5 Issues Facing Communities Accepting Puerto Rican Refugees

Priorities for Communities Hosting Refugees from Puerto Rico

  • Schools must adapt to student surge
  • Increased need for government assistance
  • Availability of employment opportunities
  • Overcoming the language barrier
  • Ensuring refugees understand local laws

In the wake of devastating storms and extended economic decline, thousands of Puerto Rican refugees have decided to migrate from their island home to the continent. Many towns and cities throughout the United States have offered to host refugee populations, but not all of them are fully prepared for the task. Since many of the people leaving the island intend to make a new home and life at their destination, host governments must be ready to provide more than short-term assistance. They must gauge the potential impact on their community and social services so they can develop a strategy to best serve their new and current residents alike.

Schools Must Adapt to Student Surge

For many parents, the idea of their child missing an entire year or more of school is unthinkable. Getting their kids into a local school is a top priority for Puerto Rican refugee families, so local education systems must adapt their budget to accommodate a sudden jump in student population. This includes setting aside funds for additional textbooks, school facilities and even staff members. School districts should also prepare their students for the process of integrating new peers.

Increased Need for Government Assistance

While many refugees heading for the United States are doing so to find employment and domestic stability, these things won't happen immediately. Some families will have little to no savings left after making the transition, so there will be high demand for charitable outreach and government-sponsored aid. Governments can work alongside local organizations, including churches and charities, to connect with refugees and help them fulfill their basic living needs.

Availability of Employment Opportunities

Helping migrants and refugees from Puerto Rico sustain themselves is a top concern for host communities. Outreach efforts should focus on connecting new residents and local employers who are need of new hires. Communities should also analyze and consider job availability in their town before committing to accept a certain number of refugees. A lack of jobs hinders refugees from creating a sustainable life, and may cause friction with current residents.

Overcoming the Language Barrier

When it comes to language and cultural barriers, there are few concerns with Puerto Rican refugees. Many of the people coming to the States can speak fluent English, but some are primarily Spanish speakers. Communities that don't already have a significant Spanish-speaking population should consider translating important documentation, signs and other information into Spanish for the benefit of non-native speakers.

Ensuring Refugees Understand Local Laws

Refugees are expected to follow local law just like anyone else, so it's essential for communities to educate them about rules and regulations that may impact them. Since laws can vary significantly between jurisdictions throughout the country, it's better to provide too much information than not enough. New residents also need to know about local emergency services, including law enforcement, and how they can contact them when needed.

There are many concerns that communities need to consider when making a decision about housing migrants. Even though there are some potential difficulties and expenses, lending a hand to those in need can also have a powerful positive impact on everyone involved. As long as host communities properly prepare for hosting an influx of Puerto Rican refugees, they can maximize the effect and minimize the costs of their outreach efforts.