Smile Politely

The Refugee Center helps immigrant families make their way in C-U

The Refugee Center is gearing up for their 13th annual fundraiser banquet. The event, scheduled to take place on March 7th, 2020 at the I Hotel, is sure to be an evening full of purpose and fun. The evening will begin at 6 p.m., featuring a performance by Ricardo Herrera. Herrera is an Associate Professor of Voice at the University of Illinois.

“This is our big fundraiser of the year; dinner, entertainment, a silent auction and updates about The Refugee Center. We talk about the number of clients we had in the past year, what kinds of trends we’re seeing, and the issues that seem to be crucial right now,” says Lisa Wilson, the Executive Director of The Refugee Center.

The Refugee Center, a non-profit organization located in Champaign, has been serving local immigrants by connecting them to various resources and services since 1980. Some of the services that are available at the center include translation services, advocacy, and many other social and administrative assistance opportunities. The goal of The Refugee Center is to allow clients to attain self-sufficiency and understanding of a new culture and their new home. Many of the individuals that the center serves are new to the area, and most of them are new to the country, so the center plays an important role in the lives of these individuals.

People also have access to family and health education programs, case management and counseling, orientation and information about the laws in this county, and access to community events and workshops. These are mostly what Wilson refers to as “social services”.

Additionally, the center provides mediation accommodation that help individuals with immigration services and help with paperwork, documentation and other processes. Finally, interpretation and translation services are also available at the center, in nine languages. Wilson explained that many times, the center connects immigrants to legal representation, if there is a need for that.

One can see easily that the center has quite an impact on a number of Champaign-Urbana residents, and this fundraiser will help the center provide necessary services to immigrants in the future. Participating in the fundraiser will give the local community a peek inside the center and its daily function, as well as the understanding of all the hard work that the center staff do.

As of late, the center is facing some current issues that have the potential to negatively affect the clients relying on assistance. One issue in particular that the center is concerned about is Public Charge.

“Public Charge is the name for a balancing test that the U.S. government uses to determine if an immigrant is going to be a financial burden on the U.S. economy. Up until recently, the test was focused on the petitioner or sponsor’s income status. For example, if an immigrant was receiving cash assistance, or was institutionalized for long term care, a totality of the circumstances test was used by U.S. Customs and Immigration Service to deem whether the person would be a “Public Charge” and therefore denied a visa or green card. On Monday, February 24th, a new test for Public Charge went into effect nationwide. This new test considers many more factors, which makes it very difficult for low-income, low-skilled, under-educated, elderly or disabled applicants to be granted a visa or green card. These new factors include whether an individual receives any of the following benefits: SNAP, Section 8 Choice Voucher Program or Project Based Rental Assistance, Public Housing and non-emergency Medicaid. It also considers the applicant’s age, health, family status assets/resources/financial status and education/skills. Unfortunately, the new regulation will force some immigrants to choose between receiving the food, medical and housing assistance they need to keep their families healthy and safe, or whether they want to preserve their possibility of ever being granted Legal Permanent Resident status in the United States,” explains Wilson.

The big fear with Public Charge is that a lot of the centers clients will not enroll in vital benefits based on the fear of being subjected to this rule. However, there are several classifications of non-citizens to which the rule does not apply to, and getting clients to consider their options might be a difficult task.

Though The Refugee Center has a small staff, they still rely on volunteers for additional assistance. The center relies on students to help with tutoring services, Spanish speakers and other multi-lingual volunteers to help with translation services. Wilson reports that volunteers are always welcome at the office.

Recently, the center (previously called East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center) moved from their longtime home in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign to a new building located at 201 W. Kenyon Rd. in Champaign. The new space offers the center much more flexibility to serve their clients comfortably. Wilson states that they are now “in close proximity to other services our clients utilize like the WIC office, dental services, and immunizations from public health.”

Tickets are still available for the event at $80 per ticket or $600 for a table of 8. For more information, please contact The Refugee Center at 217-344-8455.

Photo provided by The Refugee Center.

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