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Washtenaw United: Creating equity for the immigrant community in Washtenaw County

Shrina Eadeh, Senior Director of Resettlement and Integration Programs at Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County.
Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County
/
jfsannarbor.org
Shrina Eadeh, Senior Director of Resettlement and Integration Programs at Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County.

ABOUT SHRINA EADEH:

Shrina Eadeh is a licensed clinical social worker with a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan. She currently serves as the Senior Director of Resettlement and Integration Programs at Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County. In her role, Shrina is dedicated to supporting individuals and families through their resettlement and integration journeys, utilizing her expertise to foster community and provide essential services.

RESOURCES:

Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County (JFS)

JFS on Facebook

JFS on X (Twitter)

JFS on Instagram

A Snapshot of Washtenaw County Immigrants

A Snapshot of Michigan Immigrants

Walk a Mile in My Shoes Event

TRANSCRIPTION:

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And our exploration of the quest for equity in our community continues. I'm David Fair, and while many in Washtenaw County are participating in the United Way for Southeastern Michigan's 21-Day Equity Challenge, we wanted to explore one of the topics included in that education and discussion series, and that is equity for those seeking resettlement. In Washtenaw County, there's only one resettlement agency contracted to provide resettlement and post-resettlement services, and that is Jewish Family Services. Our guest this morning is going to give us a better understanding of the challenges documented and undocumented immigrants face when they move here. Shrina Eadeh serves as senior director of resettlement and integration programs at Jewish Family Services. And it's nice to talk with you again, Shrina!

Shrina Eadeh: Thank you so much for having me again!

David Fair: Well, I'm curious. With the Israel-Hamas war and devastation in Gaza and the ongoing Ukraine war with Russia, are you seeing more people from those regions come to our area?

Shrina Eadeh: We haven't seen an increase in those populations that are coming to our area yet. No.

David Fair: All right. Well, how significant an immigration population do we have in Washtenaw County?

Shrina Eadeh: Pretty significant. Just last year, we resettled over 450 individuals to our community. And we're looking to probably resettle the same number of people this year and next year. So, it's quite a larger population than we've resettled even a decade ago. When I first started, I think I resettled maybe like 80 people every single year. So, we've had a steady increase in the last decade--new arrivals coming to this community--and actually staying in this community and contributing to it.

David Fair: Where are the majority coming from?

Shrina Eadeh: The majority of individuals are coming from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, African countries like Eritrea, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo. And now, we're starting to see Central Americans coming as well--so from Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua and El Salvador and Guatemala.

David Fair: You know, immigration is a huge issue as we enter a presidential election year. Are the majority that are coming to Washtenaw County documented?

Shrina Eadeh: The clients that we're seeing come through the reception and placement program, which is our resettlement program, are documented. It's a very specific visa that they receive. And, actually, refugees and special immigrant visa holders who we resettle here are the most highly vetted immigration statuses that come to the US. They go through years and years of background checks and interviews in order to come here under this program. And so, yeah, they come with a visa. They're work authorized upon arrival, so that they can start working and becoming independent in her community.

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United, and our Equity Challenge conversation with Shrina Eadeh continues. She serves as senior director of resettlement and integration programs at Jewish Family Services. You know, Shrina, when I was a kid, my parents moved us around a lot. That was just between Ohio and Michigan, and that was unsettling enough. Can you kind of paint a picture of the challenges that face those who are moving here from a different country?

Shrina Eadeh: Yeah, I think, probably, anybody can imagine when you move to a new country, you have to learn about that new community that you're moving to. You have to learn all the laws and rules and policies and procedures and how to access resources which can be time consuming and often frustrating and takes a long time--also just adjustment. You know, our refugee families are leaving everything behind, and a lot of them are fleeing under very precarious situation. So, a lot of them haven't had an opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones. And so, making sure that we provide individuals who come here with the resources that they need to be able to thrive is really important, but also resources like mental health services so that they can start to overcome some of the trauma that is inherently and present when you move somewhere new and you have to flee all those wars and persecution and all of those really, really terrible things that our clients experience.

David Fair: I think there is perhaps a sense of loneliness and not belonging that goes along with that. How do you help the process of building community when someone arrives and may know very few people or even no one?

Shrina Eadeh: Yeah. We work with a lot of really wonderful community partners who've rallied around our clients and built up resources to serve them. But we also have worked with everyday community members who offer donations to new arrivals, who offer their time and volunteer and make those connections with everybody who come. We work with a lot of congregations in our area who help us co-sponsor or, I guess, co-resettle families. And they help us in that resettlement process, and they develop these really deep bond with the individuals that they assist and try and provide our new arrivals with that welcoming environment. And that's really what the work that we do is it's a public private partnership and making sure that we're not the only ones who are helping them. And we really couldn't do it without our community. We cannot do this work alone. And you cannot do it without a lot of support.

