Immigrants and refugees have arrived on America’s shores seeking opportunity since the early 1600s. And for the last 100 years, they have turned to the International Institute of Buffalo to help them start a new life in our little corner of the world.
Initially a program serving foreign-born women, the organization now welcomes thousands of men, women and children each year and offers integration, refugee resettlement and employment programs; services to survivors of domestic abuse and human trafficking; translation and interpretation services; global education programs and more.
“Over the last century, we’ve helped just about every immigrant group coming to WNY,” said Eva Hassett, the Institute’s executive director since 2009. Having spent 12 years working for former Mayor Tony Masiello as chief of staff and finance commissioner, Hassett recognized the potential impact the foreign-born could have on economic and neighborhood resurgence when pursuing her current position.
“We can’t grow our economy unless we grow our population,” said Hassett, who pointed out that the immigrant and refugee segment has reduced Buffalo’s population decline by 40 percent, a claim supported by a recent New American Economy report. This helps fill the need for employees, tenants, customers for business, homeowners, entrepreneurs and students.
Upon refugees’ arrival in WNY, the International Institute refers them to employment services within 10 days. After job preparation and training, they are placed in industries including manufacturing, retail, hospitality, food service and healthcare. The Institute also helps non-refugee immigrants find employment, and recently began helping Spanish-speaking evacuees from Puerto Rico.
Hassett reported that in 2016, 96 percent of clients in their federal employment program had retained their jobs and were not accessing public assistance six months after arrival. She added, “The majority of our clients are eager to work; they had livelihoods before their lives were disrupted, and are eager to regain normalcy and provide for their families.”
Despite these positive effects on the workforce and overall economy, the current administration has reduced the number of immigrants coming into the country in all categories, including refugee resettlement. Heartened by local pro-immigration leadership, however, Hassett said the Institute will continue to do all it can to help foster continued in-migration and promote global understanding and connections throughout the WNY community.
“Buffalo has a fantastic reputation, nationally and internationally, as a welcoming and supportive place for immigrants and refugees to settle,” she added. Citing numerous rallies to show support, highly valued and patronized immigrant-owned businesses, and events like the Burmese Water Festival, World Refugee Day soccer tournament and the Institute’s Buffalo Without Borders,
Hassett commented, “This tells me that we are absolutely the City of Good Neighbors that we say we are.”
Economic impact of local immigration
The New American Economy (NAE) — a partnership of more than 500 Republican, Democrat and Independent mayors and business leaders who support immigration reform that helps create jobs for Americans — released a report late last year outlining how immigrants impacted Buffalo’s economy. Here are their 2014 findings:
- Foreign-born residents in Buffalo contributed $3.1 billion to the area’s GDP.
- They contributed $146.4 million to Social Security and $42.1 million to Medicare.
- Foreign-born households contributed $408.7 million in federal taxes and $223.3 million in state and local taxes.
- There were 2,691 foreign-born entrepreneurs in Buffalo, with businesses generating $121 million in income.
- Foreign-born residents in Buffalo helped create or preserve 3,116 local manufacturing jobs that otherwise may have left the area.
Story topics: BufFYI