On February 5th, 2014, LSG's Atlanta Refugee and Immigration Services team participated in the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA)'s New Americans Celebration at the Capitol! Ten RIS staff, volunteers, and interns educated lawmakers about the amazing contributions refugees make in Georgia. We joined other refugee- and immigrant-serving organizations to distribute informational packets to legislative offices and reach out to our elected officials to share the amazing stories of new and future Americans in our state.
Several members of our team acted as team leaders for the day and led groups of 3-4 participants to legislative offices. We shared personal stories and had great conversations with both legislative staff and legislators themselves.
One participating LSG staff member who came to the United States as a refugee several years ago had the opportunity to meet his representative. He reflected on the experience:
"Using myself as an example, I told my Rep that, when I came to the U.S. five years ago, I received $425 as "welcome" money, public benefits, and Medicaid for eight months. Six months after arrival, I stared working. Since then, we didn't receive any aid from the government. Today, six out of eight of my family members are working. As a new American myself, I told her that refugees are contributors to the American economy--not simply consumers. She seemed well-convinced and promised that she'll support future refugee bills and that she'll also advocate for New Americans."
Other teams from LSG introduced lawmakers to "New Americans" who told their resettlement stories. Many legislators and staff members were moved by hearing firsthand accounts of refugees who have taken long, often difficult journeys to arrive at their new homes in America.
Our goal for the day was to inform legislators about the many contributions refugees and other New Americans make to our state and communities. We found that many legislators agreed with us. One responded to a thank-you email by writing, "It is easy to celebrate new citizens!" We certainly agree.