Evanston task force formed to aid refugee resettlement


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

A sign welcomes drivers to Evanston at the southern end of the city. Officials from Evanston Police Department, local school districts and city government formed a task force in December to assist refugees in their resettlement.

David Fishman, Assistant City Editor

A new Evanston task force, created after the recent presidential election, met last week for the second time to explore options for assisting refugees in their resettlement.

The group, which met for the first time in December, includes representatives from the city, both school districts, Evanston police and resettlement agencies.

Lauren Leitao, the bilingual program director at Evanston/Skokie School District 65, said the group seeks to bridge service gaps and help the city understand how to best assist its refugee population.

“Evanston recognizes that we have a growing refugee population,” she said. “There are so many different service providers and connection points for our (refugee) families. So it was an opportunity to bring all these different service providers together so that we can connect and better coordinate.”

There are at least 100 refugee households in Evanston, said Mark Muenzer, director of community development. Leitao said 50 to 75 refugee students attend District 65, a number that has grown in recent years. Officials at Evanston Township High School declined to disclose its refugee enrollment.

City Council unanimously passed a “welcoming city” ordinance in December, which prohibits city officials — including police officers — from inquiring about someone’s immigration status. And in January, both of Evanston’s school districts declared themselves a “safe haven” for families affected by any changes in immigration policy.

Muenzer said the task force was created in response to that ordinance. In the future, he said, the city hopes to get a more precise picture of the refugee population in Evanston.

“We are investigating, potentially, city services to assist families with their settlement here in Evanston,” Muenzer said. “We want to be very strategic and make sure that there’s no overlap.”

ETHS associate principal Taya Kinzie, who sits on the task force, said it provides a direct line of communication to two resettlement agencies, World Relief and RefugeeOne.

“We are very fortunate to work with a variety of refugee agencies that are really committed to helping children and families,” Kinzie said. “They’re fantastic.”

ETHS principal Marcus Campbell told The Daily in an email that “many students are nervous” following Trump’s executive order that limits immigration and temporarily bans refugees from the country.

Signed into law last week, the executive order indefinitely banned Syrian refugees, suspended all refugee admission for 120 days and barred immigration for 90 days from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump defended his action against waves of criticism.

“America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border,” he wrote in a statement. “This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

Within District 65, Leitao said, students were aware of the executive order, but there hasn’t been a major reaction.

“There’s definitely many troubling things happening in the world,” she said. “At the end of the day, what’s most important is that we welcome our students and their families and create a safe and supportive environment.”

The task force will present to City Council on Feb. 13 and meet again later this month, Muenzer said.

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