David Fair: Creating a stable source of income has to be at the top of the priority list. As you talk about building community, has the local business community been welcoming and helpful?

Shrina Eadeh: Oh, definitely! We've formed a lot of partnerships with local employers who hire our clients and even started offering transportation and info classes on site. And if there's any issues that occur, we offer job coaching services and training to local employers about how to have a multicultural staff. And so, it's been really wonderful to be able to work with employers who are welcoming and who are able to hire our clients.

David Fair: And that says there has to be a boost to the local economy as a result of Washtenaw County becoming a destination for refugees and immigrants, right?

Shrina Eadeh: Definitely! Studies show that when immigrants move into a community, it increases economy in that community. We have so many clients who are entrepreneurial in their home country who want to continue their businesses here. We actually have a program called Microenterprise Development, which helps refugees start their own small business here. And we have so many clients who continued their food businesses. We have a client who makes jewelry and different types of tea blends and coffee, and it's just really beautiful to see how they're able to contribute in that way as well. And we're able to learn and enjoy all of that.

David Fair: We're talking with Shrina Eadeh from the Jewish Family Services on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. You just addressed the positive impacts on the local economy. That says there is likely also a tangible positive in our local identity and culture as a result.

Shrina Eadeh: Yes! Definitely!

David Fair: Over 37% of immigrants in Washtenaw County arrived in the US before the year 2000. Since 2010, there's been an increase of nearly 22%. As you pointed out at the outset, that says we're likely to continue seeing an increase in the years to come. So, what is the strategic plan for accommodating, dealing with and serving that population growth?

Shrina Eadeh: So, we're hoping that we can be able to, as we increase newcomers coming into the country, that we're able to work with more businesses to expand employment opportunities. But also, housing is a big, difficulty for a lot of folks in our community. There are a lot of folks who are unhoused. So, we're hoping to work on increasing housing in our community and, hopefully, be able to resettle in different areas where refugees might be able to reside and also live in and contribute to those communities as well.

David Fair: So, as you look to that future, will we be able to accommodate those needs, particularly in areas like housing? Because as you pointed out, it is such a significant issue, and it requires money. It requires all levels of government working together. And are we at that place where you see a brighter future?

Shrina Eadeh: You know, if you were to ask me this question about three months ago, I probably would have had a different answer. But, we've met with so many local landlords and property managers who have properties all over the state and have started having conversations with them about equity and the importance of having housing available for everybody who needs it. And we've actually had an increase in the number of housing that we've been able to get. So, about three months ago, I was not able to house my families very quickly. And now, we are able to within a couple of weeks of them arriving. And so, I've just learned that by talking to all of the landlords that we've talked to and the property managers, they really want to help, and they want to work with us. And so, we've been able to have those conversations on the importance of being able to house individuals in our community.

David Fair: Well, I'd like to thank you for making time to talk with me today, Shrina, and sharing more about the quest for equity for those immigrating to Washtenaw County.

Shrina Eadeh: Thank you so much for having me today!

David Fair: That is Shrina Eadeh. She is senior director of resettlement and integration programs at Jewish Family Services and has been our guest on Washtenaw United. You can learn more about equity for those seeking resettlement through the United Way for Southeastern Michigan's 21-Day Equity Challenge. It is well underway, but there's still time to join in. It runs through Friday, June 14th. And if you'd like to sign up or learn more about our conversation today, simply pay a visit to our website at wemu.org, and we'll get you everywhere you need to go. I'm David Fair, and you've been listening to Washtenaw United on your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

UWSEM STATEMENT:

United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s fourth annual 21-Day Equity Challenge is officially underway, and for the duration of the challenge, we’re covering different topics related to Equity on Washtenaw United.

Today’s topic for conversation from the Equity Challenge is Day Seven: Welcoming Newcomers: Refugee & Immigration.

From leaving behind a home or family to navigating a new culture, language or way of life, the challenges and trauma that immigrants and refugees endure are difficult to grasp. Though our nation’s immigration and refugee policies have evolved throughout our history, new Americans still face many systemic inequities on their journey to a better life.

Washtenaw County has a diverse immigrant community and is one of the top five counties in Michigan with the highest immigrant population.

In fact, 37.4% of immigrants in Washtenaw County arrived in the United States before 2000, and since 2010, the number of immigrants has increased by 21.7% (Michigan League for Public Policy).

What is the 21-Day Equity Challenge?

The 21-Day Equity Challenge is a commitment to learn the different ways that bias, prejudice, privilege, and oppression show up in our everyday lives through a series of emails.

When does the 21-Day Equity Challenge start?

The challenge will take place each weekday from May 17-June 14.

How do I participate in the 21-Day Equity Challenge?

Sign up online to receive an email each of the 21 days asking you to Listen, Read, Watch, and Act on issues affecting our community.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.

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Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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