A new report from the New York Post highlights the northwestern Pennsylvania city of Erie, which has taken in many thousands of refugees over the past few years. Going against the stereotype of refugee-friendly regions, Erie County voters supported Donald Trump in 2016.
The county took in 3,219 refugees in 2016 — ranking ninth among all states in the union — and is home to the one of the largest refugee populations in Pennsylvania.
“In 2016 we placed nearly 700 hundred Syrian refugees in Erie,” said Ed Grode, who sat on the board of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), a national nonprofit that partners with the State Department to resettle refugees, for ten years. “They come from places like Kenya, Bosnia, the Congo and Iraq. Refugees now make up roughly 20 percent of the city’s population of 100,000.”
Now 70, Grode is still involved in helping those fleeing tribal warfare, political upheaval or religious persecution in their native nations. “Everyone finds a job once they settle here. Some find two or three,” he said.
Frank Victor employs several refugees who have settled here and worked hard to earn their citizenship. He also voted for Trump, and he is very happy with his presidency.
He smiles at the notion that some folks might consider this an inconsistency. “It’s really not a surprise to me that people still don’t understand who a Trump really voter is.”
Victor is chairman of the board at Fralo, a successful manufacturing company that employs 70 workers — about 20 percent of whom are refugees or former refugees. “Incredibly hard workers, proud to work, proud to be here, proud to earn their citizenship,” is how Victor describes this part of his workforce.
Victor has no problem with bringing refugees to the country — or his city or company — but thinks there should be a balance. “Limits are important,” he said. “You want to make sure there’s also not a drain on the economy and services, [but] that’s never been the case here in Erie. And you want to do whatever you can as a person to help people from other countries that have faced war or religious prosecution or unthinkable terror. That kind of stewardship . . . is a part of who we are as Americans.”
Victor recently attended the citizenship ceremony for the woman who cleans his house and her husband, both of whom are from Bosnia. “He has a trucking company, and they’re very successful. They have a nice big house with a swimming pool, and their kids are assimilating into society, and I cannot accurately explain to you how happy they are to be here,” he said.
Ferki Ferati can. After forming a relationship with the International Institute of Erie, he moved to the city from Kosovo in 2010 and has since gained a bachelor’s in intelligence studies and a masters in public administration.
Last summer he became president of Jefferson Educational Society, the prestigious think tank that aims to promote civic enlightenment and community progress for the region.
Sitting in his office, located in a former synagogue, Ferati explains how he knows he has truly made it in his new homeland. “I am a Muslim, working in a Jewish synagogue, in a majority Catholic town, with much of my education coming through Catholic schools, who is married to an Albanian Russian.
“You know what I think about that? Two words. It’s American, very American.”