Governor Kathy Hochul recently announced New York State will help resettle as many 1,143 Afghan nationals evacuated from Afghanistan in cities across the state. On this episode, guests Camille Mackler, founder and executive director of Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative (ARC) and Professor Sarah Rogerson, director of the Immigration Law Clinic at Albany Law School, discuss the status of the current refugee crisis, the challenges refugees and resettlement agencies will face in the coming months, and policy changes that may help ease the resettlement process.


Camille Mackler, Founder and Executive Director, Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative

Sarah Rogerson, Director, Immigration Law Clinic, Albany Law School


  • Transcript

    Transcript was generated using AI software and may contain errors. 

    Alexander Morse 0:02

    Hi and welcome to Policy Outsider. I’m Alex Morse. With the recent collapse of the Afghan democratic government and the rise of the Taliban, a humanitarian crisis unfolded as hundreds of thousands of Afghan men, women, and children seek refuge. Governor Kathy Hochul recently announced New York State will help resettle over 1,100 refugees and possibly more. With the impending influx of refugees in New York, we wanted to know what kind of impact resettlement has on a community? Is immigration, including refugee resettlement, contribute to a community’s vitality? Or is it a drain on existing resources? A new book, titled Immigration Key to the Future: The Benefits of Resettlement to Upstate New York, seeks to answer that question. Immigration Key to the Future is the result of the combined efforts of the Rockefeller Institute, the Government Law Center at Albany Law School, and the New York State Bar Association. We invited two of the book’s contributors, Camille Mackler and Sarah Rogerson, experts in policy and practice for immigration and resettlement, to discuss the status of the current refugee crisis. The challenges refugees and resettlement agencies will face in the coming months and policy changes that may help ease the resettlement process. Coming up next.

    Alexander Morse 1:48

    I’m joined by Camille Mackler, founder and executive director of Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative or Immigrant ARC, and Professor Sarah Rogerson, director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the Albany Law School. Thank you both for being here today to discuss the current Afghan refugee crisis.

    Camille Macker 2:05

    Thanks for having us.

    Sarah Rogerson 2:06

    Happy to be here.

    Alexander Morse 2:07

    So you two have likely been working around the clock meeting with refugees, nonprofit organizations, state and local government agencies, politicians, etc. With the recent events unfolding in Afghanistan, the end of the United States occupation in the country and the withdrawal of the American soldiers, followed by the rapid ascent of the Taliban reclaiming of the country, we are facing a humanitarian crisis. The resettlement of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Afghan refugees. In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul recently announced that at least 1,143 Afghans will be resettled across New York State. And I have the numbers here, I’m just going to recite them real quick: 100 Afghan refugees are going to be resettled in Albany; 335 headed towards Buffalo; 240 in the New York City area; 200 in Rochester; 248 in Syracuse; and 20 in Utica. And so while these numbers can be subject to change, let’s start here. Who is being resettled? How did New York State determine these numbers?

    Camille Macker 3:21

    I can start with that. New York State didn’t determine the numbers. The Department of Homeland Security, which has been tasked with the intergovernmental coordination to assist those who are evacuated from Afghanistan to the United States has been working with the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement, and other agencies within the federal government. They, along with the refugee resettlement agencies, determined that this is a number of individuals that can be expected to come to New York, one of the higher receiving states because of the capacity of the refugee resettlement agencies here in the welcoming communities. New York may have been consulted, but it’s not a decision that was made by New York State to resettle that number. I think it’s also important to remember that that is just a portion of the people that are affected by this crisis. These are the individuals who are part of the 120,000 that made it out on evacuation flights led by the US government out of Afghanistan, and have been waiting on bases either around the country or in what are referred to as the lily pads, which are US bases abroad, where individuals who were evacuated. Nobody came directly to the US. They got them out of Afghanistan onto these lily pads. And then they brought them from the lily pads into the United States. So those are the individuals who we’re talking about when we’re talking about that roughly 1,100 number. It does not include family members or the connections to Afghan Americans here already in New York who are trying to get their family members, their loved ones, out of either Afghanistan or they were able to make it out of Afghanistan out of the third countries where they’re currently in to New York. And it doesn’t include anyone who may continue to be referred into any of the refugee programs or who may continue to be in country or those third countries but not on the lily pads, who regular immigration channels or new programs that may be created end up ultimately in New York. So 1,100 is sort of this base, based on the number of people who were officially evacuated by the US government and are currently on military bases. But it’s not the sum total of Afghans who are coming to New York.

