KENNETT SQUARE — Four years after Borough Council voted to form a committee to address issues concerning Latinos in the town, the council took another significant step this week when it voted unanimously to adopt a resolution which acknowledges its commitment to welcoming refugees to the borough.
"It’s part of a vision we’ve been creating over many years," said the Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs (ACOLA) Chairman Luis Tovar. "We’ve been working towards being all-inclusive and celebrating that we’re made up of diverse individuals.”
The resolution provides “written consent to the resettlement of refugees within the Borough of Kennett Square under the Department of State’s Reception and Placement Program," it reads in part. It was one of five priority initiatives ACOLA identified and presented in its annual report to Borough Council in April.
The current ACOLA commissioners are from different countries and represent their various communities to the commission, Tovar says. ACOLA acts as a bridge and a resource to help residents navigate the complexities of the municipality.
“Our meetings are open and we invite people to come and share their concerns,” Tovar says. “We connect people with help for everything from a question about a water bill or a tree leaning on their fence to translating information for important events.” As a sounding board for a range of concerns, ACOLA gives a voice to the whole community and in turn brings significant issues to the attention of Borough Council. “We also propose meaningful solutions."
In addition to the resolution, ACOLA has chosen to focus on four other initiatives this year. These include increasing affordable housing in the borough as well as opportunities for training and employment; endorsing driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status; and providing cross-cultural training for municipal employees and other community leaders to promote greater understanding.
The resolution is a natural outgrowth of these priorities and takes an important stand in the context of the nation’s longstanding commitment to welcoming refugees. In October 2019, Gov. Tom Wolf was one of the first in the nation to respond to the Sept. 26 executive order from the State Department that requires state and local officials to provide public written consent to receive refugees.
The Kennett Square resolution, noted Borough Council Vice President Rosa Moore, follows a similar resolution passed in West Chester last December and one by the county commissioners in January.
“This resolution is one way to say that this is what we stand for, that this welcoming stance is part of who we are and part of what makes Kennett Square a destination and a good place to live and work. We’re doing our small part to bring that to the forefront,” Tovar says.
As important as embracing what this resolution means, perhaps, is clarifying what it’s not.
“It has nothing to do with immigration laws, citizenship, or being a sanctuary city,” says Tovar. “It says that we as a people are welcoming to refugees. It’s understanding the fear of those who flee their countries because of religious, ethnic, and political persecution — which might include human trafficking, drug trafficking, forced employment, violence, or abuse.”
In the face of much misunderstanding, Moore emphasizes that it’s important to remember that resettlement is the option of last resort, and refugees are the most heavily vetted people who enter our country. “Refugees are not a drain on our resources. They’re here legally and have a lot to contribute to a community,” Tovar says. “This is an open door, formally and officially.”
“I was very excited when I saw it was possible for us to do this after the longstanding practice of welcoming refugees to our country was reversed,” Moore says. “The state of Pennsylvania also has a rich tradition of welcoming refugees, including the work of the HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), which helped to resettle refugees fleeing Europe during World War II and has expanded to help all those who need their services.”
Tovar points to the Statue of Liberty, a beacon of light and hope for all, as the symbol that encapsulates what this resolution is about. Almost everyone has either come to this country seeking an opportunity to build a life in a safe environment or is related to someone who came here, whether in the distant or more recent past.
Far from ending up in the file cabinet, Tovar says the resolution will be shared with other advisory commissions throughout the state and with the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs. “What works in one community can spread to others,” Tovar says, and he’s grateful for the diverse and engaged Borough Council for taking this important step for Kennett Square.
“Kennett Square is so much more than quaint streets,” says Tovar. “We have a sense of history, great schools, a beautiful park, and places like the Flash — and this adds one more ingredient. We’re a great community — and we can become even greater.”
“There’s nothing like the feeling of knowing you’ve finally made it home when you arrive in a welcoming and diverse community,” Tovar says. Perhaps particularly in this time when community is more important than ever, Tovar’s words are an inspiration to everyone in this diverse community to encourage, support, and seek to understand and learn from one another.