Plymouth Welcomes a Refugee Family

The Welcoming Migrants Committee and the Board of Christian Social Action are excited to introduce the Plymouth Welcomes a Refugee Family Project! Over the next several months, our congregation will welcome and assist a refugee family as they establish their new home in our city.

We are coordinating our project with USCRI-Des Moines (U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants). USCRI is handling the governmental aspects of relocating the family; we will focus on providing food, clothing, furniture, household goods, mentoring, and friendship.

What we know: a family is coming to our city, as early as this August

What we don’t know:

  • the family’s country of origin
  • the family member profile: numbers, ages, special needs
  • date of arrival

 

We have secured a generous grant from the Plymouth Church Foundation to help fund the project. We are now looking for volunteers and donated items as we plan for the family’s arrival.

Further below, you can find answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the project, and at the bottom of the page you can learn more about refugees, including resources for further reading.

Stay tuned for updates in the coming weeks!

Ways to Get Involved

Ready to practice some radical love? Click the plus signs(+) below to read more about how you can get involved with the project.

Please hold the refugee family and project committee in your prayers. We do not yet know who our refugee family is, where they are coming from, or what they have experienced in their life journey. We will share specific prayer requests as we move forward. In the meantime, we encourage you to print a copy of this prayer and join us in lifting up the world’s refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers.

You may donate online here by selecting “Other” under Donation Type and typing “Refugee Family Project” in the Donation Note.

You can also mail cash or a check with “Refugee Family Project” in the memo line to:

Plymouth Church
ATTN: Nancy Basset
4126 Ingersoll, Ave.
Des Moines, IA 50312

Team Coordinator: Donna Paulsen, with assistance from Irene Hardisty & York Taenzer.

Thank you for the many donations of furniture and household items for our refugee family! For now, our household needs have been met. As we get closer to the arrival of the family, we will let you know if we have additional needs of other household items. For those of you who have donated furniture and are keeping it in your home for now, we will notify you when the family is arriving and arrange to pick up the furniture at your home. We are still anticipating the arrival of our family at the end of August or early September. Plymouth has done it again! What an outpouring of radical love.

If you have questions about donating furniture/household items or volunteering to move items, please contact Donna Paulsen at thedonna.paulsen@gmail.com or 515.225.9784.

Team Coordinators: Janet Rosenbury & Diane Krell.

The Food Team will gather groceries to stock the refugee family’s pantry and refrigerator. Once the family’s country of origin is known, USCRI will provide the team with a list of foods typical to the family’s home country tastes and traditions. This team will work from about July through the first month after the family’s arrival.

We will begin collecting food donations soon; watch Plymouth Weekly for announcements on the types of food we need. We’re also accepting monetary donations to purchase fresh food for the family. (See financial donation info above.)

If you would like to volunteer to help the Food Team, please contact:

Team Coordinator: Jan Campbell

The Home Set Up Team will work to ensure the refugee family’s new home is clean and ready to go! The team will work with the Furniture & Home Goods Team and the Food Team to receive and organize the previously gathered furniture, household items, and food. Our goal is to create a beautiful and welcoming home for this family — a place of comfort and refuge for them as they adjust to life in a new country. Home setup will take place just prior to the family’s arrival, which could be as early as late August.

If you would like to volunteer to help the Home Set Up Team, please contact Jan Campbell at jancampbell@me.com or 515.314.0344.

Team Coordinator: Mark Doherty

The Welcome Team will plan the airport welcome (signs, flowers, balloons) and arrange for a first meal to be ready for the refugee family in their new home. The team will also plan an outdoor welcome event at the church after the family is rested and settled.

Stay tuned! We will be inviting the congregation to the outdoor event and will share more details closer to the time.

If you would like to volunteer to help the Welcome Team, please contact Mark Doherty at markus0485@aol.com 515.867.4341.

Team Coordinators: Virginia Traxler, Lynn Hicks, & Sue Davis

We are looking for volunteers to work directly with the refugee family to assist their settlement and community awareness. This is an excellent opportunity to practice radical love and build relationships with the family.

