Joining Our Neighbors, Advancing Hope (JONAH) exists to deepen relationships within and among faith communities, and partner organizations, to empower people in addressing the root causes of social injustice.
Hmong Mutual Assistance Association (HMAA) is here to empower people, advance cultures, and enhance the quality of life for Eau Claire communities by promoting relationships of trust, safety, and a sense of belonging.
Welcoming New Neighbors’ (WNN) mission is to build an organization that serves as a resource to and support of immigrants and those working with immigrants in the greater northwest Wisconsin area. It will also educate and build awareness of immigrant challenges throughout the wider community.
We, the undersigned community leaders, residents and organizations committed to diversity and inclusion, as well as the interfaith voices of JONAH, believe:
– We are called to welcome the stranger and love our neighbor;
– All human beings deserve to live without violence and cruelty;
– All human beings deserve to have access to shelter, clean water, and food; and
– We need to work together to discern the ways to live out this call.
With this public statement, we voice our loud support for the presence of the World Relief Office in the City of Eau Claire, voice our trust in the parties responsible for its arrival, and share peace and helpful facts with all those who are confused and concerned about refugee resettlement.
We have heard and understand the concerns that have been raised about this issue. We wish to publicly state that these concerns contain misinformation, unfounded fears, and legitimate concerns. We want to provide support to the residents of Eau Claire by offering facts of the process and assuring the residents of the Chippewa Valley that they can trust that good people with the best interests of all residents have welcomed the World Relief office here.
One reason Eau Claire was chosen for a refugee resettlement office was because of our community’s past and continued welcoming of diverse people.
Each of the parties, including JONAH, who worked with World Relief on the resettlement office arrival know Eau Claire to be a community that is welcoming and inclusive, and we believe that the majority of residents want Eau Claire to be known for this. We don’t believe the majority of residents want Eau Claire to be a place of hatred, judgement, and refusal to help those in need.
For an example of our history of extravagant welcoming, we only have to look to our Hmong neighbors who arrived in the late 1970s and 1980s. A more recent example occurred when community members reached out to a counterpart agency to World Relief requesting that Afghan asylum seekers be settled in Eau Claire. When learning of this, the community response was overwhelmingly positive with an outpouring of volunteer offers of time and financial support. When we with WNN put out a call for furniture and household supplies, the need was filled in a very short time.*
This Afghan experience showed that Eau Claire residents are welcoming and eager to help. Having more people and resources than could be used convinced the still forming Welcoming New Neighbors organization that Eau Claire and the greater NW Wisconsin area would have the capacity and willingness to settle more refugees and asylees.
A World Relief refugee resettlement office in Eau Claire, with us all as community partners, expands capacity beyond the existing local offices of the other eight US national refugee resettlement organizations to support more of those perpetually fearful people who have escaped unimaginable homeland situations and persecution. Those who are vetted to relocate here have been living in refugee camps already. With World Relief’s help, an increased number of refugees will be able to leave their situations and come here to find a community who will welcome them as new neighbors with kindness, peace, and a safe place to call home.*
We acknowledge the fact that refugees follow a very specific, highly vetted, internationally regulated, US Federally approved path to resettlement and ultimately to citizenship if they so choose.*
We acknowledge that refugees have been thoroughly vetted by multiple federal agencies including the State Department, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. The law concerning refugees is federal law and there is no discretion for states or municipalities to approve or disapprove of it. Refugees have been given the right to be in the United States, and therefore have the right to locate anywhere, just as citizens have that right. Neither states nor municipalities get to decide whether to settle refugees. They have the right by law to live in this country. The process and rights are thoroughly spelled out in the relevant federal statutes (see Title 8 United States Code). Since October 2001, according to Smithsonian Magazine, more than 895,000 refugees have settled in America, typically after being referred by the United Nations and vetted by the State Department in a process that takes at least 18 months. (By comparison, a million or so legal immigrants arrive annually.)
We acknowledge that having refugees settling and working in our community is actually economically advantageous – there is a long history of refugees adding to our economy, and we have a shortage of essential workers in Eau Claire. The World Relief Office has responded to this by helping newly arriving refugees become self-sufficient. The US State website gives temporary financial support. Refugee resettlement is a federal program. The federal experience with refugees and asylees show that the local economies that receive the re-settlers experience financially benefit from it. A study by economists at the University of Notre Dame finds that, by twenty years after arrival, the average refugee adult has contributed approximately $21,000 more in taxes at all levels than the combined cost of governmental expenditures on their behalf, including the cost of initial resettlement. (Sources: Forward Analytics, University of Notre Dame; for more statistics and answers to questions about refugee work, visit https://worldrelief.org/wiblog-frequently-asked-questions-about-refugee-resettlement-in-the-chippewa-valley/)
We acknowledge the fact that to truly be a community that is welcoming and shows solidarity with new people is not an easy path. We acknowledge that integration is a necessary part of inclusivity. We wholeheartedly promise to do everything we can as organizations and individuals to support this effort to be a welcoming and inclusive community. We encourage the leaders and residents of Eau Claire to recognize that all humans are inherently the same, and to build relationships with those they deem a “stranger”.
We also show our gratitude for Eau Claire being such a wonderful place to live that many people from all walks of life want to move and settle here, and we lift up our responsibility as a community to take care of each other. While we acknowledge the dis-ease in the residents around population growth, abrupt changes, and stretching resources, we know that some of those things are out of our control and we promise to uphold our leaders to taking care of what we do have control over.
