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Buffalo prepares for new wave of immigrants, as Biden Administration widens America's door

Evan Vucci / AP
President Biden signs an executive order on immigration in February in the Oval Office.

Local refugee agencies are preparing for more families to come to Western New York, as Washington, DC quadruples the immigration quota for the rest of the federal fiscal year through Sept. 30.Buffalo has always been a destination for immigrants and refugees, although the lands from which they come have substantially changed over the years as immigration laws have changed. In recent decades, immigrants have revitalized many sections of the city that had fallen on hard times. That includes the areas along Grant Street, with new foods and restaurants.

"Buffalo really succeeded because of immigration. Our strongest time in Buffalo, economically, was the times when the most immigrants were coming here," said International Institute Executive Director Eva Hassett. "And now, here we are at a time when we are shrinking and aging and we need working-age people. We need growing population. We can't maintain our economy if we are shrinking and aging. So it really does benefit us all to have people coming here."

The International Institute has been one of the most active agencies helping resettlement. Hassett said some refugees have made it here recently, although small numbers. She said 60 people have arrived since Oct. 1, 2020.

"The State Department did resettle some cases that they felt were more urgent because people were in unsafe situations, those kinds of situations," she said. "So there were a few and, again, there was a 15,000 cap in place, although there were all kinds of restrictions about religious priorities and referral systems, but some refugees did come through."

With the new quota, there now has to be a reconstruction of all of the bureaucratic steps necessary to evaluate, rate and check security status of each potential arrival. Mayor Byron Brown's administration is calling the new totals "exciting and encouraging and good news for those who have been waiting for family members to make it here."

Hassett said the ecology of resettlement has also changed a lot, with earlier migrants establishing groups to help compatriots who land here and acclimating them to life in a city whose weather, life and shopping may be far different from where they lived before.

"Families, friends," Hassett said. "As you follow the media, you know that even the Biden Administration initially signaled this 62,500, then didn't sign it, and so there was a period where there were actually, nationwide, about 700 refugees scheduled to arrive, who then got their travel canceled. Those 700 are being re-booked with priority."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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