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The family has asked that their names not be published for fear of retaliation by anti-U.S. forces against relatives still in Afghanistan.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