Vermont Congressman Peter Welch held a roundtable discussion in Winooski this morning with refugees and immigrants who have settled in the Burlington area. The Democrat wanted to learn about their challenges during the resettlement process and what contributions they feel they are making to their new home. The roundtable comes at a time of national debate over immigration policy.
In the wake of President Donald Trump signing an Executive Order banning immigrants from seven countries, a high level of angst arose among immigrant communities across the region. Some near the border in northern New York and Vermont are crossing into Canada.
“I am Muslim.”
RCMP Officer: “Right now you are under arrest for illegally entering Canada.”
Congressman Welch says he was appalled for several reasons when the president signed the immigration ban. “We welcome refugees. Second the target of that executive order really was Muslims. And this country is based on religious freedom and it’s something that has been, I think, a strength of this country. And I was very pleased that the court, our courts, said that the President’s executive order in fact was in violation of the Constitution. Third security is a valid issue. But the vetting process is very significant.”
Vermont’s sole congressman met with 11 refugees in Winooski Friday morning to hear about their experiences during the resettlement process. Most stated that immigrants want to become a part of the community and find work.
Thato Ratsebe is from Botswana and now works for the Association of Africans Living in Vermont. She finds that most refugees need help when they resettle. “As you all know most people who come here as refugees come from really terrible situations where they need sometimes long-term help in terms of processing what they may have gone through throughout their stay in the refugee camps.”
Among those who found their way to Vermont after living in a refugee camp is Lalit Adhikari. “My dad was like put in prison and they forced us to leave the country. So we came in Nepal in 1992 and stayed there in refugee camp for 17 years.”
Welch: “Wait, you lived in a refugee camp…”
Lalit: “…camp for 17 years.”
Lalit: “There were like 18,000 people and where I did my schooling up to grade 10. And I went outside to do my higher educations. And then I did my degrees in physics. Still the Burmese government did not want us to bring us back to country so we finally got an opportunity to come to the United States.”
Ali Dieng is originally from Mauritania and grew up in Senegal. He came to the U.S. as an immigrant and settled in Vermont in 2008. He works for the Burlington School District and says it’s important for immigrants to be engaged in the community. “If you are refugee or immigrant we should not just go for work and come back to our families. No. We should be part of this community, know what is going on and also share our culture. So as part of that I am also the band manager Africa Jamono which is an African drumming and dance. So we provide many services even in New England to just show, raise awareness of our culture through arts, music, cultural art display etc.”
Refugees agreed that immigrants are important because they bring diversity and connect the region to the global community.