    Alexander Morse 5:21

    There’s an estimated 75,000 outstanding refugees on these military bases and lily pads, if I’m correct.

    Camille Macker 5:29

    Yes, 70 to 85,000.

    Alexander Morse 5:31

    Now, not all of these people are refugees? How is it defined? Do they have different statuses on these bases?

    Camille Macker 5:39

    They have no status. Let me take that back. There are US citizens who were evacuated and brought to the bases. There are green card holders. There are applicants for what we call a special immigrant visa, which are for individuals who provided interpretation services and translation services to US troops in Afghanistan and whose lives are now at risk because of their service to the US military. There are applicants for that kind of visa. And then there are individuals who are referred into the refugee programs that have been created, either because they worked for US government agencies or because they worked for US government contractors, US based NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), or US based media organizations. But because those programs have been announced but not yet started processing, all the individuals who are here who aren’t US citizens or green card holders were allowed to enter the United States on what’s called humanitarian parole, which is a legal way to bring somebody into the United States and protect them from deportation, while they figure out what the next steps are. Now we’re in the process of figuring out next steps.

    Alexander Morse 6:39

    How do privileges and services differ between these designations, whether it’s refugee, special immigrant visa, or humanitarian parolee?

    Sarah Rogerson 6:47

    I think it’s also important to mention, and I know we have an answer to that question, too. But I just want to just round out the numbers here, we don’t have a good grip on what this number is. But there are a number of people who have been here from Afghanistan on temporary visas. Either student visas or visitor visas or any number of nonpermanent type status, that are now also seeking legal services to convert their current immigration status to something more well settled. And depending on their eligibility factors, going back to your original question, it really depends on which types of more permanent visa structures they’re eligible for that really determines the types of benefits that they might receive. So when you’re talking about public benefits, there’s two big buckets of public benefits. There’s the federal benefits available on the federal level, and then in New York State, we also have some state benefits that are available to individuals depending on a number of different factors, as long as they’re here under what’s called color of law. They’re eligible for certain numbers of state benefits. That’s a very complicated chart. The Empire Justice Center, here in Albany, has done a great job of breaking that down. And they’ve updated their chart recently to reflect a lot of the different types of groups that we’re seeing resettle in the Capital District. But it really, really depends. And for a lot of these folks, we’re not talking about permanent road to citizenship. That’s a big, huge question mark. Because unless someone’s lucky enough to find an employer who’s willing to host them or if they fall into these categories of visas that the United States has identified, what Camille was talking about special immigrant visas for people who were employed by our government or some other narrow visa categories available. It’s labyrinthian. Now they’re in the United States and now they’re going to have to navigate our broken immigration system. And we didn’t clear a path for these folks. We’re putting them out into the world and saying, best of luck.

    Alexander Morse 9:02

    So staying on that path. We have these refugees that are awaiting to be resettled who need guidance or legal assistance or health care assistance? What is it that you, Camille or Sarah, are doing in practice on the ground to help with resettlement?

    Camille Macker 9:17

    Right now, the vast majority are still on the visas in terms of those who’ve made it to the United States. And so we’re working in partnership with the National Coalition, the back with our allies coalition to determine how to get legal services onto bases to complement the refugee resettlement services that exist and to screen and help identify what legal remedies there may be. And we’re also participating in advocacy efforts to create new pathways for the Afghan Adjustment Act and other potential legislation that could create pathways to legal status for Afghans. I know that locally, and Sara can speak more about this, there are providers who are organizing to try to file applications to at least help people get into the United States right now. But there’s a lot more that runs the gamut. But I’m sure Sarah can say more about that.

