After a historical inauguration January 20, 2021, President Biden and Vice President Harris, a daughter of immigrants, made it clear that reforming U.S. immigration policy is a top priority. On day one, the president issued a series of executive actions and sent a comprehensive immigration reform bill to Congress, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.It has since been introduced in both the House and the Senate. The House also just passed two landmark pieces of immigration legislation: The American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Although they still have to make their way through the Senate, these bills would create a path to legal status and eventual citizenship for millions of immigrants across the country. Additional executive actions and directives have also been issued by the administration in an attempt to rebuild our immigration system as well as the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

As we look ahead to the future of immigration in the U.S., we can’t help but also reflect on the contributions of countless immigrants and refugees who have helped us make it to this very moment, who have kept the wheels of America turning. In a column for Forbes, Stuart Anderson highlighted some of these immigrants on the frontlines of the pandemic—from the vaccine makers at Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna to the doctors in hospitals across the country to Chef José Andrés and his team at World Central Kitchen. "From the creative minds of the vaccine makers to dedicated health care professionals and essential workers, in the year 2020, immigrants helped Americans to persevere," he wrote. The Immigrant Learning Center has also planned an online tribute to immigrants and refugees on the front lines of this pandemic, The ILC Immigrant Heroes Award Benefit. You can attend this virtual ceremony Tuesday, April 6 at 4:30 p.m. and learn about three “everyday heroes” being recognized.

As immigrants and refugees continue to make vital contributions across the country, it’s imperative that they are included in widespread vaccine efforts and outreach. In an op-ed for The Hill, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona), Medha D. Makhlouf, Dr. Megan L. Srinivas, and Gilberto Lopez point out that ensuring equitable vaccine access for noncitizens, many of whom work in essential industries, is "a matter of keeping society functioning during this national emergency, ending the risk of contagion as soon as possible, and protecting the personal and economic liberty of the American people."
Q&A: Arrey Obenson and Sam Moog, New Leaders in Immigrant and Refugee Services
Arrey Obenson
Sam Moog
Last month, we had the opportunity to virtually sit down with two leaders in immigrant and refugee services in Missouri. Sam Moog became the Director of Refugee Resettlement at RIS in Columbia, Missouri, December 1, 2020. Arrey Obenson stepped into his role as President and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis February 1. Being relatively fresh on the scene, we wanted to get to know them better and introduce them to all of you as they begin to settle into their roles and dive into this work with the prospect of busy days ahead.

Click the button below to read the full interview.
AGENCY SPOTLIGHT: Continuing to innovate in the era of COVID

RAISE and IISMO: At the end of December, tragedy struck Noel, a town in Southwest Missouri. A fire destroyed an African grocery store and the mosque next door, and a Somali man caught in the fire died from his burns. A firefighter was also severely injured while fighting the fire but is now recovering from his injuries. Still, despite the efforts of at least six area fire departments, the damage was catastrophic.
The Learning Lab in action at Della Lamb.
Somalia, a predominantly Muslim country, has been torn by civil war, and refugees seeking a haven have found that in Noel, Missouri. According to the Joplin Globe, hundreds of Somalis have settled in Noel since 2009. Refugee and Immigrant Services & Education or RAISE and the International Institute’s Southwest Missouri Branch coordinated the local response to the refugee community. RAISE provided on-the-ground support services for those affected by the fire, providing housing solutions and food services for individuals who would normally be fed through the African Grocery Store. We’re proud of these organizations for stepping in and serving this community in their time of need.

Della Lamb: Della Lamb held its first Youth Mentoring session! They paired up 7 mentors and mentees to help refugee youth acclimate to their new home. Suzanne Campbell, Strategic Initiatives Coordinator at Della Lamb, took newly arrived students to get laptops from their school district in late October. Afterward, Suzanne realized these students would need help overcoming additional hurdles this school year. As a mother of three, she had first-hand experience with the struggles of online learning during a pandemic. So after discussing options with the students’ parents and the resettlement director, they created the Learning Lab. Suzanne was able to sit with each student a few days each week, figure out their class schedules and show them how to access their classes and at what time to do so. Now they can work independently thanks to troubleshooting in the very beginning. Through the Learning Lab, Della Lamb also provides lunch, and students take some time away from screens and head outside during the day, too. While staying mindful of COVID restrictions, they’re still able to get additional one-on-one support and invaluable contact with peers. Way to hit the ground running, Della!

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RESOURCES: Read, Watch, Explore

  • Check out this music video in Kiswahili (subtitled in English) to promote acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine. Produced by AALV in Burlington, Vermont, they’ve come up with an engaging way to educate people in their community and promote getting the COVID vaccine. Come for the vaccine info; stay for the super catchy beat.

  • Black immigrants have contributed to the U.S. as writers, activists, athletes and more. Learn the stories of Black immigrants who continue to influence the national conversation on race and immigration.

  • The New American Economy Cities Index is the first-ever interactive tool that measures how well the largest 100 U.S. cities are integrating immigrants. Now in its third year, cities have started using the index as a benchmark for progress.

  • Map the Impact: County-Level Data quantifies the contributions of immigrants in every county for the first time, in addition to data for every congressional district, the top 100 metropolitan areas, all 50 states, and national-level data.

  • One more from New American Economy: They just launched The Lit Club by NAE, a virtual book club and “living resource focused on literary works shedding light on the immigrant experience in its many forms.” Each book cycle will last 30-45 days, and at the end of each, they’ll host a live discussion between the author and moderator. The first book selected is A Beginner’s Guide to America: For the Immigrant and the Curious by Roya Hakakian. For more information and to subscribe for updates, visit their site.

  • The killing of eight people in the Atlanta area (mostly Asian women) on March 16 underscores the spike of anti-Asian violence nationally. According to data released by Stop AAPI Hate, "nearly 3,800 hate incidents, running the gamut from name calling to physical assaults, were reported against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders nationwide over the last year." If you’re looking for more context about how we’ve come to this moment, this piece from The Atlantic discusses some of the history of anti-Asian violence. 

  • A mother and daughter duo from Iraq have launched a YouTube cooking channel! Aqeela and her family fled Iraq and resettled in Chattanooga before relocating to Knoxville. She and her daughter love to cook, and last fall, they turned this love of cooking into a YouTube channel called Lovely Kitchen. There, she and her daughter create simple, clear demonstrations of both traditional Arabic dishes plus American, Mexican and Asian specialties they’ve learned since arriving. The channel features recipes (with subtitles in English and Arabic) for dishes including awamat, falafel and Iraqi biryani along with pizza, caramel carrot cake and shrimp fajitas. 

  • Della Lamb is looking for volunteers to help them prepare to welcome and resettle an increased number of refugees. A few specific areas where they’re looking for volunteers include organizing and assessing needs in the refugee housing room, assisting in an early education classroom, ESL tutoring (in-person or remote), organizing and preparing the food pantry and more. Check out their volunteer page for more information and to apply.

  • IISTL also has a few job openings posted! They're looking for a Social Worker and more, so visit their career site for more information and keep checking back for updates. 

  • A contractor for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is looking for a Program Monitor to focus on Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA), Refugee Support Services (RSS), and Matching Grant programs. Candidates are welcome to contact the GDIT Task Manager,, directly with questions. Check out their site for more information and to apply.
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