Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

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Athens GA mayor opposes IRC resettlement office

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 25, 2014

opposeThe mayor of Athens, Georgia sent a letter last week to the state officials who control refugee resettlement in Georgia requesting that a plan by the Atlanta office of the International Rescue Committee to bring refugees to Athens be put on hold.  Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson claims she is worried that the presence of refugees might strain Athens’ already burdened social services and school system.  She goes on to claim that Athens can only offer minimum wage jobs to refugees and that allowing the refugees to resettle would be “importing poverty”.  I guess my question is do local businesses want to fill those low wage jobs or not?  What plans does the mayor have for helping to increase wages for families?  An article in Athens Banner-Herald has more:

Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson sent a letter last week to the state officials who control refugee resettlement in Georgia requesting that a plan by the Atlanta office of the International Rescue Committee to bring refugees to Athens be put on hold.

Denson worried that the presence of refugees might strain Athens’ already burdened social services and school system. Athens can offer very little outside of low-wage employment to the refugees, Denson said.

The mayor and other local leaders also expressed concern in recent interviews about adding to the area’s poverty level.

Upwards of 150 refugees, including men, women and children, were expected to resettle in Athens in 2015… Read more here

Posted in capacity, Georgia, IRC, schools, unwelcoming communities | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Poor policing of private contractors

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 17, 2014

outsourcing_america_exposed_mapCase managers failing to file accurate reports about their visits with clients. Poorly designed contracts and unwillingness to pull the plug on contractors with poor performance. A lack of quality assurance mechanisms. Inquiries done after contract money already has been spent. Contractors who perform poorly often not sanctioned. Millions of dollars wasted. Sound familiar?

People often ask me what changes I would like to see in the refugee program to make it more effective. Most of my answers from my own observations over the past thirteen years involve the federal oversight of the refugee program, and include such things as adding teeth to the refugee contracts – consequences for the refugee contractors who violate the program contract requirement. A detailed examination of this serious problem, albeit regarding state oversight of contractors (nevertheless applicable to the federal refugee contracts), is found in a recent posting at The Pew Charitable Trusts website:

…Case managers for people with developmental disabilities failed to file accurate reports about their visits with clients…

…officials did a poor job overseeing state contracts with outside firms.
The review, which examined [procurement and monitoring of contracts], determined that oversight failures not only wasted taxpayers’ money but put some of its most vulnerable residents at risk…

…“The state engages in oversight by audit and exposé. It’s a ‘gotcha’ way to do it,” said Janice Fine, an associate professor at Rutgers’ School of Management and Labor Relations who co-authored the study. “I was shocked by how little oversight was happening in real time, as opposed to after the fact.”

Many states have struggled to adequately oversee billions of dollars in contracts with companies — both for-profit and not-for-profit. Too often, states rush to tighten contracting laws or regulations only after a public controversy erupts or they’ve been slammed by auditors. By that time, millions of dollars may have been wasted.

“Lots of states are facing this oversight problem,” said Barbara S. Romzek, dean of American University’s School of Public Affairs. “State agencies might write good contracts but they don’t execute them. And contract oversight is important because it’s getting what you pay for. Public money should not be spent poorly. The services should be high quality and taxpayers should be getting their money’s worth.

…other obstacles to quality contracting are poorly designed contracts and unwillingness to pull the plug on a contractor with poor performance, Romzek added.

…contract oversight problems uncovered were longstanding and occurred during both Democratic and Republican administrations…

…mandate real-time evaluation of contractors, require that contractors pay a sliding scale fee for monitoring costs…

“It just makes no sense to be doing this outsourcing unless we have some mechanism in place to make sure that taxpayers dollars are being spent effectively and that the goals of the contract are being achieved,” said [New Jersey Democratic state Sen. Bob Gordon], who chairs the House Oversight Committee. “There should be a monitoring or evaluation process built into every program so that you can see if it’s working and make a mid-course correction, if possible. In the business world, it’s called quality assurance.”…

…the responsibility lies with the state contract managers, who should be doing monitoring from the start. Instead, states rely on auditors, who launch their inquiries after the money already has been spent.

