A family of six from Afghanistan will arrive in Ithaca later this month under a visa program for Afghan citizens who have worked with the U.S. government, a local charity announced Tuesday.
The family is arriving under a Special Immigrant Visa, which is awarded to Afghan or Iraqi citizens who have worked for or on behalf of the U.S. and who have experienced or are experiencing “an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of their employment,” according to the U.S. Department of State.
“This is a different immigration status than people who have been vetted and designated as refugees by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees,” said Sue Chaffee, director of Catholic Charities of Tompkins and Tioga’s Immigrant Services Program. “However, once these SIV holders enter the U.S., they are welcomed and oriented to life in this country through refugee resettlement agencies like ours.”
The SIV program also allows a spouse and unmarried children under 21 to travel with the family.
Chaffee said Catholic Charities, which was approved in October to resettle refugees, has been working with the Ithaca City School District, local doctors, and Ithaca Welcomes Refugees “to help ensure this family will have a warm welcome and a smooth transition to our community.”
The charity hopes to resettle up to 50 refugees, but two Syrian families that had been approved to resettle in Ithaca are in jeopardy as they wait in a refugee camp in Jordan to see when or if President Donald Trump will lift his executive order indefinitely banning Syrian refugees.
Chaffee told The Sun in January that she was excited to welcome the Afghan family of six, especially because they have a friend in the Ithaca area.
“We don’t expect the U.S. tie to do everything,” Chaffee said in January, referring to the Ithaca acquaintance. But, she said, “they can help with airport reception, interpretation, help [the family] get to the grocery store — those initial tasks that they’ll need.”
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 said in January, when the family was first approved, that he was “thrilled” to be able to welcome them to Ithaca.
“Removing six people from a warzone is a blessing to be able to do that,” he said. “And I’m excited for our city that we’re going to continue in what’s now becoming a pretty long tradition of being a sanctuary for people fleeing oppression and violence all over the world.”
Chaffee said on Tuesday that the charity was withholding identifying information about the family because of the “upheaval and trauma” that they have faced, and so they can enjoy privacy as they adjust to life in Ithaca. She also said she did not know any details about their work for the U.S. government.
Chaffee told The Sun last month that she wants to find housing for the family near The Commons or somewhere that has reliable bus service to downtown Ithaca, where social services, jobs and basic needs like food are easily accessible.