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Fewer Arrivals, More Uncertainty for Iowa Refugee Resettlement Groups

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The Trump administration is planning to admit 45,000 refugees this fiscal year—the lowest cap in the history of the nation's refugee program that started in 1980. Iowa’s refugee resettlement agencies are expecting fewer arrivals and facing more uncertainty than in past years. 

Carly Ross is director of the Des Moines field office for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. She says in past years, when she was notified that a refugee family would be traveling to the U.S., she could expect that family to arrive in two to three months.

"But at this point, we are not as clear on those timeframes when we receive the notification," Ross says. "So we don’t know if they will be traveling within that same timeframe--two to three months--or if it could be even longer." 

Ross says that leaves refugees in Iowa with a lot of questions about when they will be reunited with their family members who are still overseas.

Ross says one refugee family in Des Moines still has two teenage girls living in Malaysia. 

"They’re really fearful for those two girls’ safety," Ross says. "And so they’re constantly just asking for updates about when they might be able to come to the U.S., and at this point we just can’t give them very firm answers." 

The Senate Judiciary Committee—headed by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley—recently criticized the State Department for failing to consult Congress on its refugee plan. 

In the previous fiscal year, the Obama administration capped refugee arrivals at about 110,000. The Trump administration cut that number in half. Iowa resettlement agencies received about a proportional cut in arrivals.

Final data on refugee arrivals in Iowa for the previous fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 is not yet available.