Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Welcome.US helps refugees, such as Afghans and Ukrainians, settle in the U.S.


One year ago today, when President Biden was still fairly new in office, he addressed the nation from the White House. He spoke about the U.S. war in Afghanistan - a war that had begun on October 7, 2001.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's time to end America's longest war. It's time for American troops to come home.

INSKEEP: They did, but the Taliban reclaimed control of Afghanistan, and the Biden administration had to organize a chaotic evacuation of U.S. citizens and more than 76,000 Afghans. How are they doing now? A Martinez spoke with Cecilia Munoz. She served in the Obama White House as the head of the Domestic Policy Council and is now a senior adviser at New America and co-chair of A began by asking her about the status of the Afghan newcomers.

CECILIA MUNOZ: The vast majority are in communities, living in new homes, and, you know, navigating school systems and learning English if that's a thing that they need to do, and new jobs. About just over 10,000 of them are still in temporary housing, so that's a challenge that we are still all grappling with. But they are here, they are largely in communities, and there are organizations and good people all over the country helping them make a new start.

A MARTÍNEZ, BYLINE: And it's one thing just to leave your country and move somewhere else. But considering the circumstances in which they had to leave - I mean, what was there, and in a rush, too. I mean, that's like a double whammy there.

MUNOZ: Absolutely. Really coming with, in many cases, literally nothing but the clothes on their backs or very little in the way of possessions. They - you know, they didn't - were not able to plan a move. So, you know, the volunteers, the organizations, the - you know, the people who are standing up to support them are doing things like moving mattresses and...


MUNOZ: ...You know, collecting kitchen utensils and helping with clothes, as well as learning English and jobs and all of the things.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And I understand the Afghan refugees have 90 days of support from the federal government once they leave their military bases, and that the 90 days are approaching for many of them. So, Cecilia, what does that mean for them? I mean, what do they do? Where do they go?

MUNOZ: Well, it means that there's some very limited financial assistance, which is supposed to help with, like, a first month's rent or, you know, some of the expenses of moving into a new home. Everybody understands that it's not nearly enough, and that's why, you know, what does is sort of expand the existing infrastructure to make sure that we can do right by these new neighbors of ours and make sure that they get off to a good start.

MARTÍNEZ: And your organization will soon be announcing over $5 million in funding for 141 organizations helping to settle Afghan refugees. How significant is that number, and how will the money be used?

MUNOZ: We already distributed $8.6 million almost a month after was formed, and this is the next tranche of funding, which is going to more than 100 community-based groups. And in some ways, the beautiful thing about it is that it was raised from lots and lots of people around the country. You know, the wealthy individuals gave as much as a million dollars, and regular folks gave as little as $5, and together it's millions of dollars that is supporting groups that are largely volunteers who are doing their part. And it's - this is why I think of it as the most hopeful work I know. This is regular Americans standing up to be good neighbors.

MARTÍNEZ: And what are those needs? So where is that money going to go?

MUNOZ: So it's supporting organizations all over the country - groups like the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition, which is a community-based group in Wisconsin that is helping people with English, helping them with their sort of cultural competency. There's a group called Veterans Bridge Home in North Carolina, where volunteers are, you know, doing everything from grocery delivery and helping with transportation to setting up new homes and providing cultural advice. So this is really sort of a homegrown community effort all over the country, and these resources are supporting these hardworking groups.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, the Biden administration announced they're going to be accepting 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. How is your organization preparing to aid those Ukrainians?

MUNOZ: Well, this is actually very important. came into being to help, you know, Americans - regular folks - access opportunities to provide a welcome, and Afghans have created the first big opportunity to do that, but the goal was really always to help migrants of all - and newcomers of all kinds. So we are now preparing - with the Ukrainian diaspora and in partnership with the government - to create the same kind of welcome for the Ukrainians who are going to come. And, again, the heartening thing is that Americans from all walks of life are stepping up and saying, we want to help. We're watching what's happening. We know that we can provide a welcome, and that really reflects the best of who we are.

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned all those numbers, Cecilia - 75,000 Afghan refugees, 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. That's 175,000 people. That's not counting the refugee cap of 125,000 that the Biden administration has agreed to enter - to let enter from other countries. Is the U.S. government prepared for this? Are organizations just like yours - are you guys prepared for this?

MUNOZ: Well, you know, there are nine refugee resettlement organizations which, for many years, have done the hard work of resettling people. This is about seven times the number of people that they usually help in a year, so that's why got created - is to honor the capacity that we have and to expand it to get new organizations engaged in the work of helping resettle newcomers. And so that's - the point that you make about the numbers is exactly why we have to step up and create avenues for regular folks to get involved in this work.

MARTÍNEZ: And on that, Cecilia, how much of this has to do with time being a factor - in terms of the federal government, depending on who's in charge and depending on the election cycle, being as welcoming to refugees as maybe a different administration?

MUNOZ: Well, look, part of the reason that it's so clear that we need to expand capacity is because the government's capacity and the capacity of nonprofit groups really got decimated in the Trump years. I mean, there's just - that's not a political statement. It's just the truth. And so the need to rebuild has been very clear. And if we're going to rebuild, it seems to me we should be building in a way that's much stronger than we've ever been.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Cecilia Munoz, senior adviser at New America and co-chair of Cecilia, thanks.

MUNOZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.