A Statement on Afghan Refugees and Special Immigrant Visa Holders

Written by CMC’s Director of Refugee & Immigrant Services, Sara Zejnic

As the resettlement agency serving Eastern Iowa, the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) stands ready to welcome and support Afghan refugees and Special Immigrant Visa-holders (SIVs) as they settle into our local communities and work to establish the safety and stability that every person deserves.

To date, the majority of refugees that CMC has resettled have come from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma, but CMC will support any refugee or SIV referred to our office by our partners at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI).

Our local communities are strengthened when we are welcoming and supportive of people from different backgrounds. CMC is fully committed to assisting any and all Afghans when they arrive, and we are waiting for the opportunity to do so.

Refugee vs. Special Immigrant Visa holder (SIV)
It is important to remember that there are several different immigration statuses at play, and that the resettlement process has evolved over the 40 years of the U.S.’s formal Refugee Resettlement program, with a goal of helping refugees become self-sufficient, and includes an extensive vetting process that is trusted to protect Americans.

  • Special Immigrant Visa holders (SIVs) are people who have contracted with the U.S. government, often as interpreters or security forces. They have already undergone extensive security screenings prior to working with the U.S. military. These are the cases that are currently being expedited and processed at U.S. military bases.
  • Refugees are people who fled their home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution for their race, sex, ethnic group, or membership in another social group. Refugees undergo a great deal of screening overseas prior to entering the United States including interviews, background checks, and health screenings. This process usually lasts at least 18 months.

We know that the refugee processing professionals are working around the clock to be certain that the security protocols are followed as they quickly process cases.

More information:
If you have questions, need support, or resources for yourself or others, please visit USCRI’s webpage for the most up-to-date resources to support those seeking safety and stability.

How to help:
If you want to help CMC and our resettlement partners across the country, there are many ways you can get involved:

Learn More:
Check out the latest news coverage at the links below for more information on CMC’s commitment to supporting Afghans.

Even red states like Iowa are lining up to accept Afghan refugees – August 20, 2021

Cedar Rapids nonprofit ready to accept Afghan refugees amid chaos – August 17, 2021

Iowa exploring accepting more refugees from Afghanistan – August 17, 2021

Derecho Storm Recovery: Overcoming Crisis

Driving through Cedar Rapids in the aftermath of the August 10 derecho was heartbreaking. In every direction, fallen trees and power lines blocked the streets, crushing homes and vehicles for miles. Properties and apartment complexes were severely damaged, leaving several in our community, including many immigrant and refugee families, without a home. And after moving into our new location just one month prior, the Catherine McAuley Center’s new building sustained significant roof and water damage. Due to the unsafe condition of the building and a widespread power outage, residents living in the Transitional Housing Program had to move out of the Center, and typical operations were suspended as our focus shifted completely to crisis recovery.

Immediately following the storm, program staff  developed a plan to ensure that clients and residents were safe and had access to essential resources. CMC staff and volunteers joined together to respond to the growing needs of the community and began the process of rebuilding.

  • Women’s Services helped residents in the Transitional Housing Program move out of the damaged building and into temporary housing with other CMC housing programs.
  • Refugee & Immigrant Services met with clients off-site and continued to provide supportive services to their clients.
  • Education Services checked in with students and assisted with collecting supplies to help our neighbors with the lack of electricity and access to essential resources.
  • Volunteers and staff began the cleanup and debris removal process at each of CMC’s properties.
  • The food pantry and hygiene closet were opened to the community, supplies were passed out to anyone in need, and food boxes were delivered to students, residents, and clients.

The devastation in Eastern Iowa left over 200,000 people without power for several weeks, causing a shortage of food, gas, ice, coolers, and access to electricity and other vital supplies. Days after the storm, news spread of the destruction in Iowa, but the immensity of the crisis was yet to be discovered. Images of several apartment complexes on the Southeast side of Cedar Rapids began to spread, showing collapsed buildings, ripped open roofs, and children and families sleeping in tents in the debris. The community soon learned that the derecho caused a severe homelessness crisis, and CMC quickly developed a plan to provide housing.

In coordination with local agencies, CMC staff transitioned the former Catherine McAuley Center building into a temporary shelter to house at least 60 refugees and immigrants who were displaced. The shelter provided 24 private rooms, two kitchens where families joined together to cook traditional African meals, access to interpreters and kind volunteers who entertained children while parents worked with case managers to plan their next steps, and individualized employment support and resource navigation to help families find permanent housing and meet other needs.

Meanwhile, schools faced another challenge as derecho damage and the pandemic shifted the start of the school year to online learning. This shift also created a challenge for students who did not have access to internet, and for those whose second language is English. Limited access to internet and individualized instruction created a barrier to learning for refugee and immigrant students, and RIS Case Managers started reaching out to schools to offer our support.

With the help of some amazing teachers from McKinley Middle School and Washington High School, CMC Case Managers transition an undamaged wing of the new Catherine McAuley Center into a temporary school offering separate classrooms, internet access, and individualized support to nearly 30 students daily from 9 Eastern Iowa schools.

Over the next few months following the storm, families at the shelter worked towards securing permanent housing and students filled the halls of CMC as they navigated online learning. By the end of October, all of the families moved into their new homes! At the start of December, students receiving support with online learning started to go back to in-person instruction, and the Center will remain open and flexible to meet the needs of students throughout the school year.

Inspired by the resilience and courage of our clients and with the help of our community, we are working to overcome this crisis together! CMC staff will are dedicated to ensure that neighbors in our community have access to vital educational and supportive services at the Catherine McAuley Center during this crisis and into the future.