The State Department hopes to find 10,000 people this year who can support 5,000 refugees as they resettle in America. Under a program launched last week, groups of five or more individuals can apply to sponsor refugees during their first 90 days in the country.

Under a federal program launched last week, groups of five or more individuals can apply to sponsor refugees during their first 90 days in the country. Sponsors are required to raise $2,275 for each sponsored refugee.

Sponsorship includes greeting refugees on arrival, setting them up with accommodation and helping them to enroll children in school, navigate essential community services, find language classes and apply for jobs. Previously, nine dedicated nonprofit agencies were tasked with easing the transition. Now, groups of private citizens can come together to help with the same work. Sponsors are required to raise $2,275 for each sponsored refugee – the same sum paid to those nonprofits by the government.

As we see it, the so-called Welcome Corps is promising in three ways. It gives both definition and institutional backing to valuable efforts to give a leg up to people who need it; it offers participating sponsors access to presumably valuable training, contacts and other supports that are often difficult to access, and it provides oversight and will keep records, meaning the program’s strengths and weaknesses can be identified and acted on.

Reza Jalali, executive director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, pointed out a fourth possible benefit in Monday’s paper. Many Mainers opposed to helping refugees have never met or interacted with refugees, Jalali noted, leaving them incapable of understanding the immense hardship and danger that drives refugees from their countries of origin.

Jalali struck a hopeful note on the immediacy of the Welcome Corps. “This can help bridge those differences,” he said.

If it is, as the State Department claims, “the boldest innovation in refugee settlement in four decades,” that is true only here in the U.S., where we have lagged well behind our counterparts in policymaking and programming that facilitates resettlement. The Trump administration instituted dramatic cuts to refugee admissions and invented new, onerous conditions for the reduced number of refugees it would accept, causing damage to the system that advocates expect will take years to fully repair. Similar programs already exist in more than a dozen other countries, including Canada, from which aspects of the new plan were borrowed.


Simplifying the resettlement process is in the interests of those resettling as much as it is in the interests of the communities tasked with welcoming them, a fact that most of Maine – never far from contemplating its aging population and skin-and-bone labor market – is all too well aware of.

Critics of the program, which of course has yet to get off the ground, say that such a significant responsibility should not fall to personal generosity. In fairness to the State Department, it has framed the Welcome Corps as something complementary to existing and future efforts, designed to become a “feature” of the national resettlement system, not a mainstay.

What is often referred to as “forced displacement” is at record levels worldwide. The solution to improved and expanded resettlement capacity requires more and different hands on deck, and creative ideas that can empower interested people to open up new pathways for integration in our communities.

The announcement used “everyday Americans” and “ordinary Americans” to describe the people who may participate in the program. The private citizens who seek to enroll will be doing something out of the ordinary. Not everybody is in a position to be such a supporter, and many who are may not be inclined to take up the mantle.

As for Maine? We stand to capitalize on our rich tradition of helping neighbors, longstanding and newly arrived, and our very firm grasp on an old saying – where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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