In the latest installment of our weekly conversation with Fort Worth leaders, Mayor Mattie Parker explains how the city helps refugees as the U.S. deals with the fallout of exiting its longest war.
According to Refugee Services of Texas, Afghans who cooperated with the U.S. military are in danger now that the Taliban, a militant group that controlled Afghanistan in the 1990s, have again seized control of the country.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio attached to this article.
Jessica Priest: Hello, this is Jessica Priest with the Fort Worth Report, and I’m spending a few minutes with Mayor Mattie Parker. This week, we’re talking about Afghan refugees. According to the Refugee Services of Texas, 59 Afghan refugees have settled in Fort Worth as of Monday and 119 are expected to settle in Fort Worth by Sept. 30. What does the city do to support refugees?
Afghan refugees in Texas
|Arrived as of Aug. 23||Expected to arrive as of Sept. 30|
Source: Refugee Services of Texas
Mattie Parker: Well, I think one thing I’ll start with — and you may cover this in your stories in the future weeks, Jessica — but a majority of the cases we’re seeing right now are special immigrant visas — The abbreviation is SIV clients — that are coming into Fort Worth. But we’ve been really fortunate to get to speak with some of our major resettlement agencies, most notably Catholic Charities Fort Worth, Refugee Services of Texas — they have a Fort Worth office — and then World Relief North Texas.
So our first responsibility was just reaching out to them to say, “What do you need from the mayor’s office, if anything, right now?” So we’re trying to first make sure people have the most correct information about what this refugee resettlement initiative may look like, specifically for those in North Texas and Fort Worth. On a real positive note, and this is coming from Catholic Charities just sharing for us anecdotally, that in recent weeks, every agency that serves refugees in a resettlement fashion have had an overabundance of volunteer requests and donations, in-kind donations, cash, because everybody’s watching what’s happening in Afghanistan and wants to find a way to help. So we’re trying at the city right now to channel a lot of wonderful energy in the right direction, in consultation with the refugee resettlement agencies that are doing the work.
Priest: Is there a difference between SIV clients and refugees?
Parker: I won’t botch that. But yes, there is. I’m just saying that a majority of the cases we’re seeing right now that are SIV is because they worked in connection or on behalf of the American government in Afghanistan, and the priority right now is to get those families into the United States on those SIV visas. So it does look different than a typical refugee resettlement process.
Priest: What has the city done in the past during a more typical refugee resettlement?
Parker: Well, I have not been here, when you had what is really considered a humanitarian crisis in a specific area of the country. We do not have an Office of Refugee Resettlement or anything like that and so we’ve always been in pretty close contact with the agencies I mentioned before. I think right now it’s taking their lead, because you can imagine, Fort Worth has a reputation honestly, across the country of being premier and the work we do on behalf of refugees that are resettled in the United States, getting them on their feet as quickly as possible and being a welcoming community. We want to keep that reputation intact, and I have no reason to believe we wouldn’t be in that same place today.
But, of course, when you have a large number of resettlements happening, even if it’s an SIV process or SIV clients, you want to make sure we’re really serving those clients to the best of our ability. So it probably does look different at those individual agencies. The only experience I had was, gosh, over a decade ago. In one of the first rounds of youth immigration that was happening at the southern border, Catholic Charities was a leading organization then and helping youth migration but it looked different. It wasn’t entire families. So I have a lot of confidence in our refugee resettlement agencies here in Fort Worth.
Priest: Does the city provide any funding to those agencies, or how does it support those agencies?
Parker: No, not right now. And they haven’t asked for that, frankly. It’s probably most helpful — and we’ll probably do more of this in the coming weeks, as more information is known — to channel the energy that I mentioned earlier that is incredibly positive. Everyone wants to find a way to help. We also have a lot of faith communities that have stepped out into individual nonprofit organizations, making sure our office and entire city have the most up-to-date, accurate information to provide to residents because we have a bigger bully pulpit to provide that out than a lot of these agencies do.
Priest: Is this the biggest influx in refugees the city has seen? Do you know if Fort Worth has an Afghan population already?
Parker: We do have an Afghan refugee population here already. I should say US citizens that were Afghani or are Afghani, but I don’t know if this is the biggest influx. I couldn’t answer that question.
Priest: And you mentioned reaching out to these resettlement organizations already to see what they need. Do they need anything in particular at this point?
How to help
Provide Walmart gift cards, which will enable Catholic Charities Fort Worth to buy furniture and complete apartment setups as needed. Gift cards can be sent to:
Catholic Charities Fort Worth
C/O Refugee Services
P.O. Box 15610
Fort Worth, TX 76119
Parker: As of right right now, no. I think paying close attention. I’ve already done this through social media. Providing links and information to the individual agencies is the best I can do right now. Believe me, they’ll have a call to action if they come up against a time when they’re needing helpful services. I think the most important thing for us right now is to exercise patience and a lot of grace and care for those agencies that are having to navigate these uncharted waters. Again, we have some of the premier organizations in the country. We’re lucky to have them here in Fort Worth in North Texas. And then anytime that I’m called or asked for assistance, I’ll be there. These are really difficult times, and importantly, if there is something the city can be providing, whether it’s access to housing or services, neighborhood services, all of those things that you want to provide, are there and then the next step is likely going to be if you have families that are resettling in a place like Fort Worth, what does their education structure look like if they have younger children? Making sure, as they already are with resettlement agencies, that they’re in close connection with our different public school options across North Texas that do an excellent job providing those education services to families to attempt to put some sort of normalcy in what is honestly unimaginable for those of us that are here in the United States and just watching the television of what’s happening.
Priest: Speaking of services, this question comes from our health reporter. She was curious, what options are available to these refugees for health care? Do you know anything about that?
Parker: I don’t know. I can say that that is usually provided by the US government through part of their refugee resettlement process. What I don’t know, Jessica, is how long it normally lasts, that would be a question best directed to one of those agencies that are providing services.
Priest: Is there anything else you want to add on this topic that I didn’t already ask you?
Parker: I don’t think so. I’m glad you’re covering it. I think it’s very important. There’s a lot of people that are asking the right questions about how they can be helpful, and we’ll do our best to provide that to your listeners and to all those across Tarrant County.
Priest: Great. Thank you so much for joining us, mayor. Listeners, please reach out to us on our social channels with your suggestions for future guests and topics and support us by going to fortworthreport.org/donate.
Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.