County seeks federal money for Iraqi refugees

By John Langeler
EL CAJON, Calif. — San Diego County officials are in Washington D.C. this week asking federal lawmakers for $20 million in grants to help the local refugee population.

Most of the refugees located in the county are Iraqi due to the large Chaldean community.

The county said Tuesday it was speaking with the San Diego congressional delegation about attaining funding for education, job training and other social programs.

Bob Montgomery from the International Rescue Committee in City Heights said the Iraqi refugee population was “trending upwards” as people who initially fled Iraq to Syria and now leaving the latter country.

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“We’re providing as many resources as possible,” Montgomery said. “There are political challenges. It’s hard to find money now.”

Montgomery said the influx of refugees slowed down last year because of federal restrictions, which have eased and there is a greater demand on resources.

President of Cuyamaca Community College Dr. Mark Zacovic said the federal government should step up more.

“The county, the city wanted to establish programs for the refugee population,” he said. “[Washington D.C.] said it was our problem.”

Four percent of Cuyamaca’s campus is made up of refugees, most of whom are Iraqi. The waiting list for English as a Second Language classes has nearly 1,900 students.

Rita Khouri is site coordinator for the International Rescue Committee in El Cajon, which opened in December. Her office’s classrooms and computer labs host up to 70 people per day.,0,7511969.story