Sit down and really think about immigration. What does this topic mean to you? How do your opinions impact other human beings’, well, legislation? As with a lot of things, I asked “Google” my questions to see if I was on the right track with my preconceived notions and assumptions. You will find in your research that “Google” is at our disposal because of the impact and coverage of refugee resettlement. Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, immigrated to the United States in 1979, escaping the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Steve Jobs’ biological father was a Syrian refugee; Madam Secretary Madeleine Albright escaped Czechoslovakia and the tyranny of Hitler and Stalin, later inspiring the portrayal of a child in a film designed to promote sympathy for refugee children of war, as she had been. Other notable products of immigrant drive and genius include the creator of Yahoo!, Liz Claiborne, Ebay, Kohls, Nordstrom, Colgate, McDonald’s, Disney and Amazon.

Here in St. Louis, we are surrounded by the entrepreneurial spirit of our immigrant-driven past. For well over 250 years, St. Louis has been a mecca for growth and has inspired industry dominance in a plethora of arenas. Take into consideration the many pockets of our great city that we visit or call home. Cherokee Street, Dutchtown, The Hill, South City – all areas that thrive because of immigration and the hard work and brilliance they brought to our city in decades old and recent. Not to mention, the food.

Soulard, for instance, is named after Antoine Soulard, who first developed the land just west of the Mississippi. Soulard was a surveyor for the Spanish government and a refugee from the French Revolution in the 1790s. Henry Shaw was an English immigrant who brought us Missouri Botanical Gardens. Joseph Pulitzer’s family fled Hungary, leading to his later creation of the Saint Louis Post Dispatch, the Pulitzer Prize and his service in the Missouri State House of Representatives, where he fought big business despite his fault in the emergence of yellow journalism. We also have seen the rise of the Busch Family Dynasty, creators of Budweiser and purveyors of Cardinals baseball.

Thanks also in part to Pulitzer, we have the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France. She reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

In the current state of affairs, we are seeing an increase in fears, both logical and depressingly fanatic – all seemingly brought to us by the current presidential administration offering “facts” that are flipping the bipartisan humanitarian approach at the resettlement of refugees to the January 27 Travel Ban.

The long-term impact of this ill-implemented executive order is unknown, but the list of world citizens impacted is shocking. The notable people directly impacted reads like a who’s who of Nobel Peace Prize recipients: a postdoctoral fellow working on new ways to treat the advancement of HIV/AIDS and a pioneer in genetic sequencing that tracks and monitors epidemic outbreaks like Ebola.

These examples of the impact and importance of immigration law, both historically and in today’s society, are relatively minimal in comparison to the larger picture. St. Louis and The International Institute of St. Louis continue to aid these individuals, extending a helping hand, understanding the overall contributions – both economic and societal – that these displaced people provide. Just in St. Louis alone in 2014, immigrant entrepreneurs paid 1.1 billion dollars in taxes. Immigrant spending power topped three billion dollars and from that year emerged 7,073 new entrepreneurs in just the St. Louis metro area alone.

Immigrant families have long played an important role in helping to build housing wealth in the U.S. In recent decades, more than 40 million immigrants in the country collectively increased the U.S. housing market wealth by $3.7 trillion. Much of this was possible because immigrants moved into neighborhoods once in decline, helping to revitalize local communities and make them more attractive to U.S. born residents. Homes owned in 2014 by immigrants here in St Louis? 27,608.

Refugees are resilient human beings. Every day, 110 innocent children risk it all to flee to the U.S. This provides a lower risk of succumbing to gang violence, organized crime, child abuse, sex trafficking, domestic violence, abandonment, death of parents, labor exploitation, corruption, poverty and, of course, war. 65 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced, and less than .1 percent will ever get the chance to start a new life.

The actual truth of the “vetting” process that we hear about recently isn’t as simple as some would like you to believe. The 18-24 month process from UNHCR Registration to the arrival into the US has currently 14 steps of screening and placement. Of the 1 percent that are actually placed in the United States, those who arrive at our gates don’t just get handed a free pass – the next steps are just as grueling. Limited funding (three months of assistance) allows families to find housing and get low paying jobs to get started. Thanks to organizations like the International Institute of St. Louis, they have a foundation to guide them into their new life.

For almost 100 years, the International Institute of St. Louis (IISTL) has been assisting in the process of immigration, helping clients integrate into society and live the American Dream. The list of opportunities and assistance they offer is endless and multifaceted. From housing, job placement, education, community orientations and overall administrative support, IISTL is instrumental in integrating these families into the St. Louis community. Working under the umbrella of USCRI (U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants), IISTL offers support from the beginning and continues throughout the process of resettlement for new Americans.

The International Institute is St. Louis’ only refugee resettlement sponsor, sponsoring 650 refugees annually. In 2016, a special Syrian refugee resettlement program was added, which included an increase in 300+ refugees each year, last year totaling 1,145 displaced families. With 65 million people displaced worldwide, St. Louis could impact 75,000 to 100,000 of those people, and IISTL is fighting to get that as close to a reality as possible.

Anna Crosslin, an immigrant herself, is the President and CEO of IISTL, and since 1978 has been the visionary that has led the organization through many tides, high and low, in the various needs for their clients. Blending the community is just one of the many ways Mrs. Crosslin excels. Each year, she and her team produce St. Louis’ largest multicultural celebration, the Festival of Nations. This event brings in more than 125,000 attendees during its two-day program, highlighting and emerging the beauty of cultures from all over the world. The vision Crosslin has implemented into reality is why her list of accolades ranges from the White House honors, “a Champion of Change,” to numerous “most influential” statuses. She views St. Louis as a whole, including the structures in it by saving properties that could easily become another empty hole in our neighborhoods.

Touring the new facility with IISTL’s Communications and Marketing Director, Gary Broome, the importance of and the presence of historical connection were apparent in our conversations, as well as the importance in all avenues on how to embrace and sustain the old with the new. The institute now resides at 3401 Arsenal in the Tower Grove neighborhood, what for years was known as St. Elizabeth Academy. The original convent buildings were erected in 1894, and the land throughout the years added new additions and evolved into more than a convent, but also a high school. Walking through the halls with Mr. Broome, it was a flashback in a time when things were simpler, but yet still very trying when it came to immigration. In this vast structure, late 19th century architecture partners up with 50s modernist design. It’s that era that echoes in the hallways, brickwork and color scheme which is inspiring when thinking about sustainability. It embraces the change that time has caused while also allowing the space to be saved, renovated and used for educational/personal development and humanitarian values, fitting for a previous high school and convent.

The English word “home” is from the Old English word, hām (not the pig), which actually refers to a village or estate where many souls are gathered. It implies that there is a physical dwelling involved, but the main idea is that it’s a gathering of people. One dictionary had an interpretation of the modern definition, “the abiding place of the affections.” It’s not a building or a room, but a place where your love dwells.

The International Institute of St. Louis continues to aid those all over the world in finding a true home. Every human being deserves this. If history has taught us anything, it’s that we share a nation built on immigration. After all we are the nation that prints E Pluribus Unum on our currency, “Of many, we are one.”

For more information on the Institute and how you can educate yourself and others, volunteer etc, visit iistl.org. V

by Karla Templeton