How to Help Refugees Now

Caption: Volunteers organized by New York’s Rutgers Presbyterian after preparing an apartment for a refugee family from Syria who arrived in Febrary 2017.

There’s plenty you can do to help refugees right now.

There are three things you can do to help:


Work with individual families.


First, a little background.

One thing to remember is that the Trump administration’s efforts to close the doors on refugees is part of a broader issue: immigration. Many refugee advocates recognize this and have adapted to ongoing changes. They are broadening their efforts from helping individual families to working with the undocumented and advocating for refugees and other immigrants by telling their representatives at the local, state and federal levels how they feel about the way America is trying to close its doors to new entrants.


Helping refugees means advocating our representatives to protect existing policies that keep our nation’s doors open to immigrants and roll back the limitations imposed by the current administration.

Unless we tell our representatives that it is important to us that we welcome refugees and other immigrants, they will assume that we approve of current administration policies. So make some noise!

Below is a list of refugee resettlement agencies and other groups that have advocacy plans laid out on their websites. Click on links below to visit their websites and sign up for email alerts. They can provide you with talking points to make to your representatives at the state and federal level.

Additionally, business is getting into the act. Business coalition groups have formed across the nation to advocate for regularizing the legal status of Dreamers, the undocumented and others. Here are just a few to get you started on this search: The American Business Immigration Coalition, the Maine Business Immigration Coalition and the Texas Business Immigration Coalition. They often send out action alerts about pending legislation. You don’t have to be an employer to take action. Again,

One-on-One Refugee Work

To work with families on the ground right now, you can go to one of the major resettlement agencies listed above and ask them about groups working with refugees in your area. These agencies have seen their federal funding cut substantially. Their budgets are based on head counts and as the administration cuts refugee admissions, it automatically cuts their budgets. So these groups are understaffed–which is why they need the help of organized groups more than ever.

This kind of work is hugely rewarding and transformative. But it takes a lot of time, which is why it’s most impactful to work with a group.

Although the federal government funds refugee services, states distribute that money. Some states have rejected that but a separate agency takes over that task for the states,. So google your state and refugee services to find that agency. I’d suggest adding your state to your google search terms to find a local office.

Finally, google churches, refugees and refugee advocacy to find local groups. A lot of churches and synagogues have stepped up to the plate to help refugees and they are attracting secular folks like me in the process. The religious right gets a lot of coverage. Meet the religious left.

Your work with a family can be anything from driving a pregnant mother to a doctor’s office to buying clothing or baby gear on an Amazon wish list for the family.

Pay attention to the news. Portland, Maine, became the unlikely destination last year for hundreds of asylum seekers from Central Africa who traveled thousands of miles from Africa to South America to cross our southern border. They ended up being bused to Portland–possibly, some refugee advocates at the border theorized–because they did not speak Spanish. Portland opened its arms to them.

Asylum seekers have landed in places like Denver and Dallas, where refugee advocates have been overwhelmed by the numbers of volunteers reaching out to help them. Sometimes it’s just about taking advantage of an opportunity that opens up.

As the Trump administration levels its sites on refugees, immigrants (both documented and undocumented) and asylum seekers, legal services become more important than ever. Lawyers across the country are mobilizing to provice services and non lawyers can provide support as well. Many refugee advocacy groups have branched out to help in this way as well.


This kind of work takes money. This can mean buying clothing on an Amazon gift list for a family, contributing to an agency providing aid to the millions stuck in life-threatening conditions around the world or at our own borders. Again, see the list above for where to donate.

Two more points:

Cheer up! Listen to podcasts like The Wilderness, Two Broads Talking Politics (they just interviewed me), Immigration Nerds (I’m also scheduled to be on their podcast as well) Dolly Parton’s America, What a Day, and more.

Act! Remember, action is the best antidote for anxiety.

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