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Welcoming the Stranger Benefits All

November 5, 2018

by Sue Carman, Trinity Parishioner  Jeff Thielman and Andrea Spake knew at an early age that they wanted to devote their lives to service to others. These leaders of the International Institute of New England (IINE) followed their hearts to far corners of the world — Jeff taught children in Peru through a Jesuit program at Boston College, and Andrea worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia.  Today, both are passionate about their work creating a hopeful future for thousands of refugees and immigrants in their dynamic programs in Boston, Lowell, and Manchester, New Hampshire. And both have witnessed the tremendous value that immigrants add to our communities and country.  As Jeff says, it all comes down to “Are we welcoming or not?  Do we live our values … or not?”

Andrea and Jeff explain there are 25.6 million men, women, and children around the globe that are considered refugees who cannot return to their countries. This is the highest number of people to be displaced from their homes since World War II. Yet due to current immigration policies that are based on racism and fear, the number of immigrants resettled in the U.S. has diminished from an average of 80,000 per year from 1975-2016 to a maximum of 45,000 in 2018.  

This situation hurts Americans as well as potential immigrants.  “We (the U.S.) would be a basket case without immigration,” according to Jeff. The IINE President and CEO has witnessed the growing worker shortage in many sectors of the economy. As a result, there are over a half million jobs that are not filled, such as hospitality workers for the growing number of hotels in Greater Boston, and school bus drivers for Boston area schools.  

For 100 years, IINE has served many waves of new settlers by providing opportunities to succeed in their new country. Today, new arrivals, primarily from Central America and Africa, depend on IINE for resettlement and family reunification services, legal help, and for classes in English and job training for hospitality and health care positions. 

To learn more, Jeff, Andrea, and IINE students/clients Sura Alazzawi, Fabiano Latham, and Uwezo Kabika, will be presenting at the Forums on Sunday morning and evening on November 11. These presentations are part of the 4th Annual Anne Berry Bonnyman Symposium, Love Thy Neighbor: Equity in Immigration sponsored by the Trinity Anti-Racism Team.