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After Trump’s Refugee Restrictions, There Are Few LA Resettlement Agencies Left To Help Afghans

An Afghan boy, around age 9, in a striped shirt walks out of Dulles airport with a masked man following behind him, presumably his father.
A young child carries his belongings as he and his family — who were evacuated from Kabul — walk out of Dulles International Airport.
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After Trump, Few LA Resettlement Agencies Are Left To Help Afghan Refugees

Some 700 Afghan refugees are expected to arrive soon in the greater Los Angeles area, but there aren’t enough resettlement agencies to help them.

There used to be nine such local organizations, but after four years of former President Trump’s strict immigration policies, there are now only three still doing resettlement work.

That's because the Trump administration dramatically slashed refugee admissions, so there wasn’t enough work for the nonprofits that worked in resettlement.

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Some agencies downsized, and several shuttered their resettlement operations altogether.

Now the three local organizations still doing resettlement work face an epic challenge.

One of them, the International Institute of Los Angeles, said it expects to receive 350 Afghans in the coming weeks.

The Institute is one of the agencies that downsized, so it’s down to only two staffers in its resettlement program, said Lilian Alba, vice president of immigrant and refugee services.

'It Has Been Very Challenging'

“We were not thinking that we were going to have a humanitarian crisis during the summer and that we would essentially have to double our capacity,” she said. “It has been very challenging, because with so many organizations not reopening their resettlement programs, it means there are less resources for refugees.”

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Alba said she is hurrying to hire more staff to do case management, which includes connecting refugees with housing, emergency cash, and social services.

Some local agencies that stopped resettling refugees are trying to resume the work. But the deadline to apply for government funding to do that has already passed, said Jose Serrano, director of outreach and immigration for World Relief in Garden Grove.

The agency’s Garden Grove office once resettled large numbers of refugees from countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. People from those nations were drawn to Orange County’s vibrant Arab American community, its familiar language and food, and often local friends and family.

But Serrano said his office settled its last refugee — from Afghanistan — in 2017. Serrano and his colleagues have since turned to doing other immigration services for the community, like helping people apply for U.S. citizenship.

He said two other World Relief offices in Northern California are still resettling refugees, and will be working with Afghan newcomers. But he finds the overall situation frustrating.

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One Bright Spot

Serrano and Alba both said one bright spot is the outpouring of support that has come from a cross-section of nonprofits, religious organizations, and regular citizens who have offered to do what they can to help house and feed Afghan refugees and help them adjust to their new lives here.

Without that assistance, “it would be impossible for the three resettlement agencies to provide adequate services,” Alba said.

In Anaheim’s Little Arabia neighborhood, the nonprofit Access California Services is among those that have been reaching out to the Afghan community to offer support.

The agency has managed to raise money to help a handful of Afghan families who have already arrived move into their own apartments, said Anas Qolaghasi, who directs the nonprofit’s social immigration services. But it’s not enough, he said — a resettlement agency in the area is sorely missed.

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“Because there is no resettlement agency, many refugees are lost, they do not know what to do,” Qolaghasi said.

What questions do you have about immigration and emerging communities in LA?