New York has long been a safe haven for families immigrating or fleeing from other parts of the world.
And Gov. Kathy Hochul says the state will continue to be that port for Afghan refugees looking to resettle in the United States.
New York has already committed to resettling 1,320 refugees and those with special immigrant visas in the federal fiscal year 2021, but now officials are preparing to welcome even more.
Hochul says immigration to New York has helped spur growth, especially for upstate.
“Places like Buffalo, their populations grew in the last Census only because of refugees,” Hochul said Thursday on NY1. “People from Somalia, Nigeria and Thailand. It makes communities wonderfully diverse and there's homes for them in the city, there's homes in Utica, in Rochester and Syracuse. I've asked my team to do whatever we can to be the first in line to say, come to New York, we want you and we'll give you a far better life.”
Immigration advocates are now urging the state to prepare services to welcome Afghans that could be arriving any day.
Assemblywoman Pat Fahy said with the help of congressional leaders, they are coordinating to reconnect at least one family in Albany.
“Just last night we got word that the children, after repeated attempts, were able to get into the airport and are safely on a plane,” Fahy said. “At this point I think the plane is heading to Kuwait. Ultimately, I look forward to seeing them in in New York. But about refugees and the need for us to be more welcoming, that is our history to be welcoming.”
It is estimated that up to 80% of arriving Afghans are being admitted as humanitarian parolees not as refugees, according to Karen Andolina Scott, executive director of Journey’s End Refugee Services.
This means many will not have access to public benefits, health services or a clear path to citizenship. Scott says the state needs to make sure these services are available to those arriving.
“We cannot leave these people behind,” Scott said. “Bringing them in here isn't enough, granting them access across our border isn't enough. We have to be sure that they have access to citizenship down the road, access to benefits, access to health care. Very, very new, high trauma situations, they are going to need mental health services, education services, language services.”
On Thursday, 13 U.S. servicemembers were killed in Afghanistan.
Hochul directed state flags to be flown at half-staff on Friday in honor of these servicemembers.