From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutheran refugee service aids 20 percent more

From George Conklin <>
Date 13 May 1996 22:53:57

ELCA News Service

May 13, 1996


     ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- (ELCA)  "We had budgeted
for 7,500 refugee arrivals within our system in 1995.  It
turned out we had a little bit less than 9,000 -- nearly 20
percent more than we expected," said Ralston H.
Deffenbaugh Jr., executive director, Lutheran Immigration
and Refugee Service (LIRS).
     The volume of work was reflected in the depth of
discussion and the variety of topics for the LIRS annual
conference and board meeting held May 1-4 in suburban
Washington, D.C.  LIRS is a joint ministry of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Latvian
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Lutheran
Church-Missouri Synod.
     "Even though the number of overall U.S. refugee
admissions fell, the LIRS case load grew partly because of
the type of refugees who came in," Deffenbaugh said.
"We get a higher proportion of new refugee groups such
as the Bosnians, the Africans, some of the Cubans and
     The board meeting May 3 included an annual auditor's
report showing a $700,000 surplus at the end of 1995.
LIRS gets much of its revenue from government reception
and placement grants based on numbers of immigrants
     "We ended up doing more refugee resettlement than
we expected, and yet our spending was based on the
lower level, so we ended up with this surplus," said
     "We will be plowing that back into the program during
the next two years, when we anticipate that we will have a
deficit during 1996," he said.  LIRS had a similar
"spend-down" in 1991 and operated close to "break even"
     "Our work in refugee resettlement is always
unpredictable," said Deffenbaugh.  "No one plans to be a
     The U.S. Department of State estimates there will be
75,000 refugees in 1997, but LIRS has identified 90,000
who will need resettlement, said Deffenbaugh.
     Changes in the numbers and types of people
immigrating to the United States and changes in available
technologies gave the 130 participants plenty to talk about
at the annual meeting.  They came from 30 states,
Washington, D.C., Canada, Germany and Switzerland.
LIRS resettlement directors represented 26 regional
affiliate offices and 16 sub-offices across the United
     Deffenbaugh reported that "LIRS church consultations"
held Nov. 30-March 15 in Atlanta, Denver, Chicago,
Milwaukee and New York were successful and will
probably be repeated in other cities.
     Each consultation brought 25-35 people together to
talk about what Lutheran churches are doing or not doing
well in assisting refugees newly resettled in their
communities.  The goal was to develop strategies and their
implementation for increased involvement with the
     "The consultations seek to address how we may better
connect to new Americans in the long term, so that their
gifts may feed and inform our churches and the
communities they serve," said Deborah DeWinter, LIRS
program director for resettlement.
     For years the U.S. State Department has ranked LIRS
as the top national resettlement agency.  In 1995 LIRS
slipped from "number one."  Deffenbaugh said one of the
affiliates the State Department selected at random to score
had an atypically bad year.
     "The quality of refugee resettlement has improved quite
a bit," he added.
     LIRS tries to recruit congregations and other
community groups to sponsor refugees resettling in the
United States.  Since 1975 more than 6,000 congregations
have volunteered, and many have done so repeatedly.  If a
congregation is not available, a self-sufficient relative
sponsors the refugee.
The goal for all sponsors is to systematically foster refugee
     The group spent May 2 visiting with members of
Congress and their staff.  John Fredriksson, the LIRS
representative in Washington, D.C., briefed the group on
current topics on Capitol Hill and the craft of lobbying.
     "I am passionate about these issues," he said, but he
tries to control that passion enough not to argue about the
issues with congressional staff.  They discussed "summary
exclusion" of certain refugees seeking asylum in the United
States, budgeting for refugee assistance and a move to bar
undocumented children from public education.
     LIRS staff provided updates on the resettlement
program, financial reporting requirements, planning and
development, first asylum concerns, case processing and
children's services.
     Jacquelyn Mize-Baker, program director for case
processing, presented changes in the regional consultants'
handbook, and she lead discussions of new overseas
processing priorities and "friend" cases.
     It is possible for a refugee's friend to sponsor
resettlement, but a great deal of documentation is needed
to prove that relationship.
     "It seems the State Department is obsessed with this
issue, so we must be obsessed with this issue," said Greg
Schaefer, Southern California regional liaison, Los
Angeles.  "We have to do everything in our power to
document these relationships."
     Schaefer advised that it may be easier to resettle a
refugee assuming no relationship with a current American
-- a "free" case.  "The State Department is zooming in on
this issue, and some of our affiliates are getting creamed on
this issue," he said.
     The United Nations High Commission on Refugees sets
overseas processing priorities using a matrix of criteria,
said Larry Yungk, UNHCR resettlement director,
Washington, D.C.  "It's more art than science right now,"
he said.
     If they can not return home, said Yungk, the UN
prefers refugees settle where they are.  Resettlement is
considered a last resort.
     "Family reunification is a priority for us -- but only
nuclear family," he said.  The UN would prefer to conduct
an exhaustive search for the immediate family of an
unaccompanied minor, rather than resettle the child with an
aunt or uncle in a third country.
                             -- 30 --

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