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refugees

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Here is a possible answer to a couple of current questions. How to deal with the thousands of Afghans we have brought to our country ahead of the Taliban takeover and also those refugees from Central and South America who have massed at our border? That is one question. Another is how to respond to the ever-widening gap between the rising need for home health care workers and hospital aides, and the aging of the current United States population who will need such services?  And there are other such industries that urgently need workers, where there are not enough Americans to fill them.

Some of the immigrants may be well-educated or have needed skills. Those can probably be settled readily into American locations after they have been vetted and vaccinated. For those without obvious skills, the government will need to offer training, including English classes. The newcomers could be given a choice of what work they would want to do. Some may be or would like to be farmers, and we certainly need more workers in agriculture. Some may already be carpenters or landscapers or roofers or mechanics. If they can drive, we might be able to prepare them to drive trucks or buses, jobs that are going begging today. Perhaps they could help moving companies, which are understaffed and leaving customers stranded in their new homes waiting for their furniture to arrive. Some could help veterinarians, who are hugely overworked now by the many new pet owners who wanted companionship during the pandemic and acquired dogs, cats and other domestic creatures. 

Child care is a field that needs more workers. Mental health practitioners, overwhelmed by those experiencing anxiety, depression and stress could certainly use non-managerial help. So could both be teaching and non-teaching educational services, and sawmills turning out lumber for new construction and renovation, and textile mills trying to meet the sudden demand for back-to-school and back-to-work clothing places to welcome help. We have a desperate shortage of nurses in our country, both PNs and RNs. Hospitals, now newly reduced in their staffing because of the vaccine mandates, probably need help with basic services.

All of these positions, of course, would need varying degrees of training, and that in turn would offer new teaching jobs to the currently unemployed. Such programs would be no small task to organize, but it was doable during the Great Depression almost a century ago, and we can surely again put people to work where they are needed. Some of the jobs would be easier to prepare for than others. All could improve our economy, especially in areas with stagnant growth, and perhaps meet urgent needs.

I wonder if the federal government is thinking strategically when they place thousands of refugees in select communities. Currently, some 37,000 Afghans are at military installations in 10 states while other evacuees remain at overseas bases waiting to be processed, according to Nayla Rush, writing for the Center for Immigration Studies on Sept. 23. In total, the Biden administration has reported that over 100,000 Afghans were evacuated.

The top ten states receiving the newcomers, according to the Center, are California (5255), Texas (4481), Oklahoma (1800), Washington (1679), Arizona (1610), Maryland (1348), Michigan (1280), Missouri (1200), North Carolina (1169) and Virginia (1166). To coordinate this mammoth resettlement, President Joe Biden (D) appointed former Delaware Governor Jack Markell. He is also the former chairman of the National Governors Association and has held top positions in the private sector. 

“Nine religious or community-based organizations have contracts with the Department of State to resettle refugees inside the United States,” according to the Center, and they have final say on the distribution. These agencies, in turn, maintain nationwide networks of local affiliates to provide the necessary services. State and local officials are not involved and have no control over the program. Refugees are not resettled in states that do not have any local affiliates, which explains why some areas are skipped. 

Our country has a need of workers. Potential workers are entering the United States in significant numbers. Together that creates opportunity. We need some thoughtful and skilled management here.

'Hope and Freckles'
Retired police officer encourages empathy for refugees in powerful first book

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Bill Kiley

Every year, tens of thousands of people from around the world flee their homes. They have any number of motivations, among them political turmoil, threat of violence, discrimination and climate change, to name a few. 

Retired police officer Bill Kiley has deep compassion for asylum seekers of all kinds, and recently felt a strong desire to help them in some way. Kiley, 71, of East Northport, hopes that educating children about the plight of refugees can bring about a more supportive, empathetic culture in the next generation. 

His new book, “Hope and Freckles: Fleeing to a New Forest” tells the story of a white-tailed deer named Hope and her spotted fawn, Freckles, as they attempt to escape the growing number of hunters in their forest and go in search of a place where they will be safe. The sharply written story and whimsical, beautifully-illustrated characters will stir the hearts of children and adults alike.

What was your childhood like? 

I was raised in Brooklyn, lived in Queens after I got married, and came to this area when I started working for the Suffolk County Police Department years ago.

Were you creative from an early age?

I wasn’t creative at all. I’m one of nine children, and we lived in an apartment with one bathroom, so you can imagine what that was like! We played a lot of sports with our friends, and I started working during the summers when I was 11 to help contribute to the family.

What did you end up doing for a career?