    Sarah Rogerson 10:05

    Yes, Albany Law School is assisting with our local refugee resettlement office, US CRI, to clear a backlog of, I don’t know exactly the number, but last time I checked it was about 100 people who had called in for services. And it can range from people who are trying to still get their family members from abroad into the United States, or people who are here, who now are concerned about their status as a result of what’s happened or unable to return to their country. So we’re still very much in triage mode in terms of figuring out, getting our arms around, what is the universe of the population that needs assistance in our backyard. What does that look like? What are their needs? And then, how do we bring the collective energy of the NGOs or nonprofits locally to bear on the needs of the population? And so the students are hard at work. We’ve got a system that we’ve set up and then the students will be trained on things like trauma centered interviewing. I think it’s important to mention too that this isn’t something that just a bunch of lawyers who are really well intentioned and care about this issue can just jump in and assist. We’re talking with families who are in active distress. Who are currently experiencing trauma on a massive scale. And so that requires a special set of skills. We’re trying to simultaneously address the need while also training folks to be able to be culturally responsive and attentive, while also making sure that this is coordinated communitywide because our refugee resettlement agencies have been doing this for a very long time. And there’s a bunch of new energy, for lack of a better term, in the mix. There’s a lot going on organizationally. And then, of course, trying to stay on top of what the federal government is going to offer now that we’re post-first phase of the crisis in terms of withdrawal. Now, we’re fully in the second phase of what this looks like. And again, I think we’re still very much in the triage part of that.

    Alexander Morse 12:16

    Right, we’re still collecting information, we’re still trying to find out who is going to be where. We don’t have the total number of refugees, or where they’re coming from, or where they’re going to. Focusing a little bit on New York State, of these 1,100, we had the numbers breakdown of where they might be going to. Camille, you mentioned that a lot of this is organized through family, if available. In the event that that’s not an option, how is housing found? How is employment found? What is the process to getting people resettled?

    Camille Macker 12:44

    So there’s a typical refugee resettlement process. And agencies are given a heads up by the federal government when they should expect somebody to come. Not much of a heads up these days, but nonetheless, and through their networks where they have apartments that they rent and they put them into job placements, and they screen them and they figure out what the next career path may be. They give English language classes. They give them cultural orientation and things like that.

    Sarah Rogerson 13:11

    It’s trying to bring all of the interests in alignment with what the need is when we’re still not 100 percent clear on the need. Because remember, some of these folks also still might have pieces of their family in the United States, may have pieces of their family in London, may have pieces of their family in India. Who knows where their families have all scattered. But if they have family in the United States, in some cases, it makes sense for them to resettle close to their family members. And so it’s a real logistical nightmare with a lot of well-intentioned groups and not a ton of infrastructure outside of the traditional refugee model to handle that.

    Alexander Morse 13:51

    Let’s focus on that a little bit. You said that there’s a lack of an infrastructure, Sarah. Why is that? What does that lead to? What ripple effects is that going to cause for resettlement?

    Sarah Rogerson 14:01

    I will start this ball rolling, but I know Camille has a lot of perspective on this because she’s been talking with folks in DC. But we have to remember that the Trump Administration reduced the refugee cap to historical lows, first of all. And we’re only just recently recovering from that. The Biden Administration just enacted a modest increase to the refugee cap. The State Department was also deprioritize is sort of a polite word for it, but was really decimated by the Trump Administration. And that’s where a lot of the infrastructure comes from is our presence in these countries abroad. And it didn’t just impact this crisis. It impacted Americans who were sent on diplomatic missions abroad and were put in harm’s way as a result of this systematic dismantling of the State Department. So as the Biden Administration tries to repair that, which is like a huge gaping wound in our federal infrastructure for refugee management, not only from a numbers perspective but just the expertise that we had built up over the years. In addition, this country on the interior, we have deprioritized immigrant legal services. Full Scale, New York is one of the only states that has even attempted a statewide representation for immigrants who are facing deportation, never mind immigrants who are brought here lawfully and are then seeking the next step in their status. So we are constantly dwarfed as immigration lawyers by the need of the people who are seeking to be on a path to citizenship or more settled status. But I know that Camille has more to say about the infrastructure that’s lacking and what Immigrant ARC has done to chip away at that in New York State.

