Up to 1,300 Afghans to be resettled in Michigan in coming months, state says

Up to 1,300 Afghan allies and nationals are expected to be resettled in Michigan in the coming months, according to state and nonprofit officials. 

The figure was reached among Michigan resettlement agencies in consultation with the state Office of Global Michigan, housed within the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, spokeswoman Erica Quealy said Friday. 

In West Michigan, the Grand Rapids-based Bethany Christian Services said it's planning to help resettle 250 Afghan allies and refugees in the near future.

St. Vincent's Catholic Charities Refugee Services, based in Lansing, will be receiving 300 Afghans, Judi Harris, director of St. Vincent's refugee services, told The Detroit News on Friday. 

That's in addition to the 350 Afghans that the Detroit-based Samaritas is anticipating helping to resettle in the coming months, the group said last week.

Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County has agreed to help resettle up to 300 Afghans, said Devon Meier, the group's chief development officer. 

"Our first case has come, and we have a couple in the pipeline," Meier said.

"We're just at the ready. So when we get a call and — it could be that someone is coming tomorrow, it could be that someone's coming next week — we just make sure we're prepared."

For Bethany's president and CEO, Chris Palusky, the mission is a personal one, as he lived in Afghanistan from 2000 to 2001. He said it's a duty to resettle Afghan allies to keep them safe from the Taliban, as they face persecution for working with the United States, and as "the situation on the ground is getting worse every day."

"I've seen how they rule. I've seen their brutality," Palusky said of the Taliban during a press call Friday.

"I've remained in close contact with friends in Afghanistan who have worked with the U.S. government for two decades. If we leave them stranded, Afghans, especially women and girls, will lose their rights."

Bethany Christian Services has been resettling refugees in Michigan for more than 45 years and resettled their first Afghan refugee in Grand Rapids in 2015. Since then, the nonprofit has resettled more than 100 Afghan refugees in the state.

Afghan citizens pack inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III as they are transported from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2021. Grand Rapids-based Bethany Christian Services is expecting to help resettle 250 Afghan allies and refugees in West Michigan over the coming months.

In the past month, one interpreter for the U.S. military was resettled in Michigan with his family and kids, who are excited to start school and a new life, Palusky said.

"I'm reminded that behind every one of these numbers is a name and a story, I mean these are people. These are humans," Palusky said.

"Last weekend, three Afghan families in West Michigan were reunited after many years apart. I can think of few occasions that are more joyous than the reunification of families. We're excited to be part of many more moments like this over the months ahead."

Bethany officials said all migrants have been vetted as any other refugees would be and are currently being processed by government agencies. While the agency doesn't have demographic information, they are expecting larger families alongside individuals.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is leading Afghan resettlement efforts, in conjunction with the State Department and Office of Refugee Resettlement.

"We are working closely with them, as well as the state’s Refugee Resettlement Agencies and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to assist the federal government with the arrival of the Afghan nationals expected to be placed in Michigan," Quealy said. 

The White House budget office this week asked Congress for $6.4 billion to aid in the resettlement of Afghan allies and other vulnerable Afghans, with senior administration officials saying they expect as many as 65,000 to arrive in the U.S. by month’s end and another 30,000 over the next 12 months.

If approved, the money would support the Pentagon and State Department in processing Afghans at third-country intermediary sites overseas, covering their transportation to the U.S., security screenings, as well as funding for the Department of Health and Human Resources to provide assistance for the Afghan arrivals with public health screenings and vaccinations, along with other resettlement resources, the officials said.

The federal funding would likely be included as part of short-term spending package lawmakers are expected to pass by October to avoid a government shutdown.

Many Afghans who were evacuated as part of the U.S. airlift last month are housed on U.S. installations in third-party countries, where they’re undergoing biometric and biographic security screenings before they flow to the United States, officials said.

Once in the U.S., they undergo COVID-19 testing and are sent to one of several military bases for full medical screenings and to be connected with one of several resettlement agencies.

Chris Palusky is president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services

After they’re in the U.S. for a year, the Afghans will be deemed eligible to apply to become lawful permanent residents and receive green cards, in what officials said is a path analogous to that available to refugees and those holding special immigrant visas.

Benefits for the Afghans would be similar to those available to other refugees coming to the U.S. and include assistance with housing and basic necessities, job training, English-language training and medical treatment.

The legal status of some Afghans will be "humanitarian parole," which was a way for the U.S. government to quickly evacuate mass numbers of people during a crisis.

Kristi Gleason, vice president of Bethany's refugee and immigrant services, said the organization has been preparing for weeks to hire new case managers, find resources and connecting with community members for successful resettlement. The effort is led by Bethany's offices in Grand Rapids, Holland, Muskegon and Kalamazoo.

"First, we are praying for our Afghan allies who remain in Afghanistan who are now fearing for their lives," she said. "We're really excited to start this new wave of resettlement because Michigan has been so incredibly welcoming to their neighbors over these last years."

Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, which did substantial resettlement work in the past, is awaiting authorization to again resettle new arrivals. That approval could come as soon as next month, said Paul Propson, the group's chief executive officer.

"We’ve been told to expect 110 in the (fiscal) year beginning Oct. 1," said Propson, noting that figure includes all refugee arrivals and isn't limited to the Afghan crisis. 

More:Hundreds of Afghans expected in Michigan as resettlement group plans fundraiser

Samaritas last week said it hopes to raise $430,000 in what it is calling the Afghan Refugee Network to help as many as 350 Afghan refugees resettle in Michigan. The funds raised will go toward necessities, including food, clothing and housing. 

Samaritas estimates that 75% of refugees they work with become self-sufficient within 180 days (or about six months) of arriving in Michigan.

Meier said Jewish Family Services is also seeking donations to help provide for the needs of the Afghans, noting that while under parolee status they won't have work visas yet. 

"Funding is a major issue across the board, probably for all of our agencies, to be able to ensure that we can properly support folks," Meier said.

Housing is another challenge. JFS is trying to connect with landlords willing to help who are within a 100-mile radius of Ann Arbor, Meier said.

"W​​​​​e're honored to be able to help these folks who have done so much for us," she said. "We made a promise, and we're here to help."

Because this is a case of rushed, unusual circumstances, Bethany is also asking for help in aiding refugees through donations of supplies, housing, kitchen and school supplies, food, gift cards and clothes.

"Usually, people that we have worked with have been in refugee camps for a period of time. But as we've seen roll out on the news, a month, two months ago these people were living their lives as usual and then ...they had to evacuate very quickly. The evacuation was sudden, chaotic and violent, as we've seen," Gleason said, adding they expect resettlers will mostly be those who were seen as a threat to the Taliban.

"Including journalists, human rights activists, women. Those are the type of folks that we're expecting to see come into Michigan," she said.

Census Bureau data from 2019 indicate that about 668 people born in Afghanistan live in Michigan. That's about one-half of 1% of the total Afghan-born population living in the United States.



Staff Writer Hayley Harding contributed.