  • City Guide volunteers will introduce the family to the community with trips to places like the library, city parks, museums, pumpkin patch, grocery store, etc. This is a great opportunity to build relationships and have fun together! As you get to know them, you can tailor ideas for trips to fit the interests and ages of the family. Time commitment: 4 hours per month for up to 6 months
  • Transportation volunteers will teach the family how to ride a bus, get bus schedules, and use Uber and/or Lyft. Learning to ride the bus is a critical step for the family’s ability to get around the community. Time commitment: 4 hours per month for a couple months, to begin within 10 days of the family’s arrival.
  • Education volunteers will assist the family with school enrollment, tour of schools, transportation plans, school supplies, and discussing after-school programs. Children must be registered and enrolled within 30 days of the family’s arrival. Time commitment: 2-4 hours per week for 1-2 months.
  • Financial Literacy & Empowerment volunteers will coach the family on income tracking and bills, banking, budgeting, value shopping, taxes, and safety. Curriculum will be tailored to the family’s education and skill level. Time commitment: 3-4 times (2 hours each) over 2 months.

 

Click here to view these volunteer openings and sign up online!

Deadline for volunteer sign-up: end of July. Cultural orientation and training will take place in early August to help volunteers gain knowledge and understanding of the family’s cultural background and needs

Please note: A background check, confidentiality agreement, and proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required for all Friendship & Mentoring volunteers. Masks will be required for all activities. The refugee family is not guaranteed to be vaccinated.

If you have questions about volunteering for the Friendship & Mentoring Team, please contact Virginia Traxler (vtraxler68@gmail.com) or Lynn Hicks (lynhyx@gmail.com).

Frequently Asked Questions

Click the plus signs(+) below to learn more about the project. For more information, you may contact our project chairperson, Alicia Claypool at apclaypool@aol.com.

Plymouth has a proud legacy of advocacy. Co-sponsoring a refugee family dovetails with the church’s mission to practice radical love and to extend our commitment to justice and kindness beyond the walls of the church. This project will enable Plymouth members to live their faith through service to others. We will learn together about the global refugee crisis and put our love for God into action.

  • USCRI is a non-governmental, nonprofit organization and is one of two federally-approved refugee resettlement agencies in Iowa.
  • Established in 2010, local agency USCRI Des Moines has welcomed more than 4,000 refugees from around the world to central Iowa: persons forcibly displaced by ethnic, political, or religious persecution; economic or political instability; or war.
  • USCRI provides housing assistance (with initial few months’ rent), cultural and community awareness classes, school enrollment, healthcare coordination, employment preparation & placement, English language lessons, transportation assistance, mental health counseling, legal services, and anti-human trafficking services.
  • Working with Plymouth, the agency determines which family we will sponsor. USCRI Des Moines provides our project committee volunteers with orientation and training and conducts background checks on those who will interact directly with the family. They also provide cultural information to help us better prepare for the family’s arrival and success.

The Leadership Team for the project includes Alicia Claypool (Chair), Jan Campbell, Mark Doherty, Linda Dorsey, Lynn Hicks, Diane Krell, Mary Nelson, Donna Paulsen, Erin Riker, Janet Rosenbury, Meg Smith, and Virginia Traxler. Pastoral staff liaisons include Lindsey Braun & Rushing Kimball.

Want to Learn More About Refugees?

As Plymouth prepares to help a refugee family settle into a new home and community this year, we’ll also use this opportunity to learn more together about the issues impacting refugees globally and locally. Given the complexity of this issue, we’ll break it down into more digestible themes in the weeks ahead and invite you to come on this journey by engaging with future content in the Plymouth Weekly, Contact, and on Plymouth’s social media channels.

Click the plus signs(+) below to read more about refugees and the global migration crisis.

82.4 million people have been forcibly displaced in the world. Among them are nearly 26.4 million refugees, about half of whom are under the age of 18.

As of 2020, one in every 95 people on earth has fled their home due conflict or persecution.

(Source: UNHCR)

A displaced person is someone who has fled or been forced to leave their home, whether through violence, persecution, or natural or human-made disaster.

Displaced people include these three groups: refugees, asylum seekers, and internally-displaced persons (IDP).

Refugees are people forced to leave their country due to ethnic, political, or religious persecution. They have gone through a rigorous legal process, where their claims of persecution have been vetted and affirmed by a court of law, granting them legal status for international assistance and resettlement in a new country, as well as access to many types of public aid and services, including travel loans, cultural orientation, medical and food assistance, and paths to citizenship.

Asylum seekers are also seeking protection outside their own country, but differ in that their claim for refugee status has not yet been decided by a court of law. Unlike refugees, asylum seekers have fewer rights and do not have access to many types of aid or services, all which can affect their livelihood and chances for successful resettlement. Not every asylum seeker will be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker.

“Depending on whether a person is defined as a refugee or asylum seeker determines the help, support, aid, and rights they have access to. When you’re fleeing your home due to war and violence, these differences can be the difference between life and death.” Preemptive Love Coalition

An internally-displaced person (IDP) has fled from their home to a different region in their own country. Unlike refugees, they are not protected by international law or eligible to receive many types of aid because they are still under the jurisdiction of their home country. This group accounts for more than half of all displaced people in the world.

Migrant is a term with no internationally-agreed legal definition. It generally refers to any person who has chosen or feels forced to leave their home in search of residency in a different country, often to escape violence (rape, murder, gangs), for socioeconomic reasons (in search of work, education, or to reunite with family, for instance), or to escape unstable conditions, such as natural or human-made disasters or government corruption in their home country. Migrants do not have access to many basic legal protections or types of aid and services, and are at risk for deportation unless they are granted asylum, refugee or other legal status.

Click here for more information and an overview of immigrant eligibility for federal programs.

People around the world face violence and inequality–and sometimes torture and execution–because of who they love, how they look, or who they are. Plymouth Church and the United Church of Christ have a long history of supporting equality for LGBTQ+ individuals in the church, in our communities, and around the world. While laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity differ from state to state, we need national laws to ensure that all people are treated fairly at work, school, and in the community, and that individuals are free to choose whom to marry and can avail themselves of the hundreds of laws and privileges available to married couples.

While refugee and migrant laws are complex, unfair, and difficult to navigate (and achieving legal status can take years!), our nation’s policies and laws toward LGBTQ refugees and immigrants are even more challenging. According to the Human Rights Campaign:

  • LGBTQ people make up less than 1% of people in immigration detention, but account for a shocking 12% of the reported victims of sexual abuse and assault in ICE detention.  
  • Transgender detainees and detainees living with HIV are especially impacted by the poor oversight and regulations of ICE with policies placing transgender women in living conditions that put them at high risk of violence and facing denial of or delayed access to necessary medical care and treatment. (HRC Calls on DHS to Address Alarming Rate of Sexual Abuse LGBTQ Detainees Face, September 24, 2018.)

 

While the new administration is intent on improving immigration and refugee policies and practices, much work remains to overcome historical discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ individuals seeking asylum or in detention in the U.S.

At Plymouth, we advocate for laws and policies that will protect everyone’s dignity and for a world where all people can enjoy their rights fully.  That goes for LGBTQ refugees and immigrants, too.

Please take a moment to select from among the several links below to learn more about LGBTQ refugees/migrants in Iowa and around the world, as they share their stories about discrimination and danger in their home countries and why refuge in the U.S. is important for living life as one’s true self, with opportunity, and is often a matter of life and death.

  1. Iowa Movement for Migrant Justice: stories of LGBTQ migrants.
  2. Interfaith Alliance of Iowa: Sharing Her Story: Sonia Reyes, June 21, 2021, YouTube.
  3. Story of LGBTQ refugee escaping persecution, “Am I going to make it until tomorrow?” from HIAS (originally the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish refugee organization).

 

Examples of LGBTQ discrimination around the world:

COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the lives of people across the world, and it’s had devastating effects on refugees globally.

Preliminary data and reporting already highlight a number of disproportionate COVID-related impacts on refugees and migrants.

  • According to the International Organization for Migration, the first year of the pandemic saw more than 111,000 travel restrictions and border closures around the world, leaving refugees awaiting resettlement in limbo. Pandemic travel restrictions stranded millions more from returning home. (source)
  • Women and children comprise 70% of all forcibly displaced people worldwide. Even prior to the pandemic, they were at greater risk of gender-based violence, child marriage or missing out on opportunities to realize their potential. Some 18 months into the crisis, it is clear that COVID-19 has rolled back years of incremental gender equality and child protection gains.  (source)
  • According to the World Health Organization, limited access to information due to language and cultural barriers, coupled with the marginalization of refugees and migrant communities, place them among the hardest to reach populations when information is disseminated. (source)
  • The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, highlights:
    • As of December 2020, there were more than 38,500 cases of COVID-19 among forcibly displaced people across 103 countries.
    • 80% of the world’s refugee population live in countries with weak health, water and sanitation systems.
    • 74% of refugees are able to meet just half of less of their basic needs as a result of the pandemic.
    • Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala recorded a rise in extortion, drug trafficking and sexual and gender-based violence following the imposition of COVID-related restrictions.

 

There are also glaring disparities in access to vaccines for those living in the poorest countries. More than 80% of vaccine doses have gone to people in high-income and upper-middle-income countries, with only 1% of people in low-income countries having been given at least one dose (source). According to COVID-19 researchers it could take two more years for vaccines to reach the poorest countries, even with the millions of doses pledged by wealthy countries, including 500 million doses committed from President Joe Biden by the end of 2022. (source)

For additional information about COVID-19 risks to newly resettled refugees and ways various groups can help, visit Newly Resettled Refugee Populations | COVID-19 | CDC.

“Migrants have played an outsized role on the frontlines of responding to the crisis, from caring for the sick and elderly to ensuring food supplies during lockdowns”, said UN chief António Guterres on International Migrants Day. “Just as migrants are integral to our societies, they should remain central to our recovery.”

Additional sources:

It varies from year to year. Each fiscal year, the president establishes a cap on the number of refugees who can enter the United States, subject to change under certain circumstances, including war.

Authors Kira Monin, Jeanne Batalova, and Tianjian Lai recently published an informative article on the Migration Policy Institute website titled “Refugees and Asylees in the United States.” Keep reading for select excerpts and click here to read the full article.

  • In 2018 the United States fell behind Canada as the top resettlement country globally.
  • In fiscal year (FY) 2020, the United States resettled fewer than 12,000 refugees, a far cry from the 70,000 to 80,000 resettled annually just a few years earlier and the 207,000 welcomed in 1980, the year the formal U.S. resettlement program began.
  • President Biden’s administration has pledged to reverse this trend and, after initial wavering, in early May increased the limit for resettlement of refugees in FY 2021, which runs through September, from the historically low 15,000 set by Trump to 62,500. Biden also pledged 125,000 resettlement places in FY 2022. However, the slow pace of reviving the resettlement system and other challenges in the COVID-19 era make it unlikely that the full number of slots will be filled, at least in FY 2021.
  • In addition to accepting refugees for resettlement, the United States also grants humanitarian protection to asylum seekers who present themselves at U.S. ports of entry or claim asylum from within the country. In FY 2019 (the most recent data available), the United States granted asylum status to about 46,500 individuals, the highest level in decades, due in part to increased asylum applications and the accelerating pace of adjudications.
  • The geographic origins of admitted refugees have changed considerably over time. In FY 2020, 35 percent of admitted refugees were from Africa, 35 percent were from Asia (including Near East/South Asia and East Asia), 22 percent were from Europe, and 8 percent were from Latin America/the Caribbean.
  • Over the past decade, nationals of three countries represented more than half of all U.S. refugee admissions. Refugees from Myanmar were the largest group, at 21 percent (more than 125,100) of the almost 600,900 refugees admitted between FY 2010 and 2020. Iraqis were next at 18 percent (109,400 individuals), followed by Bhutanese refugees at 13 percent (77,400 refugees).

 

To learn more, click here.

Despite the rhetoric we sometimes hear, the process to vet refugees prior to resettlement to the United States is rigorous, taking up to two years to complete, and excluding any persons who have committed serious crimes or who could pose a security threat.

In fact, refugees don’t apply for resettlement themselves, and in order to receive a referral for resettlement, they must fit into at least one vulnerability category, including:

  • medical needs.
  • women and girls at risk.
  • children at risk.
  • survivors of violence or torture.

 

Individuals living in the United States can also apply for reunification with a qualifying family member.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, the official UN refugee agency) conducts screening steps in addition to the extensive vetting process conducted by the United States government, which means refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the U.S.

UNHCR gathers thorough background information from refugees being considered for resettlement, including iris scans, fingerprints, facial scans, and biographical data. In addition, the U.S. government’s evaluation process involves:

  • 8 U.S. government agencies
  • 5 separate security databases
  • 6 background checks
  • 3 in-person interviews

 

If the refugee is approved for resettlement in the United States, the State Department assigns the case to one of nine resettlement agencies, including the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), who then help the refugee integrate and work toward economic self-sufficiency. This is where Plymouth will play a vital role, working with resettlement agency USCRI, to welcome and support a refugee family as they settle into their new community.

In 2019, only 1 in every 500 refugees worldwide (less than 0.25%) were resettled.

For a more detailed look at the resettlement process, visit the following links:

Stay tuned for future installments!

More Information: Watch the Plymouth Weekly and monthly Contact for regular updates about the Plymouth Welcomes a Refugee Family project. You can also visit this page for updated information as well.

Jesus, from Matthew 25:35-40:

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ … Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you?’ … the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Photo from USCRI-Des Moines