In June, people from all over the world honor those who have left their home countries to outrun violence, abuse or persecution.

They honor, observe and celebrate World Refugee Day.

This international day was first celebrated on June 20, 2001, and its purpose is to bring awareness to the challenges and threats faced by refugees who seek safety in a new country and to show support for them, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also known as the UN Refugee Agency.

One way to support refugees is by attending events that are held by different groups or organizations that help refugees every year, but especially in the month of June, as World Refugee Day is observed on June 20.

“World Refugee Day shines a light on the rights, needs and dreams of refugees, helping to mobilize political will and resources so refugees can not only survive but also thrive,” the UN Refugee Agency’s website on World Refugee Day states.

The Office of Immigration Statistics from the Department of Homeland Security reported in a 2021 Refugee and Asylees Annual Flow report that a total of 11,454 people were admitted as refugees in the United States that year. 8.6% of those refugees were admitted into California, which is considered one of the top 10 resettling states. 

Immigration legal services division
A group of staff who are part of the Immigration Legal Services Division (ILSD) are providing information to the community. Photo courtesy of Marisa Moonilal Montes.

Along with World Refugee Day, June is also observed as Immigrant Heritage Month, which was created by the I Stand With Immigrant Initiative from the Education Fund, Inc. in 2014. Marking its 10th year anniversary, Immigrant Heritage Month’s purpose is to encourage immigrants who have come to the U.S. to tell their stories. 

“Together, our other online campaigns, #ToImmigrantsWithLove, #ImmigrantHeritageMonth and #CelebrateImmigrants allow space for immigrants and their allies to share stories demonstrating how immigration benefits our communities, economy, and country,” states the I Stand with Immigrants Initiative on its website.

The Golden State continues to be at the forefront in honoring and protecting refugees. On June 5, Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed June 2023 as Immigrant Heritage Month. In the proclamation, Governor Newsom honored immigrants who have helped shape what California is today through their culture, contributions and more. 

marisa moonilal montes
Marisa Moonilal Montes joined the International Institute of Los Angeles in December 2021 as a housing coordinator and transitioned into community relations. Photo courtesy of Marisa Moonilal Montes.

With Los Angeles being one of the top counties in California with refugees in 2021, many organizations provide services to refugees and immigrants. Marisa Moonilal Montes, Director of Community Engagement at the International Institute of Los Angeles (IILA), told CALÓ NEWS that honoring both immigrants and refugees in June is important to the organization she works for, as well as for herself personally. 

“Los Angeles is such a home to so many immigrants and refugees that it’s especially important for us to honor what they’ve experienced, support them and raise awareness in the community about how we can all come together to not only support them but see the entire community thrive because when those who are most vulnerable thrive, then everyone thrives,” Montes said.

The mission behind IILA is to provide help through services for refugees, low-income families and immigrants. It is located in the neighborhood of Lincoln Heights in LA. 

The organization began as a part of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in 1914, with a focus on helping immigrant women and children. However, IILA eventually became its own non-profit in 1936 to expand services beyond women and children.

A group photo of the Matching Grant (MG) Program, which includes Adriana Burgos (the second person starting from the left) and Yubi Teran (the third person starting from the left). Photo courtesy of Marisa Moonilal Montes.

“We branched off and, since then, have grown exponentially and have been involved in responding to the needs of waves of refugee resettlements and immigration throughout history since then,” Montes said. 

One of the ways IILA aims to help refugees who come to California is through the Resettlement and Placement Program, which is a program created by the State Department. IILLA is contracted by the government and provides services for refugees through the program.

This program is based on the first 90 days that refugees from all over the world arrive, such as in Los Angeles. In these first 90 days, IILA helps refugees obtain basic services, such as safe temporary housing, public benefits, healthcare and immediate medical attention if needed. 

For refugees who bring their children with them, the organization also makes sure that they will be enrolled in a school. Montes explained that refugees also have the opportunity to qualify for additional programs that will benefit their new lives after the 90-day resettlement period. 

Along with the Resettlement and Placement Program, there is the Matching Grant (MG) Program, which focuses on helping newcomers become self-sufficient. This program is offered not only to refugees, but also to immigrants, asylees, human trafficking survivors and those with Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs). 

