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20180111T1209 13616 CNS DUBUQUE REFUGEE PROGRAM 800Chance Muhango, a refugee who lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Caleb Gates, his Catholic Charities case manager, are pictured in a 2017 photo. Catholic Charities is preparing to end its refugee resettlement program in the Archdiocese of Dubuque after 77 years in operation.(CNS photo/Dan Russo, The Witness) DUBUQUE, 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 open.

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 immigrants.

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 said.

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.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.