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Emails: State officials waited for information from the Federal government on Afghan refugees

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 9:32 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Emails show state officials were confused and waiting for information on Afghan refugees days before Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.

The records, which our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team received through a public records request, show employees at the Iowa Department of Human Services identifying inconsistencies in federal policy. They blamed the errors on the speed and waited on clarifications.

Emails also show state refugee coordinators requesting more frequent information about arrivals, a federal official acknowledging it couldn’t provide training because of the urgency to get people out of Afghanistan, and paperwork being translated into the proper languages while Afghanistan was falling.

Alex Carfrae, who is a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Human Services, said the department is working closely with resettlement agencies to coordinate Iowa’s response to refugees leaving Afghanistan. He said in an emailed statement normally the department has significantly more time to plan for the arrivals of refugees.

“Typically, the Department has much more time to plan for refugee arrivals,” Carfrae said. “With the Afghan crisis, the timeline is much more compressed and we are awaiting more details from the federal government.”

Carfrae also said the state of Iowa has the capacity to take in around 350 Afghan refugees. Eastern Iowa could get around 150 Afghan Reguees. The Catherine McAuley Center in Center Rapids is one of the few resettlement agencies in Iowa, who help refugees with benefits and services. Those refugees will fit under three different categories: Special Immigrant Visa, Priority 2 Visas, and Humanitarian Parole.

The Special Immigrant Visa, also known as an SIV, is offered to people living in Afghanistan and Iraq who supported the U.S. military. This would include people, like translators. This is a special pathway because the military already vetted these refugees. Since Fiscal Year 2017, 94 Iraqi and Afghan SIV recipients settled in Iowa.

Priority 2 Visas, also known as a P2, are for interpreters who don’t meet the requirements for the SIV. This includes those who worked for US agencies, organizations funded by U.S. agencies, and members of the media. These people go to a third country while the visa is processed.

Humanitarian Parole is given to people when there is an urgent humanitarian reason for the individual to enter the United States. These individuals are able to receive work authorization cards. However, they won’t be able to receive benefits only services, like a caseworker.

Sara Zejenic, who is the director of Refugee and Immigrant Services at the Catherine McAuley Center, said the process has been messy so far to process refugees. However, she said a lot of people are working hard to do the best they can with the resources available.

“It’s a lot of people working really hard to provide good services,” Zejenic said. “But the speed with which everything has happened has made it extremely difficult for some people to keep up.”

Emails also show multiple states, including Iowa, had serious concerns with keeping track of individual data. Some states called it a burdensome process. i9 did reach out to the Federal Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the office of refugee resettlement. It didn’t answer any of our questions directly.

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