Saturday 20th July 2024

Barren County residents raise concern amidst support networks for refugees

Refuge Bowling Green's Matthew stevens and Alice Tarnagda educating the court on the nonprofits responsibilities and dispelling the misinformation surrounding the relocation of refugees.

Refuge Bowling Green's Matthew stevens and Alice Tarnagda educating the court on the nonprofits responsibilities and dispelling the misinformation surrounding the relocation of refugees.

 The Barren County Fiscal Court held a Special Called Meeting on Monday, July 8th, drawing significant attention from the community due to a public comment session about the resettlement of 30 refugees into the Glasgow area. All members were present with District 6 Magistrate Ronnie Stinson joining via Zoom.
Barren County Judge Executive Jamie Bewley-Byrd called the meeting to order promptly at 3:30 P.M.
Addressing the attendees, she emphasized the respect expected of those present, reinforcing that emotions may run high, but reason should prevail.
Beginning the discussion, Byrd introduced two representatives form Refuge Bowling Green, Matthew Stevens and Co-Founder Alice Tarnagda. Byrd confessed to the court that she had met with Stevens and Tarnagda before the meeting as to better ascertain how the refugees would affect the county.
These refugees, fleeing violence in their countries of origin, are being assisted by Refuge Bowling Green, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting their assimilation into new communities. The meeting, characterized by a lively and often contentious discussion, highlighted concerns among some community members and magistrates. Despite the limited influence local government entities have over the resettlement process, the issue has stirred considerable debate within Barren County.
Key concerns raised during the meeting centered around the demographics of the incoming refugees, particularly their ages. Some community members expressed anxiety over the potential impact on local resources, with a specific focus on the school district.
District 7 Magistrate Brad Groce voiced apprehension about the added stress to the educational system, though it was noted that the anticipated impact would be marginal.
While it is important to note that the refugees accepted into Barren County would be from Latin American Countries (a demographic thriving in the area), Groce had this to say to the crowd.
Additionally, questions were raised about the rationale behind selecting Barren County as a resettlement site.
Skepticism about the statements made by representatives from Refuge Bowling Green was evident, as attendees sought clarity on the organization’s claims and assurances.
It was explained that Barren County was chosen because of a robust network of local churches committed to supporting this refugee intake. This network offers a vital foundation for providing refugees with the necessary resources and community connections to aid their integration. Another significant concern involved the financial support provided to the refugees.
It was noted that each individual would receive a one-time $1,300 stipend from the federal government. When broken down, this amount equates to approximately $14.44 per day over a 90-day period. If viewed in terms of a standard 40-hour work week, this would amount to an hourly payment of roughly $0.36.
While some viewed this as insufficient, it is crucial to understand that the stipend is intended as initial support to help refugees establish themselves and become self-sufficient. Refuge Bowling Green clarified that while they do not have detailed information on the individual refugees, all have been thoroughly vetted and cleared by the U.S. State Department. The federal vetting process for refugees is rigorous, typically involving multiple background checks, security screenings, and interviews conducted by various federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the State Department. This process ensures that those admitted have met stringent security standards and pose no threat to national security.
In the United States, the Department of State manages the Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). The process involves several steps, including case preparation, where the Resettlement Support Center (RSC) helps refugees and their families prepare their cases for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
This includes compiling personal data and background information for security clearance. Once cleared, a sponsoring resettlement agency places refugees with a local affiliate and provides initial services for up to 90 days after arrival.
The goal is to resettle refugees near family or friends, with access to housing, services, and employment opportunities. Refugees also go through cultural orientation, which is a series of informal and formal training to help them adjust. The entire process can take several months or longer, depending on the applicant’s circumstances and location.
Refuge Bowling Green also offers a variety of services to assist refugees in their integration. These services include English language classes, driving lessons, and naturalization education. These programs are designed to equip refugees with essential skills for navigating their new environment, enhancing their ability to contribute to and thrive within the community. Tarnagda took the court through what the nonprofit accomplishes in its mission.
This discussion mirrored a similar one held earlier this summer with the Glasgow City Council.
During that meeting, the council did not offer a public comment session, adhering to their standard procedures. However, this decision upset many attendees, who were largely the same individuals present at the fiscal court meeting.
While some residents expressed compassion and a willingness to support the newcomers, a vocal minority voiced concerns about the potential strain on local resources and the social fabric of the area.
Many local church leaders in Barren County believe that welcoming refugees aligns with the community’s values of compassion and generosity. One of the community speakers, Mike Padgett, a local pastor, played the “devil’s advocate.”
Padgett’s concern came from a place of self-admitted ignorance, citing that his attempts to reach out to the nonprofit about the details of the soon-to-be residents, was still unknown, addressing the court he had this to say. Stevens and Tarnagda had both addressed this question at the previous city council meeting as well as earlier within the fiscal court meeting, stating that the nonprofit itself was not privy to what was being asked, and referring those asking to the state department, which ultimately safeguards said information.
District 5 Magistrate Marty Kinslow’s concerns seemed to stem from a lack of understanding on why Barren County had been chosen as the refugees’ new home.
Stevens explained to Kinslow a portion of what made Barren County attractive to the program.
 The Barren County Fiscal Court’s Special Called Meeting highlighted the complexities and challenges of refugee resettlement, as well as the need for ongoing dialogue and community engagement to address these issues.
The resettlement project may continue up to a year and as it continues, it remains to be seen how the community will navigate the integration of these new residents into the fabric of Barren County.
The opportunity to welcome individuals seeking safety and a new beginning offers a chance for the community to demonstrate its values of compassion and inclusivity.