After being in America for six months, the Al Salibi family of six is settling into a new modest home in Erie, Pennsylvania. The patriarch of the family, Ali Al Salibis said of Erie, “It’s a good place”, adding that whenever he tells people he’s a refugee, they smile and say, “Welcome.”

Erie has embraced so many refugees that this Rust Belt city, has one of the highest concentrations in the U.S. of people who’ve fled persecution. As many as 700 refugees annually have been arriving here in recent years — from Syria, Iraq, Bhutan, Congo, among other countries. In fact, the Mayor’s office says refugees make up some 18% of the city’s population of about 100,000.

Two agencies, Catholic Charities and the International Institute of Erie (USCRI), are tasked with greeting the new arrivals. “I think it’s kept U.S. alive. I think it has kept U.S. moving forward,” said Paul Jericho of the Multi-Cultural Community Resource Center. Jericho estimates refugees have opened over 100 businesses in Erie during the past 10 to 12 years. “They rent a lot of apartments, they buy a lot of things, they pay taxes immediately,” he said.

Sterling Technologies, a small manufacturer in the area that makes all types of plastics, has committed to hiring refugees. There are workers from Bhutan, Syria, and Congo. Manager, Marty Learn said of his refugee employees, “They’re here to do a job, to make a living for their family. Just like me and you.” Sterling started hiring refugees a few years ago when it couldn’t find enough workers willing to take lower-skilled and lower-paying jobs. Today, refugees account for some 25% of the workforce of the growing company.

When asked about the new damaging policies coming forth, regarding refugees Paul Jericho said that, “Refugees are the most vetted people that come into this country,” noting it’s a process that can take years. “If I’m a terrorist, I’m not going to come through the refugee process.”

Jay Badams, superintendent of schools in Erie said, “We’re in the business of education here, and I think a lot of that fear, a lot of that resentment, comes from a place of lack of education,”What does the superintendent think about limiting the number of refugees coming into the U.S., his schools, and his community?”I think students coming out of here will have a much different opinion when they’re adults…than some of the folks who right now are experiencing a sort of angst and worry about people coming here from other countries,” Badams said.

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