By REBECCA SANTANA
WASHINGTON (AP) — Everyday Americans will be able to help refugees adjust to life in the U.S. in a program being launched by the State Department as a way to give private citizens a role in resettling the thousands of refugees who arrive every year.
The State Department plans to announce the program, dubbed the Welcome Corps, on Thursday. The agency aims to line up 10,000 Americans who can help 5,000 refugees during the first year of the program.
“By tapping into the goodwill of American communities, the Welcome Corps will expand our country’s capacity to provide a warm welcome to higher numbers of refugees,” according to the announcement.
The State Department has traditionally worked with nonprofit groups that specialize in refugee issues to help people from around the world when they first arrive in the country and face a dramatically different way of life. Under the program being announced Thursday, five or more Americans would be able to form a group and fill this role as well.
They would apply to privately sponsor refugees to resettle in America, and would be responsible for raising their own money to help the refugees during their first 90 days in the country. Assistance would include everything from finding a place to live to getting kids enrolled in school.
A consortium of nonprofits with expertise in refugee resettlement will help oversee the vetting and certification of people and groups who want to be private sponsors. They’ll also offer training so private sponsors understand what’s needed to help refugees adjusting to life in America. The consortium will be responsible for monitoring the program.
The new initiative will roll out in two phases, according to the State Department. Under the first phase, private sponsors will be matched with refugees already approved for resettlement under the U.S. Refugee Assistance Program. That will start during the first half of 2023.
In the second phase of the program, private sponsors would be able to identify refugees abroad that they would like to help and then refer those people to the Refugee Assistance Program and assist them once they arrive in the U.S.
The Welcome Corps program comes on the heels of a similar, smaller scale endeavor under which Americans were able to sponsor Afghans or Ukrainians fleeing their country. That program launched in October 2021 and has helped just over 800 people coming to America through a network of 230 certified sponsors.
President Joe Biden vowed in a 2021 executive order to restore the U.S. as the world’s haven and called for private sponsorship of refugees. The previous administration, under President Donald Trump, had largely rolled back the refugee program.
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