Buffalo residents who came to the region as refugees and representatives of agencies who support local resettlement efforts gathered Friday to rally and urge the greater public to speak out in opposition to a reported proposal by the Trump Administration to reduce - or even zero out - refugee admissions next year.
Politico first reported Thursday of an idea to sharply reduce or fully eliminate refugee admissions in 2020.
This year, through the nation's refugee resettlement program, 30,000 refugees have been admitted into the country while an additional 40,000 have been approved for resettlement.
Advocates for refugees in Buffalo say the nation's resettlement program has the capacity to bring in up to 95,000 people each year. Representatives of the Western New York Refugee and Asylee Consortium hosted a rally Friday inside the Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Assistance Program's facilities on Buffalo's West Side.
In addition to Catholic Charities of Buffalo, the Consortium includes the agencies International Institute of Buffalo, Jericho Road Community Health Center, Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County and Journey's End Refugee Services.
Eva Hassett, executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo, says refugees and immigrants have made a noticeable impact on the local economy and community.
"Employers find good employees. K through 12 schools and colleges and universities find excellent students. Many STEM students are immigrants and refugees," Hassett said. "Refugees and immigrants are entrepreneurs, starting a significant number of businesses of all sizes, from Grant Street to Broadway to downtown. Neighborhoods are revitalized and vibrant. Festivals and cultural celebrations teach us about new places and traditions. All our lives are richer. Buffalo truly is a global city."
It's also a city that, advocates say, depends on the continued arrival of refugees and immigrants. While the area's population has measured a small increase, those who serve refugees say without the influx of immigrants the population numbers would show the continued decline Buffalo has seen for decades.
The fear among refugees that have settled is that loved ones seeking entry through the same process will continue to be separated. Immaculee Mukshimana, who arrived in Buffalo from Congo last year, is awaiting her brother's resettlement.
"Through the system we are able to get school, get jobs and begin to integrate into American life," she read from her written notes. "Our lives are now stable and we are safe."
Jessica Lazarin, director of the City of Buffalo's Office of New Americans, pointed out that a zero-out policy would jeopardize the safety of many Iraqis who are assisting the U.S. military in operations overseas. That concern, according to Politico's report, was also shared by officials within the Department of Defense.
Others who have come to Buffalo from violence or political strife elsewhere say that by being allowed to tap into the offerings available in America, they could one day help give back to their homelands.
"A bundle of belongings isn't the only thing a refugee brings to a new country," said Gamileh Jamil of the New York Immigration Coalition. "Einstein was a refugee. Imagine this great nation without refugees or immigrants."
Or migrant workers and asylees, Jamil added.
Kham Sian came to Western New York from Burma in 2008 and acknowledged another immigrant who proved important contributions to science, when he worked in Western New York in the late 19th Century.
"Among many scientists, I like to look at Nikola Tesla because he's my inspiration," Sian said. "He is not the American-born scientist, but he got an opportunity in America. He changed the world. The world is depending on us, so someday we believe we will be like him."