After high school, I spent a couple of years working at the FBI as a clerk while I went to college at what is now John Jay College at night. My initial plan was to become an agent. Simultaneously, when I was 17 I joined the Army National Guard. I went away for six months of training right after my 18th birthday, and continued to go for additional training at other points which meant some breaks from school. I ultimately began working for the Suffolk County Police Department in 1972.

You must have met a lot of people from diverse backgrounds, then.

Of course. That was part of my motivation for writing this book. I wanted to shine a light on the struggles of refugees and asylum seekers all over the world. After 30 years in law enforcement and serving as an Army reservist, I recognize that this crisis threatens free democracy if it’s not dealt with. If we don’t step up, then our children and grandchildren will be left to deal with the global implications of people being pushed out of their countries and living in tent cities. Something needs to change.

When did you first start writing? 

In retirement, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of babysitting for my granddaughters. We’re a few blocks away from a local library, and so when the kids were with me we’d sometimes go down to the library and head to the children’s section. I began reading to them, and then as they grew I’d read along with them. At that point I began to see the incredible power that children’s books have on young minds. All the while, I’d been looking for a way to help with the refugee crisis, and I began to think that maybe I could help young children understand what’s happening and have some positive influence on the future. I never had any ambitions to become an author.

How did you learn about publishing and sharpen your writing skills?

I read a lot with my grandkids. But in the spring of 2019, I found out about an annual convention in New York City called Book Expo at the Javits Center. I spent three days there. For me, it was a three-day immersive educational experience. I had the opportunity to meet lots of people from every aspect of the writing and publishing world, including some very generous folks who were authors of children’s books. They spent a lot of time sharing their experiences and advice with me, and then I went home and continued to read and learn as much as I could. 

‘Hope and Freckles’

How did your family react when you told them you wanted to write a book?

Well, my wife, Kathy, and I were in school together since the first grade. We go back that far. And no one in my life has been as supportive of their spouse in life as my wife has been for me. In everything I’ve ever tried, she’s been there, and this was just another one of those things.

My granddaughters have been involved in this project from the get-go. They gave great feedback and I’ve had the chance to share the book with their classmates, too.

Is there a reason why you chose to make the characters animals instead of people?

I thought that since this is such a sensitive subject to explain to children, it would be less upsetting to use animals. The national animal of Honduras is the white-tailed deer, and as many refugees come from that area, I thought it was an appropriate choice.

How did you go about getting published?

I met a number of people from traditional publishing companies, independent publishers and hybrids. One of them was a man who recommended his publisher, Mascot Books in Herndon, Virginia. I submitted my manuscript and was happy to learn that they were going to accept it.

What about the illustrations?

I contacted freelancers all over the world, and Mary Manning’s work is so unique and beautiful. I’m so happy with what she’s done for the book. Once the manuscript was finalized, Mary broke the manuscript into logical scene breaks, then made pencil sketches for me to approve. She took it from there. To see the final copy was like holding my children and grandchildren for the first time. There was a feeling of, “Oh my gosh, we just gave birth to a book!”

This book also includes vocabulary words and questions for discussion. Why did you choose to add those?

As I was researching and reading different children’s books, I found a couple that had some variation of continuing discussion. My hope is that this book isn’t just read by 7 to 10 year olds, but that their families will read along with them and share in the experience and conversations that can happen afterward. A parent or other adult might feel ill-equipped to start a discussion on their own, so I thought having some starter questions might be helpful.

What do you want children to take away from reading this book?

The response from the classes I’ve read to so far has been wonderful. Kids have shared that they never thought about what it would be like to leave your home because of danger; to not have a school to go to or books to read; that they are grateful for what they have. That has been like gold to me. 

It’s easy for people in our country to automatically look at the U.S,-Mexican border as the only place of crisis. But this is a global issue. The U.N. estimates that around 26 million people around the world have had to flee their homes, often to places where they are unwanted. Half of those refugees are children. I hope kids who read this book come to understand that there are people their age that are in that situation, and empathize with the plight of refugees all over the world.

What’s next for you?  

My hope is to do a series of four books, all with these same characters, following their journey as it continues on. I’ll be reading from the book at Barnes and Noble stores around Long Island and New York City in the future. I am also available to speak about the book at schools, religious congregations and events.

Author Bill Kiley visited with his granddaughter Keira and fourth grade students from Mrs. Dennis’ class at St. James Elementary School in the Smithtown Central School District on Feb. 4. Kiley spoke to the students about the writing, editing and illustration processes of producing a book. He then read ‘Hope and Freckles’ to the class followed by a Q&A session.

“Hope and Freckles: Fleeing to a New Forest” is available online at www.mascotbooks.com, www.Amazon.com or www.BN.com. To learn more about Bill Kiley, this book and future projects, visit www.hopeandfreckles.com.