Some of the services include learning how to create a resume, helping the clients find a job, teaching clients how to prepare for an interview, providing transportation through the LA Metro’s Low-Income Fare is Easy (LIFE) program and more. 

International Institute of Los Angeles
As a case manager and job developer for the Matching Grant Program with the International Institute of Los Angeles, Yubi Teran works to help her clients overcome barriers to becoming self-sufficient. Photo courtesy of Yuri Teran.

In the MG program, there are people from all over the world who are being helped, such as Ukrainians, Afghans and African clients. Yubi Teran and Adriana Burgos, who are both case managers and job developers for the MG Program, work mostly with Latino clients in this program. 

Working closely with Latino clients, Burgos said one of their challenges that they face is the language barrier, not being able to speak the language of the new country they now reside in. “Most [Latino clients] don’t speak English, and in my opinion, it’s a big barrier,” Burgos said. 

As for Teran, she mentioned that since their Latino clients have a language barrier, it is common to have limited options when it comes to finding a job they can work at. Along with this, their clients come from all ranges of education, such as only finishing elementary school, high school or university. As a result of this, Teran said many clients may take longer to adjust to a professional life based on their background. 

Despite the barriers their Latino clients may come across, Teran has noticed how resilient and determined they are to be successful in any job they get hired for.

“I really admire all of my clients overall, but since I am a Latino and I’ve been in the position of having the language barriers, I admire [my Latino clients] a lot, and they’re great clients in terms that they really want to cooperate and do whatever they are recommended to do, so most of them are really going to find their way,” Teran said. 

When it comes to refugees, immigrants, asylees, humanitarian parolees, and those with SIVs, there is a distinguishable difference between their classifications and each has its own process to receive status.

International Institute of Los Angeles
Adriana Burgos joined the International Institute of Los Angeles in March 2021 and provides case management, employment training, rental assistance, and more for her clients. Photo courtesy of Adriana Burgos.

An IILA blog post discusses how refugees are fleeing their country due to persecution, fear or violence. To receive refugee status, a person has to apply outside the U.S. As for immigrants, many choose to leave their country but may not have the same fear as refugees. Asylum seekers are those who are looking for protection in another country and can apply within the U.S. 

As stated in the blog post, humanitarian parolees “may be inadmissible or otherwise ineligible for admission into the United States to be in the United States for a temporary period for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.” When applied for, it is a temporary status in the U.S. SIVs are meant for someone who becomes a permanent resident in return for helping the U.S. government abroad through different types of jobs. 

In addition to the two programs, IILA, its Local Integration & Family Empowerment (LIFE) Division also offers other programs and services that can be found on its websites under Immigrant and Refugee Services, such as the First 5 Refugee Family Support (RFS) Program, services for survivors of human trafficking, childcare, and the Afghan Health Promotion Program (AHP), the Afghan Legal Representation Project (ALRP) and the Afghan Integration and Resettlement Services (AIRS). 

Along with this, Montes said IILA is a provider of the Central Americans Minor (CAM) Program. According to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, it is a program where Central American children and their families can receive refugee status and resettlement in the U.S. 

“[CAM] helps reunite children under 21 with their parents who are already legally in the U.S. Some of those who receive services from us through this program also participate in the Opportunities for Youth program for mentoring and other services,” Montes said.

For additional social services provided by IILA and legal services through their Immigration Legal Services Division (ILSD), you can visit their website.

On World Refugee Day, which was on Tuesday, June 20, IILA along with other agencies and organizations, held an event in Gloria Molina Grand Park in LA to recognize and honor refugees. Even though this was a one-day event, IILA is a resource for refugees and other statuses regardless of the time of year. 

 “I do believe that Los Angeles is a very welcoming community, and we’re very thankful for that. We think that there are many resources, but unfortunately, there are not enough resources for them, so it would be great to offer them even more help,” Teran said. “Have more job opportunities for them, for example, and we’re working hard on that.”

Jasmine Contreras is a freelance writer who grew up in Wilmington, Calif., and received a journalism degree at California State University, Dominguez Hills. She gravitates to news, features, and lifestyle...