Iowa Public Radio / Sarah Boden

About 50 people rallied outside the State Capitol Tuesday afternoon, in response to Gov. Terry Branstad’s order blocking Syrian refugees from settling in Iowa.

"Mr. Branstad I ask you to find it in your heart, to find the courage, and to stop being afraid of people that are different from you," said Samantha Thomas, the one of the rally's organizers and executive director of Global Arts Therapy, which does work with youth and refugees.

Iowa Public Radio / Sarah Boden

Iowa clergy submitted a letter to Gov. Terry Branstad’s office Monday afternoon, condemning what they call discrimination against Syrian refugees “on the basis of religion," and to "reject fear and cruelty" by welcoming them to the state.

UK Department for International Development / Flickr

Governor Terry Branstad is one of more than 25 governors who have said no to helping Syrian refugees. That didn't stop Mayor Chris Taylor from proclaiming Wednesday that the eastern Iowa town of Swisher welcomes them.

Daniel Moon

During the Vietnam War, Iowa earned a reputation for being one of the most welcoming places in the world for refugees. But since September 11, 2001, the number of Iowa families hosting refugee families has dropped precipitously, by over 90 percent according to the Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Immigration.

John Wilken, Director of the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services, says there are a number of reasons for that, including a change in the direction of services and a change in how much volunteer time Iowans are willing to commit to helping newcomers to the state. 

Photo Courtesy Daniel Moon

Twenty years ago in Iowa, the influx of latino workers and their families was a large topic of conversation. Today, refugee programs are working with more than 180 different languages and are helping migrants from all over the world navigate culture in Iowa, and starting to include ideas of sexual identity and socio-economic status in the conversation.

During this hour of River to River, we hear from Henny Ohr, Executive Director of the Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center, about the influx of refugees from Burma who have been relocating to Iowa.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Bear Creek Dairy in Brooklyn, Iowa, is home to more than 1,100 cows, who provide about 100,000 pounds of milk each day.

Ryan Henderson

Governor Terry Branstad is defending his reluctance to grant asylum to unaccompanied children fleeing extreme violence in Central America.

"It would be wrong for us to send a signal that if you come here illegally, we're just gonna disperse you throughout the country and you don't have to go home."

Social justice advocate Connie Ryan Terrell of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa says many in Iowa’s faith community are disappointed with Branstad's decision, since the state has a history of welcoming immigrants.


A young man who came to Iowa in 1999 as a refugee from South Sudan, has been trapped in his home country since violence broke out in December. 

As a teenager, Joseph Yassin immigrated to Des Moines with his family, all war refugees from South Sudan.

Soon after he graduated from Iowa State University in 2011, Yassin returned to the newly independent country to work for an international development agency.

New Neighbors

Mar 6, 2014
IPR's Pat Blank

  Since 1990, Waterloo has been a draw for refugees looking for a new start.  Five thousand Bosnians relocated there and over the years have had a significant positive impact on the business community and school system. Since 2010, an influx of nearly 12 hundred Burmese have made their way to Northeast Iowa. An initial federal grant has expired and now the search is on for sponsoring agencies to help foot the bills.

2013 has been a busy year for Iowa Public Radio's news team. Today on River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with reporters and correspondents about some of the most meaningful and challenging stories they covered. It's a "reporter's notebook" edition of the show.

Here is a list of the full features heard on today's show:

January 10 - Undocumented Immigrants at University

Durrie Bouscaren / Iowa Public Radio

Human rights groups are expecting thousands of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to soon be resettled in the United States. Years of war and ethnically-motivated violence have led to a humanitarian crisis, forcing hundreds of thousands to leave their homes.

Iowa Public Radio’s Durrie Bouscaren checks in with a group of Congolese that arrived in Iowa years ago.

Nearly every transplant to Iowa from Southeast Asia who we’ve met this week has been in the state for a number of years. Iowa has a long history of welcoming them. That’s partially why refugees from that corner of the world continue to arrive. The latest are from the country now known as Myanmar. But it’s almost impossible to lump these new arrivals into a single group of refugees.

Dr. Alan Koslow / Facebook

An Iowa doctor is preparing to come home after spending the past couple of weeks doing relief work in a part of the world facing one of the worst refugee crises in memory.

Dr. Alan Koslow is a vascular surgeon from Des Moines. He landed in South Sudan about two weeks ago, in an area where tens of thousands of refugees have been fleeing violence and famine across the border in Sudan.

Koslow spoke with IPR's Sarah McCammon through an internet phone from the South Sudanese capital of Juba.