Our execution did not match our intent. Period. Apologies and explanations only serve to inform necessary corrections, and quickly.
Some refugees from Afghanistan who have escaped death threats for helping the U.S. military have come to the Des Moines area only to be unable to access food, jobs, or school or make long-term plans for their families, the register reported.
The heartbreaking stories Afghan families tell from extended-stay hotels – their children without food for days, long stretches without any connection to social workers – show that our execution has not matched our intent. Period. The apologies and explanations only serve to inform the corrections needed, and quickly, to help people already here and to prepare if some of the millions fleeing Ukraine land in Iowa.
Employees of resettlement agencies and others helped the editorial board better understand what was wrong.
How it usually works
Usually, the resettlement process begins before people are brought to the United States. Processing includes collection of personal information, background checks, health checks and security clearances. At the same time, the State Department reviews cases to determine where to send individuals and families, prioritizing places with family ties or places where friends reside.
“Then they look at things like, is there a local, ethnic, linguistic community?” said Nick Wuertz, director of immigrant refugee community services at Lutheran Services in Iowa, also known as LSI. “Does the organization providing resettlement services in the field have a staff member who speaks this language?
Each week, the State Department reviews cases with the nine national resettlement agencies. Where possible, travel arrangements are made, usually weeks and sometimes months in advance, giving the host agency time to find long-term accommodation and furnish it. Time is also spent planning for services the individual or family will need, such as placement, school registration, English instruction, transportation services and more.
How did it go this time
On average, over the past 40 years, the United States has admitted about 90,000 refugees per year, although the average reflects considerable peaks and troughs. More than 300 agencies nationwide assist with resettlement. During the Trump administration, however, admissions plummeted and more than 100 agencies closed. Some ethnic groups were outright excluded. The ceiling for admitted refugees has been reduced to 15,000, the lowest figure in 40 years.
So when more than 76,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, there were fewer agencies to manage them in an expedited time frame. The agencies were first told they would have one year to resettle the refugees.
With fewer agencies, fewer staff, less placement time, and virtually no information about the refugees themselves, such as their educational history, employment history, health care needs, etc., agencies are rushed to get ready.
“Arrivals were happening at some point seven days a week,” Wurtz said.
What needs to change for the future
Without permanent housing, it is difficult to find a job or transport, to enroll children in school or to help refugees settle in communities, because everything could still change.
A state spokesperson told KCRG in Cedar Rapids this month that work already underway will help secure housing and allow the state’s refugee office to provide better assistance.
In addition to these short-term needs, Congress must pass adjustment legislation that paves the way for lawful permanent residency for Afghans who might otherwise face deportation two years after arrival.
In reminiscences after Ray’s death in 2018, former advisers including Kenneth Quinn and Richard Gilbert described the Republican governor’s personal involvement in initiatives such as Iowa SHARES, a fundraising campaign to help Cambodians. starving and sick as they fled a genocidal regime in their home country. Asians who came to Iowa also received help from volunteer sponsors.
Governments simply need to remove bureaucratic hurdles. At the very least, social workers must be given enough support to enable them to stay in daily or near-daily contact with refugees and give them realistic updates and reassurances.
— Des Moines Register