of people from the Syrian Civil War, they were still inspired and intrigued by the work of their U.S. peers.
They began with a less intense day on Monday where they were able to talk to Margaret Costantino, the Executive Director at the Center for Refugee Services. The Center provides a one-stop-shop for refugees, many of whom live nearby, to find resources. Whether they need help reading mail, getting medical aid, securing good education, or simply asking advice, they can come to the Center and find volunteers and staff ready to help them. The hive of activity that surrounded the Center showed how vital it was to the surrounding community and allowed our visitors to see a very successful, refugee-serving organization in San Antonio.
After spending the rest of Monday sight-seeing, the visitors picked back up Tuesday with a full schedule. They began by meeting with American Gateways. American Gateways provides legal services to refugees and immigrants. They do this by sending members of their legal team to detention facilities around Texas to provide as much legal advice as they can. The visitors were able to hear from a variety of perspectives at American Gateways, including their outreach coordinator, Elizabeth Almanza, who seeks to raise awareness in the community about issues at the border.
After lunch, the group traveled to Catholic Charities which operates one of the largest refugee resettlement programs in San Antonio. Their philanthropic work helps newly arrived refugees find a home, employment, educational resources, and some donated supplies on their arrival. In their discussion with Saghar Roshan, Director of Refugee Reception, the visitors learned about her own personal story escaping persecution in Iran and arriving in the United States. They were also able to tour the offices and meet the “United Nations” that works at Catholic Charities, representing individuals from a variety of backgrounds who have come to help others be welcomed to the U.S.
Lastly, they stopped at MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Here, Fatima Menendez, a Legislative Attorney for MALDEF, was able to explain in eloquent detail the nature of many current immigration and refugee policies. The visitors were really impressed by the clarity and depth of knowledge that she possessed as well as MALDEF’s active role in lobbying, litigating, and educating on many issues, including immigration. It made for an excellent final stop in San Antonio.
By the end of their trip, these three visitors were able to learn from a variety of perspectives which legal, financial, and humanitarian problems were being successfully countered by the work of U.S. organizations. They were able to see the policy aspect, the legal side, as well as the on-the-ground work required to acculturate newcomers to our city. They were all very impressed and enjoyed their time in San Antonio.