Ilya Tlumach arrived in Lancaster County as a refugee from the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics 30 years ago with his parents and 10 siblings.
He celebrated the milestone with his mother before walking back to his executive-level office at Earth Source Trading in East Cocalico Township, where he serves as the general manager. Earth Source is a Four Seasons Produce company.
Now citizens of the United States, nearly all of his family still live in the county.
Four Seasons Produce is one of the local businesses that wrote a letter to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker in support of protecting refugee policies. The letter was shared with him in a meeting with Church World Service and the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce on Monday.
It was the first time Smucker and Church World Service had met in about a year.
Seeking Smucker’s support
Representatives from Church World Service asked Smucker to support the Guaranteed Refugee Admission Ceiling Enhancement Act, which would set an annual mandatory minimum of 95,000 refugees welcomed to the United States. This was especially crucial to the organization since a Trump administration official floated the idea of zeroing out refugees for the 2020 fiscal year. Other officials suggested setting it from 3,000 to 10,000 people, Politico reported in July.
President Donald Trump must submit his presidential determination by the end of September to set the number of refugees allowed into America for the following year. Trump has cut the refugee cap each year of his presidency, down to a new low of 30,000 for 2019.
Smucker said he is still reviewing the Grace Act, but he supports a “broader discussion around refugee policy.”
“I think fundamentally, it would change the way refugee limits are allocated and who makes that decision,” Smucker said on the Grace Act. “It was determined some years ago that the president should have the flexibility on a variety of factors, and I have some concerns and think we’d need to consider carefully whether it makes sense to change that.”
The group also asked Smucker to join the Bipartisan Congressional Refugee Caucus to show his support for Lancaster County’s historic resettlement efforts.
“If you’re going to be from a special area, an important site in the country, you should be on the Bipartisan Refugee Caucus,” said Matt Johnson, a refugee community organizer at Church World Service who asked for the meeting with Smucker.
Before their meeting, Smucker had not heard of the caucus and is looking into whether he will join it.
“I’ve always been proud of the fact that our community is a welcoming community,” Smucker said.
Diana London, Smucker’s press secretary, said Smucker has met with Church World Service approximately 10 times since he’s been in Congress, making it one of the organizations he’s met with the most.
The organization’s federal funding also depends on the total amount of refugees allotted by the presidential determination. It is one of nine resettlement agencies that receives federal funding to resettle these individuals, and thus its funding has dropped as refugee caps decline.
‘Grateful to Lancaster County’
Local businesses, including Four Seasons Produce, rely on refugee and immigrant workers at its entry level positions and above. At Four Seasons Produce employs about 800 people when at capacity, but currently has about 100 vacancies.
In the last five years, at least 12 of its employees have become citizens, vice president of business innovation Nelson Longenecker said. At one point, the company had approximately 20 Karen people, who fled civil unrest in Myanmar and Thailand.
“Much like promoting internally and beyond, we feel like that mix of both American-born and folks that have been immigrants and refugees just provides a great pool of talent,” Longenecker said.
Tlumach said he feels “incredibly blessed” to anchor his family in Lancaster.
“The whole system allowed someone like me to integrate and go to college, go to grad school, work for some of the worlds largest companies,” Tlumach said. “I am very grateful to Lancaster County.”