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Iowa Refugee Groups Changing Infrastructure To Meet Increased Cap

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The Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services is within the Iowa Department of Human Services. They are preparing for the anticipated increase in refugees. "There has to be a lot of pieces in place. It's not as easy as it may seem," bureau Chief Mak Sućeska said.

The Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services, within the Iowa Department of Human Services, has been nonstop working since President Joe Biden signed an order Monday night to increase the refugee cap from 15,000 to 62,500 Monday.

This means the state must prepare its infrastructure to increase its capacity. Bureau chief Mak Sućeska said this is to make sure Iowa can be “conducive to their overall success.” But he clarified Iowa won’t see the effect of a raised cap instantaneously.

"With every administration, there is a different approach to immigration policy, and specifically refugee resettlement. With the Biden-Harris administration, it will obviously look a little a little different," Sućeska said. "We will see an increase in numbers, but that doesn't necessarily mean the floodgates will open."

Sućeska estimated the state likely won’t see a drastic increase right away. Iowa might see a change closer to the end of the year.

He said it will be a tedious process to make sure Iowa is prepared for more refugees, but they’ve done it in the past and it has worked.

"We've been kind of rebuilding and awaiting this moment. So it's fresh air for a lot of people in this business," Sućeska said.

The Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services started preparing for a possible increase of refugees with resettlement partners and other community organizations when the new administration took office.

Those conversations now come with a call to action for the Bureau and its collaborators.

"We as a network, we have to rebuild an infrastructure that was lost. We have to make sure that we have the necessary components in place," Sućeska said in reference to the Trump administration's refugee policy.

This includes, Sućeska explained, ensuring there is adequate and accessible housing, education and language services. Also, access to healthcare.

"We just have to make sure we have all of our ducks in a row to ensure that once we receive the folks that we do, once refugees do arrive, that they are set up for success," Sućeska said. "If there are any gaps or areas that we may find that would provide a barrier or a challenge, we will have to be intentional in mitigating some of those concerns."

To put in in perspective, he explained the state may resettle 200 to 300 per year under the new cap. According to Gov. Kim Reynolds' office, in 2018, 383 refugees resettled in Iowa.

"We may see more historic numbers in the coming years, but it will be a very tiered process," Sućeska said.

He described the revamping of the refugee resettlement programs in Iowa as being a "tall order," but he said he's confident.

"So it's really going to take a lot of us. It's going to take a lot of education, it's going to take a lot of difficult conversations, it's going to take a lot of willing to be uncomfortable and vulnerable sometimes to ensure that our most vulnerable and those who have been underserved historically, have the supports, have the access they need to survive and thrive," Sućeska explained.

He added accepting and resettling more refugees in Iowa will enrich the state's economy, communities and overall culture.