Catholic Charities in Iowa archdiocese ends refugee resettlement program

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dan Russo, The Witness

By Dan Russo

Iowa (CNS) — Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque is preparing to end its refugee resettlement program after 77 years in operation.

The primary reason the program is
closing down is because the numbers of refugees are down.

The U.S. Department of State decreased
the number of refugees who can legally seek refuge in the United States from
110,000 to 45,000 annually. Also, the department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and
Migration recently announced that all refugee resettlement sites across the
country will be required to resettle at least 100 refugees annually to stay

These federal changes are happening when the
needs of local refugees also are being met by other groups, and as a result Catholic
Charities will not be able to meet the new minimal threshold required.

“Catholic Charities of the
Archdiocese of Dubuque has been resettling refugees from all over the world in
eastern Iowa since 1940, primarily in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo,” said Tracy
Morrison, the agency’s executive director, in a Dec. 18 statement. “It’s a
loss for our entire community.”

“Our faith guides us to believe
in the dignity of all persons and the need to protect the most vulnerable,
especially refugees and migrants. It is with a heavy heart that we announce the
ending of this ministry,” added Dubuque Archbishop Michael O. Jackels.

Catholic Charities’ refugee
resettlement program employed three full-time staff and two AmeriCorps members.
There also were other staff members at the agency who didn’t work in the program
directly, but their jobs will be impacted.

“Some employees will be laid
off, others will be transitioned into other ministries,” Morrison told The
Witness, Dubuque’s archdiocesan newspaper.

Catholic Charities will continue to
help newcomers to the country through the agency’s legal aid program for

Morrison said the demand for legal
services is so high that the charity is looking into hiring another attorney.

Mary Ready, refugee resettlement
manager at the agency, said the “ultimate reward” for her in working with the program has been
“seeing families reunited.”

“We worked (with those who had) U.S. ties. The refugees who arrived here always had family,” she said.

One particularly heartwarming scene Ready said she’ll always remember was an airport
arrival where a father got to meet his son for the first time because his wife
was pregnant when they were separated.

“Getting to witness those
moments and to hear families say they finally feel at home and they’re happy to
be back with their family, that’s the most memorable,” she said, adding
that she hopes other groups will be able to continue this service.

Catholic Charities has been
providing key assistance to refugees for a 90-day period after they arrive as part
of an agreement with the U.S. government. They received federal funds for this
purpose as one of several approved refugee resettlement providers in Iowa. In
December, they began assisting a family and another individual, and will stay
with these cases until the 90-day period is concluded. After that, the agency’s resettlement
program will end. In the past year, they assisted 49 refugees, down from 94 the
previous year.

“Prior to these December
arrivals, we had not resettled a family since June and so our program has been
slowed down substantially by these decreasing numbers,” said Morrison.

Catholics from the communities where
refugees were settled have played an important role in recent years, doing
everything from mentoring refugees to providing material support, according to
Ready. “The volunteers are really the ones that help them go from
surviving to thriving and becoming comfortable in the community,” she

Morrison said Catholic Charities also
would consider reopening the resettlement program should
conditions change. For now, it remains committed to supporting refugees and
immigrants through its Immigration Legal Services ministry available in several
Iowa locations.

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Russo is editor of The Witness,
newspaper of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

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