Refugees to America often find themselves starting from scratch, but a new program is offering everyday Americans a way to give refugees a softer landing. Modeled after a Canadian program, Welcome Corps is the U.S. Department of State’s new private sponsorship program for American citizens to assist refugees. In the program’s first phase, sponsors will be matched with refugees who have already been approved to enter the country.
To qualify, sponsors must join a group of five or more private sponsors to commit together. Applicants also must independently raise $2,275 per refugee, complete a background check, attend training sessions and sign a commitment form, as well as submit a welcome plan documenting how they will support the refugees in their resettlement. If accepted, sponsors will be required to complete reports and surveys over the course of one year.
Cecilia Muñoz, co-chair of Welcome.US, said the program is designed to distribute the work of resettling refugees to everyday citizens who want to help, and the program’s private funding model effectively means there is no cap on the work it can do.
“There are nine organizations that for decades have been resettling refugees in the United States, and they are heroic,” said Muñoz. “They do amazing work, but their capacity is limited. So the idea is to honor the great work that they do in resettling refugees, but expand the opportunity to help people as they start their new lives in the U.S. to anybody in the country. In addition to what the resettlement agencies do, so any group of five people that is willing to take the plunge can go through the training, can raise the resources and can participate in the amazing work of helping someone start a new life in this country.”
Alianza Americas and the Chicago Refugee Coalition signed on to support the Welcome Corps’ mission. Alianza Americas director of programs Helena Olea said she thinks naturalized citizens of Latin American origin will want to be part of the effort.
“I think it's an opportunity to learn more about living in the United States from other persons,” Olea said. “It will be a great opportunity also for immigrants to be part of the effort to welcome recently arrived refugees. So I think that is what this opportunity means for many Latin American immigrants who could be part of this project.”
Chicago Refugee Coalition executive director Alisa Roadcup said she doesn’t really see any downside to the program.
“At the end of the day, both people benefit so deeply and so richly and immensely from the opportunity to give and to learn and to receive,” Roadcup said. “Once the first 90 days of supports come to a close for refugees, then there's this tremendous gap in how refugees are going to successfully integrate long-term. The humanity of who these people are, and we know them because we've sponsored them and we've brought them here and they have meaning and humanity to us. The benefit of this program, from that perspective, I think is extraordinarily powerful and really exciting.”
Welcome Corps has set a goal to recruit 10,000 Americans to help resettle 5,000 refugees, and Muñoz said her organization has already received quite a bit of interest.
“We’ve already had 22,000 inquiries since the announcement,” Muñoz said. “And we know because there is a similar program through which regular Americans can help sponsor people from Ukraine during this war, that 200,000 Americans have stepped up to help sponsor Ukrainian families in this moment of need. So the great thing here is that the American people are willing to become welcomers. And that says a lot of good things about us.”