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Message to KY Politicians: Keep Welcoming Refugees and Immigrants

Signatures from this online petition calling on Kentucky lawmakers to welcome refugees and immigrants into the Bluegrass State will be delivered today to lawmakers at the state capitol. (Greg Stotelmyer)
Signatures from this online petition calling on Kentucky lawmakers to welcome refugees and immigrants into the Bluegrass State will be delivered today to lawmakers at the state capitol. (Greg Stotelmyer)
February 16, 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- As President Trump attempts to revamp his controversial immigration ban, advocates for refugees and immigrants in Kentucky are bringing a message to state leaders: Keep the welcome mat out.

Kentucky resettles more than twice the national annual average of refugees. Maria Koerner, assistant director at the Kentucky Office for Refugees, said that refugees who have resettled in the Bluegrass State are being introduced to their senators and representatives at the state capitol.

"I think a lot of times you can dispel misconceptions by just meeting someone face to face that's different than you,” Koerner said, "especially in the climate we're in right now and all the rhetoric and the narratives that play out in the news."

The fourth annual Refugee and Immigrant Day is a way to educate lawmakers about the state's resettlement programs and to brief them on the security screening and vetting that takes place, Koerner said. In the past year, resettlement agencies in Kentucky have served nearly 4,700 newcomers.

Two of the top five countries of origin for refugees in the state - Somalia and Syria - were included in Trump's travel ban.

Research has shown that refugee communities tend to do well once they are resettled. And according to Anna Baumann, an analyst with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, on average, refugees in Kentucky are meeting the goal of achieving employment within 120 days.

"They send their kids to school. They get jobs. They pay taxes,” Baumann said. "They get involved in a faith community. They volunteer. They are our neighbors."

She cited a report from The Center for American Progress showing that 11 percent of Syrian immigrants own businesses - that is compared to 3 percent of native-born residents.

But as America wrestles with questions of immigration, Koerner said those at the center of the issue are wondering if they are welcome here, and if they could be deported.

"People are worried about if they'll be reunited with their family members, because a big part of the refugee resettlement program is family reunification,” Koerner said. "Because of the situations they're escaping - wars and persecution - families are often separated."

Advocates will deliver an online petition asking the elected leaders to "keep Kentucky welcoming” when they meet with members of the state House and Senate. The petition has thousands of signatures.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY