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A new resettlement office will work to grow refugee community in Sioux City

LSI team members, including Jeanna Bauer (far left), accompany an Afghan family arriving at the Des Moines International Airport in December.
Emily Harmon
/
LSI
LSI team members, including Jeanna Bauer (far left), accompany an Afghan family arriving at the Des Moines International Airport in December.

The Lutheran Services in Iowa opened their new refugee resettlement office in Sioux City this week.

The Des Moines-based organization is expanding its refugee resettlement services to western Iowa. LSI has resettled 14 refugees in the area in the month since they’ve been accepting arrivals. The organization hopes to resettle up to 150 refugees in Sioux City this year.

“I was sitting here and just thinking of all the places that make the Siouxland area – all these different stores – and what it would be like if we didn't have refugees or immigrants,” said refugee resettlement coordinator Kate Hagen. “There's just so much that would not be here because of that.”

Lutheran Services in Iowa held an informational panel on refugee resettlement in Sioux City on Wednesday.
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
Lutheran Services in Iowa held an informational panel on refugee resettlement in Sioux City on Wednesday.

So far, the new arrivals have all come from Afghanistan. But, Hagen said they are expecting a diverse set of refugees in March from many different countries.

Sioux City has a history of accepting refugees. The Mary J. Treglia Community House, which has been operating for 100 years, has worked to resettle large populations of people from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and, most recently, Guatemala. Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August, the organization has also found homes for more than 20 Afghan individuals.

LSI director of refugee and immigrant services Nick Wuertz said the city’s history of welcoming refugees was part of the reason that LSI chose Sioux City for their expansion.

“It was clear to us from conversations that we had with community stakeholders that this was a community that was obviously committed to welcoming immigrants and immigrants are a vibrant part of this community,” Wuertz said.

Wuertz said the organization wants to help rebuild the infrastructure for refugee resettlement lost under the Trump administration. More than 100 resettlement agencies closed their doors after the numbers of refugees permitted into the U.S. dwindled to 11,000 in 2020.

"It's just clear that a commitment to immigrants is a core part of this community."
Nick Wuertz, director of refugee and immigrant services at Lutheran Services in Iowa

Under the Biden administration, the number has increased to a goal of up to 125,000 refugees to be accepted into the country – above the historical average of 90,000 people.

As a native of Sioux City, Hagen said she’s excited to be able to see its refugee population continue to grow. She said she hopes the new location can soon offer a wide range of services, like cultural orientation classes.

“I could only imagine how it feels to come to a new country, let alone a city where you don’t really know anyone,” she said. “So just kind of being that friendly face for them to help them feel safe and welcomed here.”

Hagen said local residents can help by donating homegoods or volunteering their time to transport refugees. Finding long-term housing remains an obstacle in the area, but she’s optimistic they can find a home for every arrival.

The new office, located at 1308 S. Cleveland Street, will be accepting donations Thursday afternoon.