AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin city leaders are now working toward creating an Office of Immigrant Affairs to help 57,000 people in Austin become U.S. citizens.
The city council voted Thursday to pass a resolution that asks the city manager to look at how other cities with similar offices operate and what kind of funding options are available.
It’s the council’s effort to show support for immigrants and refugees living in our city.
Plenty of people, however, are stepping up on their own to make Austin a welcoming city.
Thursday night, dozens of people attended a new volunteer orientation for Refugee Services of Texas. The nonprofit told KXAN its training sessions normally have about 10 to 15 people. But last week’s meeting on June 19 had about 60.
“We certainly have seen volunteers calling us more, sending a lot of emails as to how they can get involved, how their neighborhoods, how their children involved,” said Miranda Roberts, volunteer coordinator at Refugee Services of Texas.
Thursday’s session taught people about RST’s welcoming teams.
“Our volunteers, they set up the apartments for all the families that come over,” Roberts said. “It’s putting the beds together. Making sure they have all the household items they need.”
The teams then greet the refugee families when they arrive.
“They make welcome signs in the family’s native language,” Roberts said. “They bring American flags. They really just have a big party at the airport to welcome these families.”
Refugees RST helps people who were forced to flee their native countries. Roberts said they’re approved by the United Nations to resettle in the United States.
Jose Bustamante told us he signed up about a month ago. “I picked up families. I drove them to their clinic visits, and I drove them back home,” he said about one of the refugee families he helped.
Bustamante said it’s important to show support. His parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico decades ago.
“They’ve been living here ever since,” he said. “They worked hard. They raised seven of us. It would’ve been nice to have a welcome team or something.”
He explained when his parents moved, it was difficult to find a support system like RST.
“Back then it was just like if you knew somebody or if you had a friend or a community member who was willing to reach out to you,” he said. “That was really the only way.”
For families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, Roberts said RST partners with other organizations to help.
According to their website, RST’s Unaccompanied Children Program serves kids who are released from immigration detention centers, but don’t have any parental or guardian support in the US.
Roberts said, once the children are reunited with their parents, and as a family, they receive asylum, RST can then step in and help them resettle.
That process to be granted asylum, she said, typically takes anywhere from 9 months to 2 years.