Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Refugee Clients of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio, Inc. in Desperation

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 30, 2010

Refugee clients of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio, Inc. who arrived a year ago are living in desperate circumstances, and a local aid leader is asking that they be cared for first before Catholic Charities brings in any more refugees (here).

Something wasn’t right with 5-year-old Taw Meh.

She threw up every morning, just before breakfast at the Head Start program she attended. It had become so frequent that her counselor, Abdul, a former interpreter for U.S. military forces in Iraq, would cover her with plastic to protect her clothes.

When he told his Family Services Association co-worker, Pam Espurvoa, about the child, she suspected her diet. She suggested they visit the Northwest Side apartment Taw Meh shared with her father, Baw Reh, 49, mother, Htwa Meh, 39, and two sisters, Pleh Meh, 15 and Mo Meh, 3.

When Espurvoa and Abdul arrived at Taw Meh’s apartment at the Auburn Creek complex off Wurzbach Road, the only food they found was rotting vegetables in the refrigerator. A chill hung through the apartment. Several wires dangled from a furnace blower that didn’t work. …parents about apartment maintenance and application deadlines. Many refugees are illiterate in their language, Espurvoa said, and the letters for phone appointments for Medicaid and food stamps are in English. They, like other refugees, do not have a phone.Meh’sreturned to the apartment in early March, with her supervisor, Susan Miller, to teach Taw EspurvoaFour beds for five people filled one of the two bedrooms. A father and his daughter lived in the other bedroom. Roaches scurried up the walls as Andrade showed the family how to use a space heater.

Why are other agencies in San Antonio having to come to the rescue of these refugees a year after their arrival? The State Department contracted with Catholic Charities to teach these refugees about apartment maintenance and application deadlines (e.g. for food stamps) during their first 30-90 days in the US.

Local aid agencies are advising that new refugees not be resettled to San Antonio until refugees already here are properly taken care of. Why didn’t Catholic Charities and the state refugee coordinator, Caitriona Lyons, think of that themselves?

Some aid workers said the best move would be to take care of those already here before bringing in more refugees.

Jann Fractor from Refugee Forum SA, a local network of organizations, churches and volunteers that helps refugees with transition needs, said several refugee families — without jobs and beyond services — faced eviction in the Wurzbach area in December, but humanitarian agencies came together to pay their rent.

Fractor, one of the forum founders, said several refugee families recently faced expulsion from their apartments, but groups scrambled to help them.

“People chipped in, but here we go again,” Fractor said.

“We can’t bring people here and have them homeless, that’s not the idea. The realistic view is not there because they’re expecting people who haven’t been educated in their own language to attain enough English in six months to get a job,” Factor said.

Notice that not only did the refugee resettlement agency apparently not continue to look out for these refugees, they also don’t seem to have at least referred the refugees to anyone who could help them fill out forms in English and turn them in on time. The refugees also don’t seem to have learned how to request help for apartment maintenance issues. Also, did Catholic Charities originally place the refugees in those roach-infested apartments at the Auburn Creek complex off Wurzbach Road? That’s against State Department contract rules, albeit rules that are not enforced.

Why do members of the community and local aid leaders have to come forward to the media and point out that refugees are not receiving the help they need from Catholic Charities rather than the state refugee coordinator dealing with these issues before they become a crisis?

We had to point the Texas state coordinator Caitriona Lyons to refugees being neglected in Houston, and she was fairly unresponsive (here, here and here). She refused to contact the refugees in question, and would not answer basic questions about what she was doing to investigate the situation. This, at a time when President Obama is calling for a new focus on open and accessible government. Are refugee program government oversight agencies determined to cover up their own failings with a culture of secrecy and unresponsiveness to the public?

I think what we need even more than additional funding for this program is some new, real accountability. Certainly government checks sent directly to the refugees is the only sensible way to help these refugees. It’s clear that many refugee resettlement agencies cannot be counted on to deliver direct services to the refugees.

**UPDATE** November 22, 2010

**UPDATE** December 8, 2010

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5 Responses to “Refugee Clients of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio, Inc. in Desperation”

  1. [...] Posted by acorcoran on March 30, 2010 Update:  More on this story at Friends of Refugees, here. [...]

  2. Sue said

    How about taking care of American born citizens first. People, or couples who don’t have children, usually can’t get any help from the government for food, health care etc. and some are not old enough yet for Social Security and can’t take advantage of programs for seniors. Some are in dire need of nutritious food and health care. Shouldn’t they be helped before new people arriving in the country?

    • There is no requirement that one has to have children in order to qualify for SNAP (formerly known as “food stamps”). Households qualify based on income, cost of shelter, cost of utilities, and out-of-pocket medical costs. As to health care, that IS a serious issue with 50 million Americans uninsured. President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 goes a long way toward bringing those people into health care coverage. I don’t think it has to be an either/or decision between either helping refugees or helping Americans. We can do both.

  3. Peter Leo Butler said

    On Tuesday the 3rd of April I arrived at the entry point in Laredo for arrivals from Mexico.
    I showed them my New Zealand passport, A note from the Esta system and my expired Green Card. I said I had travelled there to discuss the expired Green Card. I was then accused of entering the USA illegally and interrogated, frequently with a great deal of shouting at me, from 6.30am until 1.30 in the afternoon. There will be a hearing in 3 to 6 months.
    I was given your address and told that you assist people enmeshed in the immigration system.
    Would you like further information?
    What fees apply if I receive help from you?
    Kind regards,
    Peter Leo Butler

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