Plans change for church spon­sor­ing refugee trio

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY PA­TRI­CIA SUL­LI­VAN

The North­west Wash­ing­ton church that spent a year plan­ning to spon­sor a refugee fam­ily will still get one — but not the cou­ple and tod­dler they’d been ex­pect­ing for the past few weeks.

St. Columba’s Epis­co­pal Church in Ten­ley­town is slated to wel­come a dif­fer­ent Afghan fam­ily to Amer­i­can soil this month, be­cause the fam­ily orig­i­nally as­signed to the con­gre­ga­tion, af­ter ar­riv­ing Tues­day, is opt­ing to stay with a brother who im­mi­grated a month ago and is liv­ing in Spring­field, Va.

The Wash­ing­ton Post chron­i­cled St. Columba’s prepa­ra­tions over the past week, af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump or­dered a tem­po­rary halt to refugee ad­mis­sions that sparked mul­ti­ple protests and law­suits.

At first it was not clear whether the cou­ple and their tod­dler would be al­lowed into the coun­try, even though they had spe­cial visas re­served for Afghans who had aided U.S. mil­i­tary and diplo­matic ef­forts in their home coun­try. Sim­i­lar trav­el­ers were stopped when the ban was first an­nounced; White House of­fi­cials now say such visa-hold­ers are ex­empt.

The fam­ily has asked that their names not be pub­lished for fear of re­tal­i­a­tion by anti-U.S. forces against rel­a­tives still in Afghanistan.

Af­ter nearly four hours in cus­toms at Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Tues­day, the cou­ple and their tod­dler emerged and found two sets of peo­ple wait­ing: the church group and their re­cently set­tled rel­a­tives.

The cou­ple de­cided to go with their rel­a­tives, at least for the night. On Thurs­day, the St. Columba’s refugee com­mit­tee learned that the cou­ple would stay in Spring­field, and a new fam­ily would soon be headed their way.

“This was just the way it was meant to be,” said Dea­con Jean Ann Wright, co-chair of the com­mit­tee. “We’ve ac­cepted a fam­ily of five — a mother and fa­ther and three school-age boys — and we’re ex­cited to wel­come them.”

St. Columba’s parish­ioners raised nearly $40,000 over the past year to cover rent and other ex­penses for the fam­ily they planned to spon­sor, and they stuffed a ware­house with house­hold goods and cloth­ing.

Most of those do­na­tions will be kept for the new fam­ily. But the church’s young moth­ers group voted to ask the first fam­ily what it needs — baby clothes, a baby car seat and stroller are ob­vi­ous choices — and will pull those items from the do­nated goods and de­liver them, Wright said.

Lutheran So­cial Ser­vices of the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Area, a re­set­tle­ment agency that brought 1,040 refugees to the Wash­ing­ton area last year, worked with the fam­ily that ar­rived Tues­day, and also with the wife’s brother, who ar­rived Jan. 5.

Ma­madou Sy, the agency’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of refugee and im­mi­gra­tion ser­vices, said nei­ther rel­a­tive told the agency about the other fam­ily mem­ber when ap­ply­ing to live in the United States be­cause nei­ther was in the coun­try yet.

Sy said he has never had a sim­i­lar cir­cum­stance oc­cur dur­ing his 11 years with the agency.

Lutheran So­cial Ser­vices of­fi­cials said they will con­tinue to pro­vide sup­port for both the cou­ple and the brother, such as find­ing English lan­guage classes and em­ploy­ment as­sis­tance, ar­rang­ing med­i­cal ap­point­ments and ap­ply­ing for So­cial Se­cu­rity cards.

A one-time al­lo­ca­tion of about $1,000, de­pend­ing on fam­ily size, is avail­able for ne­ces­si­ties such as rent and gro­cery bills.

The ex­tended fam­ily plans to live to­gether in a house the brother has rented. A third brother, who also worked for the U.S. gov­ern­ment in Afghanistan, is ex­pected to join them soon.

Sy said Lutheran So­cial Ser­vices will look for a church or com­mu­nity group in the Spring­field area to help sup­port the cou­ple that ar­rived Tues­day, but there are no guar­an­tees.

In the mean­time, the fam­ily is set­tling in with their brother in Spring­field.

“We all are fine and we are all here to­gether,” the brother said Thurs­day. “We’re feel­ing good.”

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