Finding Refuge in the Heartland — A State of Change

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) — On top of two executive orders, the latest coming on March 6, President Donald Trump has taken additional steps to limit the number of refugees being placed in the United States.

Before President Trump was elected, 110,000 individuals were expected to be placed in America by September 30, 2017. That number has since been reduced to 50,000.

For a number of local non-profit organizations, this change has manufactured issues, many of which deal with staffing.

“The change in resettlement here in the United States, and the reduction in arrivals has meant that there have been some changes in office composition," Lee Kreimer, a former R&P Caseworker for the Lutheran Family Services Refugee Resettlement Program, said. “There have been some people who have been affected at our office. That change has been really hard. For me, I will be changing my position.”

A majority of the funding that organizations such as Lutheran Family Services receive for refugee placement is directly correlated to the number of people they place.

For example, for every individual Lutheran Family Services resettles in Nebraska, $2,000 becomes available.

While roughly $1,100 of that sum goes to the refugee for rent, food and bills, the rest goes to the placement organization.

However, the sudden reduction in individuals that will find a new home in the United States has changed the landscape of refugee resettlement.

“I have been heartbroken by that. The biggest reason is that I feel like my family is being broken up,” Kreimer, a 23-year-old University of Nebraska graduate, said. “I can not imagine right now, going to work and not feeling like I am surrounded by my brothers and sisters who I have seen more than my biological family. It is really hard. It is hard to say goodbye.”

Kreimer is being moved to a new position within Lutheran Family Services, but not all were as fortunate.

On Feb. 15, Lutheran Family Services gave notice of the elimination of 15 employee positions in the organization’s 90-day federally funded refugee resettlement program in Omaha and Lincoln.

Only seven of those employees were reassigned or offered vacant positions within other programs of the organization.

“We knew for a while, that with the drop in arrivals, that is going to affect agencies around the country and unfortunately Lutheran Family Services had to make some changes in who was working what positions,” Kreimer said. “Just because of fewer people coming.”

“These are absolutely dedicated, some of the hardest working people that I've ever interacted with,” Vice President of Lutheran Family Services Todd Reckling said. “Even when I was delivering the difficult news to them about the job eliminations, they were still asking me, 'how can we still help?'”

So far in 2017, roughly 38,000 of the 50,000 refugees that are allowed in the United States before late September have arrived.

And with change happening quickly, Lutheran Family Services is being forced to adapt moving forward, and will now begin focusing on refugees who have been in Lincoln and Omaha for more than 90 days.

“We're trying to send a message out that there are refugees here that need our help,” Reckling said. "There are ways that we can work with churches, communities, volunteers and advocates to reach out and maybe be a mentor for a refugee, help them with their English language skills, help with advancing their employment career opportunities.”

Kreimer, although not in the position she has grown to love, will be a part of this change, as she will shift into a position at McFee Elementary School in Lincoln, helping families with crisis situations.

“I am really excited about that. But I am going to miss my coworkers a lot,” she said.

Moving forward, there is little doubt life will be different for resettlement agencies countrywide.

But in Kreimer’s case, the experience of assisting those fleeing persecution is something that will not easily be forgotten.

“They come here to Lincoln and they are so grateful to be here. They are proud to be in the United States, they are proud to be here with their family,” she said. “And they want to give back to the community. They have taught me so much about life, and what it means to be an American, and working with these people has made me so proud to be an American.”

This is Part Three of a five part series titled “Finding Refuge in the Heartland.” Part Four will air on March 8, and the series will continue through March 9.