Due to the pandemic, the end of the war in Afghanistan, and the Russo-Ukrainian War, Philadelphia is receiving an influx of refugees seeking asylum. The language barrier, lack of financial support, and intimidation of entering a foreign country are all obstacles that immigrants and refugees face when they arrive, but the Office of Immigrant Affairs is actively trying to help new arrivals.
Given recent events, the Office of Immigrant Affairs advocates for and assists those that need help with their relocation. They also work to emphasize the voices and stories of immigrants that reside here in the city of Philadelphia.
Amy Eusebio is the director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs, and discussed resources available from her office, as well as the struggles the immigrant community faces on a daily basis.
Can you give us a little background on yourself and what led you to the position you currently hold?
I am the daughter of Dominican immigrants. They came to New Jersey via family sponsorship. They arrived separately and they had me and my sister here and we were born here. Being a part of a large family really shaped my life. I very much grew up prioritizing family.
I grew up in Jersey City, in New Jersey. I was raised around so many friends that were children of immigrants. I’m an alumni of Temple’s school of social work. I wanted to be a social worker because I wanted to help kids that were having a hard time in school that were having a hard time at home. I worked in nonprofits for about 15 years before coming to the city. I’ve worked with domestic violence and crime services. I’ve worked with North Philly’s crime prevention and wellness. I believe in people’s agencies to enhance growth and that people from the community should work to help their communities. I recognized that cultural nuances were important and that’s something that you can’t teach.
What are some of the roles and responsibilities that the Office of Immigrant Affairs is in charge of here in Philadelphia?
Our mission is to promote the well-being of immigrants in Philadelphia. We implement policies and programs to help immigrants of all backgrounds. My office helps to promote welcoming city policies. All immigrants have a right to city services no matter immigrant status. A lot of people don’t know they have that right, and oftentimes I’m reminding departments of that right that forget it.
All immigrants have a right to their policies in their preferred language and that’s what my office does as well. We help to fulfill language requests for those immigrants and translators. We also help amplify the voices of immigrants and immigrant led organizations. We advise the mayor’s office to better include immigrants in our city, such as pathways to citizenship. There’s about 50,000 undocumented people in Philadelphia, and they’re members of our community working in all kinds of places and can thrive economically if they had a pathway to citizenship.
How has the recent Russo-Ukrainian war impacted your office?
We’ve already been having conversations with the honorary consul for Ukraine. She’s already seeing people approach her and her office seeking support and bringing relatives here who are in Ukraine or people who are here visiting, and it’s not safe for them to go back home. Some of them might qualify for temporary protective status. The refugee process is very long and we’re already anticipating many more to come after Congress authorizes more refugees to come in.
We do expect Philadelphia to be one of the main places that Ukrainians want to settle when they come to the United States. Currently the immigration process is very long, so we’re waiting to see if Congress eases up on the requirements and we’re anticipating a large number of Ukrainians coming to Philadelphia and we’re starting to make plans to prepare for that such as setting up a welcome center for them and helping with the language barrier they might face.
Are there any helpful resources that you can provide for immigrants that are seeking help here in Philadelphia, whether that be legal, financial, etc.?
Yeah there are many resources. I feel like Philadelphia’s very fortunate to be a rich immigrant serving community. There are a lot of nonprofit organizations doing different kinds of work. Some organizations are refugee resettlement organizations. Some organizations also handle legal services such as the Nationalities Service Center and HIAS Pennsylvania.
There are also many organizations that are cultural organizations which is just as important because they help orient people to local communities. One example is Guate in Philly, which supports people from Guatemala. There’s the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Organization for Chinatown as well and the Cambodian organization in South Philadelphia. We also have lists of these organizations on our website.
Is there anything that the people of Philadelphia can do to help immigrants that are struggling?
Yeah I’d say seek out organizations and get involved. If you have financial means, donate to organizations doing this work because they always need support. Amplify the work that they’re doing because they’re phenomenal. I’d also say to follow our Office of Immigrant Affairs on social media.
We’re always promoting what everyone else is doing. Folks could also email our office at email@example.com for more information. We’re also in the process of seeing what it might look like to launch a Philadelphia welcome network, and so we hope to have more formal ways to get involved. But follow our organization, and make sure to support and amplify all of the organizations that I mentioned and do research as much as you can.
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