Nonprofits Help Asylum Seekers Find A New Home In Vermont
A group of organizations in southern Vermont will use a federal grant to try and expand the opportunities for immigrants settling in the region.The intent is to build on the work done by the Rockingham-based Community Asylum Seekers Project (CASP), which has brought immigrants to live in Windham County since 2017.
CASP finds housing and organizes volunteers to support people as they wait for their asylum claims to be heard in court. That process is uneven across the country: Sometimes it depends on how crowded the detention centers are. According to advocates, a judge in a place like Boston can be more understanding than one who sits on a bench near the border.
Recently, CASP got together more than 40 volunteers to help two asylum seekers who are now living in Marlboro. They are in the U.S. legally.
The volunteers drive the women to their appointments and have been assisting them in getting their work permits and driving licenses.
One of the asylum seekers, who did not want to her name revealed, said that while the transition has had its challenges, the local support has made it easier to build a life in Vermont.
“You know, lots people helped us, and that made us feel comfortable,” she said through an interpreter. "And God opened the way. And we’ve been able to make it. So we’re very grateful for the people here. Because if we hadn’t been able to, we would have to go back to Honduras, and be killed.”
Community Asylum Seekers Project
Steve Crofter, who lives in Windham County, founded CASP. He did so a few years after he volunteered along the Mexican border with a group assisting refugees.
Crofter said he heard about people who had risked their lives to get to the border, only to be detained because they didn’t have a host to put them up.
“You know, I think there are literally thousands of people in that position, but if we can help one or two or a dozen, that’s better than nothing,” Crofter said. He spoke to VPR during a recent interview in his Bellows Falls office.
"And so I just got together with some people locally here, some neighbors, and we formed a nonprofit, and began the process, slowly, and very small," he said. "But you know, began the process of welcoming people that didn’t have somewhere else to go.”
Crofter said he has a list of more than 300 volunteers who are ready to assist. Housing is the major challenge, he added, but once CASP has a willing Vermonter able to put an individual or family, he makes sure there is buy-in from the other volunteers before contacting a lawyer along the border who works with people in detention.
From there, CASP buys a plane ticket, and a volunteer greets the person at the airport.
Sixteen people have been able to leave detention and travel to Vermont since the first family arrived in 2017.
Boosting Vermont's workforce?
According to Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation executive director Adam Grinold, CASP could be a model for bringing more immigrants to Vermont to boost the state's workforce. Currently, Vermont has one of the oldest populations in the country, and one of the lowest birthrates.
“The reality is that in order to maintain our population and grow, immigration is necessary,” Grinold said.
Seven groups from Bennington and Windham counties received a $15,000 planning grant to help prepare a final application for a three-year, $300,000 grant that would go toward expanding the transportation and English language learning options in the area.
Other organizations working on the project include Bellows Falls Area Development Corporation, Windham Regional Commission, Bennington County Industrial Corporation, Bennington County Regional Commission, Southeast Vermont Transit, and SIT Graduate Institute.
Grinold said he wants to better support CASP and immigration to the state.
“What we hope to do right now for them, is to help shine a spotlight on the work that they’re doing, which is, you know, first and foremost a humanitarian mission to help relocate asylum seekers to communities here in Vermont,” Grinold said. “While they’re doing their work, we hope as a region to learn how to create a network that can support those new Americans as they land here."