Immigrant and Refugee Round-Table: An Overview

An immigrant and refugee round-table was held on April 13. Participants from different organizations talked about different subjects. The subcommittee members discussed education, health, and economic development among immigrants and refugees.

At the round-table, Bryana DiFonzo announced that Jessica Lazarin, the former Director for the City of Buffalo Office of New Americans, took up a different job.

“In the meantime, there is no director for the Office of New Americans,” DiFonzo said. Before the meeting, Lazarin sent an email, informing us that she will remain a point of contact for Mayor Brown and the community until a new director is in place.

“I will oversee attorneys in the immigration legal department and return to immigration defense work before the U.S. Immigration Courts in Buffalo and Batavia, NY,” Lazarin wrote in her email.

Wendy Mistretta, District Parent Coordinating Council in Buffalo Public Schools, talked about new education programs among refugees and immigrants. In their committee, they know that the primary barrier in education is language, and they are trying to go beyond that.

“We learned from our families that the best ways to reach them right now is by translating flyers that go home with students.  So far, parents are helping each other out with information, taking care of their children and supporting their communities and interpreting and translating for each other,” Mistretta said.

They need more training to become translators and interpreters, and they to connect with other community leaders. “We need more multi-lingual aides, teachers’ assistants and parent facilitators. We also need better ID cards. I know HOPE has cards that say the language that people speak, and we are trying to do ID cards with the names of the kids, who they are, and what language they speak so that when they enter a building they can get some assistance,” she added.

Olivia Gerhardt from the International Institute of Buffalo talked about a new initiative called “Welcoming America.” This program will foster relationships between newcomers and the native population.

“We are looking to first meet separately with native populations (Buffalonians), and then new arrivals, refugees, and immigrants. We are trying to make sense out of similarities and differences, celebrate similarities, and work together as a community on the differences,” Gerhardt said.

With the  “Welcoming America” program, they are starting with individual meetings, then bringing together those two groups and helping to foster new relationships and also to have back-and-forth of cultural events as well. This is in effort to have Buffalonians attend ethnic events, and having refugee and immigrant organizations and individuals attend Buffalo events.

The round-table ended with a good presentation by John Starkey, the principal of  The new Lafayette International High School that is dated to start in September. He focused on different activities that you would see at this school and his role as the principal.

He explained that the school was designed for students who have recently come to the U.S. (4 years or less) from another country or Puerto Rico; 50% Hispanic and 50% non-Hispanic English Language Learners.  Starkey was at Grover Cleveland six weeks ago and learned about the programs they offer at I-PREP.

“Thinking about demographic changes, integration…those are the project-based units that the school curriculum will revolve around. We are narrowing parameters, we don’t want to exclude native-born, we’d love to make it a competitive program and students apply for a multi-language program” Starkey said.

The immigrant and refugee round-table meeting takes place every three months to gather all representatives of resettlement agencies and immigrant and refugee leaders to share and resolve the problems among them.