    Camille Macker  16:00

    Our immigration system just wasn’t set up to address this kind of crisis whatsoever. I think that Sarah’s points are spot on. And in addition to that, we had already seen the complete decimation of agencies that were in charge of this. I mean, the reality is that from the moment the Biden Administration announced that they were going to withdraw from Afghanistan, those of us who were already working on reforming the SIV system, which had been gutted over the last few years, immediately pivoted to pushing for an evacuation because I don’t think we predicted that what actually happened would happen. I don’t think we foresaw the total and almost immediate collapse of the Afghan government. But certainly, we understood that the sources of protection would no longer be in place for a lot of vulnerable Afghans and that it was important to get them out while we finished processing their RSD applications. And then others who were seen to be associated with the United States through their work in the nonprofit sector, academic sector, media, etc. Women, of course. And it was very stunning from the start to see just how gutted and depleted many of these agencies were. We knew it on the immigration side. And that I think has created a lot of problems. And then in addition to that, you’re trying to staff up and ramp up as fast as you can the refugee resettlement agencies who for years had seen the numbers go down and down and down. Because the need for services was going down, their funding had disappeared, their positions had been laid off. So they’re all trying to ramp up. The State Department, the Department of Homeland Security all tried to step up and ramp up. And now you’re trying to bring in a lot of people at once and a lot of people who don’t actually have the experience dealing with this situation. And it was just at every single level a storm in a way. And beyond that, this huge reliance on civil society to pick up where government has not been able. My members, which are organizations that provide legal services to immigrants in New York, they’re at capacity. They don’t have the bandwidth, they don’t have the ability to take this on, in addition to everything else. And I think if there’s one thing that we really learned during the past administration and over the last few years is the importance of having access to competent legal counsel in the immigration setting, which is not a guarantee. You’re not entitled to counsel, at all, when you’re applying for an immigration benefit. You’re entitled to one at your own expense, not at the expense of the government when you’re facing deportation or when you’re detained. We do not have a system that lends itself to that model. We have a system that requires legal orientation or legal assistance to be able to navigate and to be able to avail yourself of the benefits that immigration law provides. I want to say thank you to New York State, which leads the country in investments and immigration legal services. Between New York State and New York City, we have about $72 million invested in immigration legal services. More than any other part of the country. Even California, that has huge investments in immigration services, doesn’t, I don’t think, have that much, at least not when you break it down proportionately for legal services. Governor Kathy Hochul has made some very welcoming comments. We have some real champions in the Assembly, Catalina Cruz, Pat Fahy, others who’ve been really transformative in supporting immigrant communities and those supporting those organizations that provide the services and then supporting Afghan communities. Jake Ashby, Senator Gounardes, have really spoken out in this space.

    Sarah Rogerson 19:37

    And sometimes it’s city by city. We also have the mayor of Albany, who’s stepping up as well. So that’s why you see the numbers shake out in New York State the way that they do. In some respect, it’s just how welcoming communities have been not just in terms of proclamations but in terms of actually providing assistance on all levels of civil society: housing, benefits access, connections to faith communities, culturally appropriate events. When you’re choosing a neighborhood to resettle and you choose one that caters to the things that you enjoy. And so we do you have a lot of communities who have been practicing, like in the Capital District. Afghanistan is one of the top five countries that people resettle from. So there are ways to be intentional about this. And it’s going to take not just lawyers, its well beyond lawyers at this point.

    Camille Macker 20:35

    Yes. New York knows the value of refugee resettlement. At the time when the previous administration was lowering the refugee numbers, localities, New York State, were actually reaching out to other states and saying, “Hey, refugee communities come over here,” because we’ve seen the impact that they have, especially in places like upstate New York, the Capital Region, the Mohawk Valley, Central New York. And Syracuse, I know, is another city that’s looking into how they can support Afghan refugee resettlement specifically,

    Alexander Morse 21:00

    Camille, you used the word “impact.” What can resettlement do for a community? Could you expand upon that?