Most importantly, we celebrate our neighbors. Refugees are people with amazing and challenging stories and have valuable skills to share with our community. We, as individuals and as a community, are the better for having them in our lives.
We share some of their personal stories:
“After the United States withdrew from the Vietnam War, my parents were notified that my family was going to face imminent danger due to our involvement in the Secret War. To escape the advancing communists, my parents decided to flee to Thailand. Not knowing who to trust, they only told their immediate family. My parents took my two older sisters, who were toddlers at the time, and fled to my paternal grandparents’ village to take his family to flee with them. Without a map or a secure route, my family’s journey to Thailand was risky. Stories of deceitful Laotian, promising to take people across the Mekong River to Thailand only to murder them in the end added to the peril. To secure my family’s passage, my father tore his payment in half, handing it over only to pay in full after everyone safely crossed.
“In Thai refugee camps, we lived in cramped conditions with limited resources, leading to health issues for my sisters and mother. Despite these challenges, my mother gave birth to me, a nine-pound baby, struggling to produce enough milk due to malnourishment. After enduring another year in the refugee camps, we were sponsored by my aunt to come to the United States in January 1987. Despite financial constraints, my parents prioritized instilling strong values and ethics, emphasizing success while maintaining our heritage and language. My parents’ sacrifices and determination to protect us from political persecution have profoundly shaped my journey. Today, I acknowledge that my achievements would not have been possible without their resilience and courage in leaving a country where our lives were at stake.” – True Vue
“I fled the country of Laos 47 years ago with my parents and siblings. Our family endured great hardship during the Vietnam war and fled for our lives to live in refugee camps that provided minimal food and shelter. As refugees to the US, we eventually settled in Eau Claire in 1981.
“My father, a Vietnam veteran, worked several jobs to provide for our family. He did not mind doing this as it was better for his family to live in a community where we were safe, and his children could go to school. In addition to working, my father also attended school part-time at the Chippewa Valley Technical College and earned a vocational degree which enabled him to work for the City of Eau Claire Housing Authority until he retired at the age of 70.
“I would not have a story to share today or be a contributing member of my community [as the Executive Director of Student Services & Special Education Eau Claire Area School District] had it not been for other people who cared enough to reach out and help me and my family acclimate to this country. I will forever be grateful to have had the opportunity to be living in the land of the free and the home of the brave. It was so brave of other Eau Claire community members to take a chance with my family to allow us to be re-born in this community.
“Given the opportunity, I ask that all of us pay it forward as we never know when our turn will come to need the help and support of our fellow humans around us. Let’s show empathy and solidarity with our global community and be caring towards all humans.” – Kaying Xiong
“Growing up in Kenya was tough. My parents weren’t rich, but peasant farmers. As most Kenyans, we grew up in a rural kind of lifestyle. My family had a couple of cows, sheep, goats, and several chickens on a medium sized farm. We had no school bus so I had to walk or run to middle school 3 miles away, run back at lunch to take care of the animals, run again to school and after school is done run back home again. It was our lifestyle until starting high school, which are primarily boarding schools in Kenya. I did not see my parents or siblings for 3 months at a time while attending high school.
“In my formative years, our country was ruled by the late president Moi. You couldn’t say anything bad about him otherwise you found yourself in jail or the torture chambers. People were scared of him and his regime.
“Fortunately, I came to America on an F1 (student) visa and went to Augsburg College in Minneapolis. I moved to Eau Claire in early 2001 because it was safe, welcoming, and it has both city and country vibes. As a first-generation immigrant myself, I’m so thankful for the extraordinary hospitality, goodwill, kindness, and respectfulness I have experienced since I landed in Eau Claire.
“I have benefited greatly from being here in USA in terms of education and the ability to contribute to the community in which I live. I support the resettlement of refugees because it benefits the Eau Claire area, enriching our culture and building our collective experiences. The refugees are being persecuted and their lives are not safe, which is much the same experience that so many previous immigrants to this great country have had throughout history. I know there are concerns. I can speak to the fact that before I became an American citizen, I went through a stringent vetting process which involves biometrics among other things. In the end, I believe diversity is the greatest strength any city could possess.” – Larry Mboga
As Leviticus 19:33-34 states, “When an immigrant resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the immigrant. The immigrant who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the immigrant as yourself, for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God,” we invite all those who wish to stand in solidarity with us as we welcome the refugees with open arms.
Hmong Mutual Assistance Association
Welcoming New Neighbors
In Solidarity with,
Susan Wolfgram, Co-Chair JONAH Affordable Housing Task Force
Dr. Emily Anderson, Vice President, Eau Claire City Council.
Rev Dr David K Anderson
Joshua Miller, Eau Claire City Councilmember
Power Up Eau Claire
Wisconsin Public Education Network
Michelle Harris, Eau Claire Hmong Association
Rev. Diane House
Sustaining member of JONAH
Cynthia Casey Widstrand
Guthman Consulting, LLC
Pastor Jen Barnet
Pastor Karen Behling
Tab Butler, Eau Caire Triomphe LLC
(If you or your organization/business/institution would like to sign-on to this statement, please click here, or visit https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe0ubvReuNHPOi4pPCT9una1v9k83lzRd60540gVsZ4RkrREA/viewform?usp=sf_link.)
* Facts are sourced from Welcoming New Neighbors statistics, local data, and from the World Relief Office sources.