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A New American Family: Finding a home in San Diego

Ivy Gordon | California, United States

Arriving at the airport after entering the US in Los Angeles, Sally greets the children with our small gifts.

A New American Family: Finding a home in San Diego

Since 1975 California has resettled over 732,000 refugees. With four resettlement agencies and a diverse group of deeply rooted immigrant communities, over 85,000 refugees have found a home in San Diego during this time. In 2016 the US admitted a total of 85,000 refugees and 3600 settled in San Diego. Despite overall arrival numbers in 2017 dropping by more than half from the previous year, San Diego County continued its legacy as the California county that took in the most refugees with 1500 people starting a new life here.

Because of their cooperation with the United States military, individuals who served as interpreters for US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan often became targets of violence and persecution, making it unsafe for them to remain in their country. The US government created the Special Immigrant Visa, (SIV) program granting up to 50 visas annually to those interpreters to resettle them in the United State as permanent legal residents.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the government agency that oversees lawful immigration to the United States. USCIS works through partners who then work with community resettlement agencies. The federal government’s objective is for all refugees to be self-sufficient within 90 days.

Through Jewish Family Services (JFS) I met Rasheed (name changed to protect the privacy of his family) who worked as a translator with the US Armed forces in Afghanistan qualifying him and his family to enter the US under the SIV program. JFS provides those services required by the government to help refugees during their 90 day placement period as well as other programs to assist them towards self-sufficiency.

Rasheed and his family traveled for days and landed in Los Angeles. Driven to the San Diego airport, they were met by JFS. Along with JFS my friend and I greeted the very tired family and gave toys to the three children. They were driven to a relative's home where they stayed for two weeks while their apartment was rented and furnished for them by JFS. We met them again on move-in day. The next 90 days was occupied by enrolling the children in school, enrolling in assistance programs, getting a driver's license, learning English, citizenship classes, doctor appointments, coaching and assistance for job interviews and looking for work. There is a large Afghanistani community in El Cajon and they seemed to be adjusting well.

Note: The annual number of refugee visas has been cut in each of the following years by the Trump administration and only 11,814 total in the US were resettled in 2020.

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