    Camille Macker  21:07

    God, Sarah, you and I just wrote a chapter about this for Buffalo, Utica, Syracuse and I want to say the Finger Lakes Region and the Capital Region. They show that when you bring in refugee resettlement over time, average income in those communities go up, property values go up, crime rates go down. Utica, I think, tends to be the model for New York. But certainly other places—Buffalo, Syracuse, the Southern Tier, the Capital Region—have really seen the impact of the economy, I would say, as well as the cultural impact of refugee resettlement. In terms of new businesses, immigrants are far more likely than their American counterparts to start their own businesses, to own their own homes. I think you have to understand when you look at it from their perspective, they want that permanence. They want that American dream. The owning of your small business, the owner, or whatever it is. It’s like making your mark in that way. Many times, we see these individuals, and they come in, and we do see them take on jobs that I don’t want to say are low skilled, it takes a lot of skill to care for an elderly and sick person, or to build a house, honestly, me with all my fancy degrees should not ever be given a hammer and a nail and attempt to build the structure anyone wants to live in. But we see them in that. We’re talking about individuals who may have been incredibly educated and may have law licenses or come from academia or from politics. And when they’re given the opportunity to really invest in that, they want to give back to the place that has given them safety and security at the time they needed it the most. So we often see that over time the income grows, and certainly from generation to generation, and the economic impact grows.

    Alexander Morse 22:50

    I think that’s a fascinating component of this discussion that I don’t know if it’s really discussed enough about the benefits of resettlement for existing communities.

    Sarah Rogerson 23:02

    You see a lot of studies that come out of untraditional places like the Cato Institute, which usually ends up leaning more conservative, has published a lot of really interesting reports about the reduction of crime levels, in particular, being connected to the influx of refugees in any given community. But I think it’s important not just to lift up the economic or safety benefits to us, it’s also important to lift up that just welcoming new people into your community with new perspectives with different views. It does a lot to enrich the community landscape. People talk a lot about wanting to live in, quote unquote, diverse communities, right? What does that mean? So whenever we open our doors to other individuals from refugee populations, whether it’s Afghanistan, or Haiti, or any of these groups, where the United States has become a safe haven, we are enriched in ways that transcend economic and public safety metrics. And that is hard to measure except for when you go to your favorite restaurant and realize that it’s Moroccan or you go to listen to your favorite artist and find out that they were born in another country. That’s when people start to see a benefit that speaks to the human spirit of why this is an international law to begin with, the law of being kind to one another. And a lot of religious traditions also speak to the moral mandate to welcome the stranger and I never want to leave these conversations without mentioning that as well.

    Camille Macker 24:59

    I feel like a lot of times as I’ve been working on this, particularly since since April, there’s been a lot of conversations about the partisanship of the issue. And I think it’s really important. First of all, I firmly believe that when you start talking about immigration, those partisan divides actually at the basic American-to-American conversational level, aren’t quite what you might think of based on what the media plays it out to be. But that’s maybe a conversation for a separate podcast. But I will say that in this instance, there has just been incredible support on both sides of the aisle, across a spectrum of political beliefs for support of these Afghans who got caught in this crisis. And a poll done, I think, a few days after the fall of Kabul, show that 81 percent of Americans across party lines supported providing some kind of assistance or some kind of refuge for Afghans who were caught in it. And we certainly see that as we’re debating right now in Congress what kind of funding levels should be allocated to them, and if not in the new budget then a continuing resolution in these bills that are being introduced. This all happened because of a conflict that started because of attacks on our state. We are so tied to this crisis. New York and Afghanistan have been and the the conflict there and its evolution into trying to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan is so intrinsically tied to New Yorkers, that I think in New York, especially, there’s sort of a sense of ownership and a sense of we want to do right by these individuals, regardless, like I said, of political affiliation.

    Alexander Morse 26:40

    That’s encouraging to hear because it seems like, Sarah to your point earlier, it’s a logistical nightmare. Camille, it’s a lack of infrastructure that’s exacerbating a lot of these problems. So the need for community or bipartisanship, and just coordination is really important. Looking ahead, what are some policy changes that you two might enact, if you had the chance to help make this a more expedited process?

