NH refugee resettlement has a voice, face at hearing
CONCORD -Dr. Sarah Alier of Manchester told senators Tuesday she wants the opportunity to become a doctor again.
'We are re-dreaming. Our opportunity to re-dream is here in America,' Alier told the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee. 'I don't want to weep again, I don't want to cry. I want to rebuild the world.'
Alier told the committee she fled Sudan because her father, 'who sat in a good seat like you,' opposed the bad things the country was doing.
Alier spoke in opposition to House Bill 1405, which would allow a community to institute up to a year-long moratorium on refugee resettlement.
House Bill 1405 passed the House on a 190-109 vote last month, although the House Municipal and County Government Committee voted to kill the bill 15-1.
On Tuesday, the Senate committee chairman, Sen. Jack Barnes, R-Raymond, urged resettlement agencies to work with Manchester officials to foster better communications, which he hinted could mean the bill would not be needed.
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas has long urged a moratorium on the resettlement program, saying the city and the refugees need an opportunity to catch their breath so that refugees can be successful.
He blamed much of the problems on the resettlement agencies, which provide support for up to nine months, but leave most refugees unprepared to obtain jobs and become productive, he said.
Gatsas has met with state and federal resettlement officials, as well as the agencies, but believes most of his efforts to slow down the process have 'fallen on deaf ears.'
'As mayor, I never know when someone is coming to the city of Manchester,' he said.
But William J. Gillett, chairman of the board of directors for the International Institute of New England, the resettlement agency for Manchester, said much of the resettlement in Manchester has been reuniting core Bhutanese and Iraqi families.
Most of the refugees come with strong language skills, he noted. 'They come here for opportunity. They don't get that opportunity if they don't arrive,' he said.
There has been a considerable slowing of the number of refugees resettled in Manchester, said Gillette, who lives in the city. 'The system works, but it's not perfect,' he said.
He noted that last year $2.5 million in federal and private money flowed into Manchester directly and indirectly for the resettlement program, $1.5 million from the institute.
A moratorium would slow funding, and refugees with family in Manchester might be resettled in another city, but would likely move to Manchester anyway but without the money through the federal program, Gillett said.
Committee member Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, asked how much notice the city is given when refugees are sent to Mancheseter, and Gillett said the health department and school district are notified.
'We don't receive much notice ourselves,' he said, and acknowledged the mayor's office is not notified as refugees arrive all year long.
Barnes said if the agency and the mayor could get together maybe 'some good could come of this.'
Gillett said he has made efforts. Earlier Gatsas said he would continue to reach out to the agency.
Lutheran Social Services also resettles refugees in New Hampshire. Refugees are re-settled in 14 communities throughout the state. University of New Hampshire School of Law professor Albert 'Buzz' Scheer told the Senate committee, as he did the House committee, that the bill as proposed is unconstitutional, because it would segregate one class of residents, prevent residents moving from one state to another and cannot supersede federal law that governors the program.
Along with Alier, several refugees told of their plight and how they came to New Hampshire and the opportunities provided.
Mukhtar Idhow of Manchester, who works with the Organization for Refugee and Immigration Services, said his mother and brother still remain in refugee camps.
Idhow said the family had to flee Somalia and his mother has been in a refugee camp for 20 years.
He said he can now support her and share with her the rest of her life.
Manchester Reps Pat Long and Win Hutchinson supported the bill, but Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, opposed it.
'This is a country of immigrants. That is something we should consider,' D'Allesandro said. 'If we close the door, we close the door to something that has been part of all of our lives.'
The committee is expected to make its recommendation on the bill next week.