The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

CCA refugee resettlement office earns affiliate status

USCCB connection will increase office's number of cases, locations of origin in 2024

Published: December 6, 2023   
OSV News / Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters
Afghan refugees embrace family members after arriving at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., Sept. 2, 2021, before boarding buses that took them to a processing center. The Diocese of Little Rock's Refugee Resettlement Office has been helping Afghan families create a new life here in Arkansas, following the fall of the Afghanistan government to the Taliban in August 2021.

Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Office has been granted affiliate status through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

After successfully resettling Afghans within the Little Rock area in 2021-2022, the USCCB reached out to immigration services director Jennifer Verkamp-Ruthven and asked her office to apply to become an “affiliate” of its Migration and Refugee Services agency.

“We were excited to learn this past summer that our application was approved, and we have been given the opportunity to grow our ministry,” Verkamp-Ruthven said. “As an affiliate, we are required to resettle U.S. tie cases and ‘no U.S. tie’ cases, which do not have a relative or friend close to where they are being resettled. We also will be resettling many more individuals than in the past several years, and all these cases do require the same set of core services.”

The refugee resettlement program at Catholic Charities of Arkansas has a long history of “welcoming the stranger.” In the 1970s and 1980s the program was on the frontlines of serving Vietnamese and Cuban refugees. 

After the United States Refugee Act of 1980 was passed, the program became a “community partner” of the USCCB, which is one of the 10 national resettlement agencies. The role of a national resettlement agency is to assist with assigning a refugee with an agency within their network across the country. They also ensure local resettlement agencies are adhering to the policies set by the State Department. 

As a community partner, the program is required to provide “core services” for refugees who have a “U.S. tie,” a friend or relative living in Arkansas who is willing to assist with the resettlement process. While there are multiple ongoing services that are provided to the family, core services include enrollment in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, securing employment, cultural orientations, school enrollment and housing.

After the fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban in 2021, CCA was asked to assist with the resettlement of Afghans who had to quickly evacuate their country. 

“We accepted this request as did many other agencies across the country,” Verkamp-Ruthven said. “Within less than six months, our small program resettled 88 Afghans. None of those individuals had a U.S. tie in the area, so the resettlement process was even more challenging. Thankfully, we had multiple ‘sponsor teams’ from local faith communities who have assisted the Afghans with their transition for over two years now to their new community. Since then, other Afghans have moved to the area, and we have serviced a total of 104 individuals.”

Verkamp-Ruthven said residents in Central Arkansas made it possible to resettle that many Afghans.

“They have suffered great loss, which can include the loss of their livelihoods, homes, relatives/friends and other possessions,” she said of the refugees. “When they begin their new life in this country, there are many initial needs upon arrival and now with the growth of the CCA refugee resettlement program, we need more assistance from the community.”

Catholic Charities is accepting donations to help cover intensive ESL courses, transportation, legal immigration services and dental care. 

Volunteers are also needed.

“As we plan for more refugee arrivals, we need more volunteers,” Verkamp-Ruthven said. “Volunteers can form a group to create a sponsor team to walk alongside a refugee family or can help with other areas, such as an English tutor or assistance with job placement. Other major needs are for local businesses to recruit and hire refugees and for landlords to rent a safe and affordable place for newcomers to call home.” 

Anyone interested in donating or volunteering with the refugee resettlement program should contact Jennifer Verkamp-Ruthven at .

Bishop Taylor wants you to know more about your faith and the Church: Sign up for Arkansas Catholic's free digital edition.

Please read our Comments Policy before posting.

Article comments powered by Disqus