    Camille Macker 27:08

    I would provide legal assistance. And I want to be very clear because I do run an organization full of lawyers that when I say legal assistance I’m talking about just lawyers. I’m talking about the constellation of services that goes into support both the client who is going through traumatic event and needs support and assistance to participate in the preparation of their case, as well as the lawyers who cannot be social workers, case managers, therapists, and all of that, and who need that sort of support in in parallel with the legal help that they’re giving. I think right now, and Sarah, please let me know if you disagree, I think that because of the lack of access to legal services, a lot of people who are in these spaces are unsure what the future holds for them. We aren’t able to understand what the conditions on the basis are and we aren’t able to uplift issues. We’re not able to get ready to sort of receive and figure out how we’re going to help bring these individuals into United States, assimilate them into their welcoming communities, and fully engage and fully be prepared to to participate in our economic, civic, and cultural life. And I think that all starts with legal services writ large.

    Sarah Rogerson 28:11

    I would just add to that, that it’s these navigator systems, making sure that we are funding our refugee resettlement agencies in a way that allows them to do their jobs. If you only have one caseworker and they’re expected to be knowledgeable about the needs of 15 different types of groups that are resettling in your community that is tricky. If, however, you can scale that up by just two and have someone focused on state-level benefits and federal-level benefits. Another person focused on housing and another person maybe dedicated to whichever group is the dominant group coming into your community, in this case, probably at an Afghan refugee. That is a way to pivot us in a way that’s sustainable. And that really does provide the connective tissue to bring the different interest groups together around the issue. It’s that administrative component is so hefty, that’s where we’re stuck. And it’s not for want of interest. We have law students who are coming to law school at record numbers. We have law students who are signing up for things like the Immigrant Justice Corps and other innovative program in New York State, who are looking to make immigration law their first job right out of law school. And are looking to do it in an apprenticeship model so that they can be brought in to what it is that this job entails. And so those are the long-term ideas, pipeline ideas. But that’s already in the works and that just comes from interest and passion. And people being frustrated that for decades, we have continued to struggle with an appropriate way to respond to the very human need to migrate. This country can adapt. This country can accommodate many more refugees and immigrants than then the caps. And I’ll say caps plural, because we also have caps on the visas that are available to them, than these caps allow. We have tremendous need also as populations decline and some of our rural and in New York upstate locations. It’s knitting everything together. And lawyers definitely do that to make sure that people feel they are in a place where they can stay and access as many benefits as they may be entitled to. But the other piece of this is something that I think Camille does really well day in and day out, which is all of that connective work that makes sure that this is all done in a way that’s not duplicative, that isn’t not culturally responsive, and that is also the most efficient, effective way to be helpful to these families. At the middle of all this, you have an individual who has uprooted their entire life and is trying to start from scratch. And that is daunting, and we don’t need the mess of our bureaucracy telling them, well, you just need to wait another 15 weeks to be able to stitch your life back together again.

    Camille Macker 31:20

    This is a time for New Yorkers to come together because this is ours as much as everyone else.

    Alexander Morse 31:42

    Thanks again to Camille Mackler and Sarah Rogerson for taking the time to share with us their experience assisting refugee resettlement in communities across New York State. This is a developing situation and I encourage listeners to follow along and learn what they can do to help assist those in need. Immigration Key to the Future: The Benefits of Resettlement to Upstate New York is now available and is also available as an e-book on the New York State Bar Association website. Immigration Key to the Future examines how refugees contribute to and even rejuvenate their communities by offsetting demographic and economic decline through paying taxes, rebuilding housing stock, opening new businesses, and taking unfilled jobs. Drawn from academia, the business community and service organizations and largely using demographic and statistical analysis, the contributors but forward strategies for successful resettlement of refugees. Visit the New York State Bar Association website and search Immigration Key to the Future to learn more. If you liked this episode, please rate, subscribe, and share. It will help others find the podcast and help us deliver the latest and public policy research. All of our episodes are available for free wherever you stream your podcasts. Special thanks to Rockefeller Institute staff Joel Tirado, Heather Trela, and Laura Schultz for their contributions to this episode. Thanks for listening. I’m Alex Morris. Until next time.

    Alexander Morse 33:55

    Policy Outsider is presented by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York. The Institute conducts cutting edge nonpartisan public policy research and analysis to inform lasting solutions to the challenges facing New York state and the nation. Learn more at or by following RockefellerInst on social media. Have a question, comment, or idea? Email us at [email protected].

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