What is HIAS, the refugee nonprofit that Pittsburgh synagogue suspect posted about before killing spree?

The Maryland-based refugee resettlement organization HAIS became the subject of national attention after a man accused of fatally shooting 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue apparently decried the group before going on a killing spree.

In social media posts before the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the man charged in the massacre, Robert Bowers, appeared to accused the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of aiding violent offenders among a group of asylum-seeking migrants walking from Honduras to the U.S. border.

So what exactly does HIAS do?

Headquartered in Silver Spring, HIAS works across the globe providing aid to refugees. Although it works worldwide now, the organization began small when it got its start in New York 137 years ago.

HIAS was established in Manhattan in 1881 to help Jews fleeing Russia and Eastern Europe. At its onset, the group provided meals, shelter, transportation and jobs for new arrivals in New York, eventually opening offices on Ellis Island in 1904, according to its website.

The group helped resettle Jewish refugees during World Wars I and II; assisted Jews fleeing Hungary, Egypt and Cuba in the 1950s; rescued Jews from Algeria, Libya, Czechoslovakia and Poland in the ’60s; and assisted Jews fleeing persecution in Iran, Ethiopia and Southeast Asia in the 1970s, according to its website.

In the 2000s, the organization expanded and began assisting non-Jewish refugees internationally, including people fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Haiti, Morocco, Romania, Tunisia and former Soviet Union states. HIAS also has offices in a dozen countries worldwide to assist refugees where they need it, including places such as Kenya, Chad and Ecuador.

The group now provides resettlement services to refugees in the U.S., as well as advocacy resources and legal protection for refugees in the U.S. and abroad.

“There are no words to express how devastated we are by the events in Pittsburgh this morning,” HIAS said in a statement following Saturday’s shooting. “This loss is our loss, and our thoughts are with Tree of Life Congregation, our local partner Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) of Pittsburgh, the city of Pittsburgh and all those affected by this senseless act of violence. As we try to process this horrifying tragedy, we pray that the American Jewish community and the country can find healing.”

Federal prosecutors Monday set in motion plans to seek the death penalty against the 46-year-old truck driver, who authorities say expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and later told police, "I just want to kill Jews" and "All these Jews need to die."

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