“It’s the old pay and chase model,” [Kinney Poynter, executive director of the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers] said. “You pay the vendors and then you have to chase them. But afterwards, it’s too late. The best internal controls are those in place up front and continuously enforced.”

Elliott Sclar, an economist and professor of urban planning at Columbia University, agrees that states tend to regulate contracts “ex post facto – after the fact.”

“Often, it’s the auditors who come in and find some abuse,” Sclar said. “And at that point everyone is scrambling around, but you didn’t get what you paid for, and it’s too late.”

Another problem is that contractors who perform poorly often aren’t sanctioned, said Amanda Girth, an assistant professor at Ohio State University’s John Glenn School of Public Affairs.

Girth said that the process often can be onerous because states know that they could wind up in court, either suing a contractor or being sued by one if they cancel the contract.

“Those barriers are just too high. Even though there are penalty clauses, they don’t execute them because it’s just too much trouble,” she said. “It’s a very real and serious problem.”…Read more here

Posted in New Jersey, ORR, public/private partnership, reform, State Department, States | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Funding withdrawn then reinstated; may be withdrawn again — New wave of Central American minors expected in September and October

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 17, 2014

revolving_moneyFrom recent media articles its now clear that the ORR could have predicted a large drop off of Central American immigrant children and accompanying women due to the summer heat coming across the southern border. This calls into question why the ORR shifted $94 million dollars away from the refugee program to deal with the influx of unaccompanied minor immigrants only to now restore $22.5 million so far once the numbers coming across the border dropped off in July. Was it a publicity stunt to encourage the Congress to vote for higher funding to cover the influx? An ORR main contractor and national refugee resettlement agency the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is also now claiming that a second wave of unaccompanied minors is expected to cross over the US-Mexican border in September and October after the summer heat abates. If this speculation becomes reality then the ORR may again shift money away fro the refugee program to the unaccompanied minors — unless Congress passes a large increase for the ORR that the Obama administration has requested. Articles at Phoenix (CBS-5) and the Washington Post explain many of the details:

…Last week, … program directors received the welcome news of a small reprieve. With the drop in the numbers of children coming across the border in July, the Office of Refugee Resettlement was able to redirect $22.5 million of the still-unspent $94 million back to refugee social service programs. Saved from cuts were a variety of programs that help refugees find and keep work, including Greensboro’s.

But a $71.5 million gap remains, a new fiscal year approaches, and when Congress returns next month, refugee advocates still must make a case for adequate funding to lawmakers who have shown themselves willing to sacrifice refugee programs at the altar of anti-immigrant sentiment… Read more here and here

Posted in Church World Service of North Carolina, Congress, CWS, funding, Greensboro, North Carolina, Obama administration, ORR, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

ORR Scam Alert – scheme to rob refugees of personal data

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 15, 2014

 scam_alert

The following is a current scam alert put out by the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) in regard to a new fraud scheme to rob refugees of personal data, which can be used to commit identity theft. Criminals have so far targeted refugees from Myanmar in Iowa.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) would like to warn you of a new fraud scheme to rob refugees of personal data, which can be used to commit identity theft. 

Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center (EMBARC), an ORR grantee from Iowa, reports that last week some of their clients were visited by two men claiming to  be cell phone company representatives.  These men went door to door asking refugee families for their social security numbers, Medicaid numbers, and dates of birth, promising them free cell phones in return.  

ORR urges you to be aware that there are several criminals seeking to take advantage of newly arrived refugees who may not realize the need to protect their personal information from thieves and other criminals.  

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is following scam attempts such as these, and encourages anyone contacted with similar scams to report them through the FTC website. Their recently published Consumer Alert provides valuable tips on how to avoid being victimized, and what to do in case you are contacted.  They have also set up a new web page, Avoiding Scams Against Immigrants, with information and materials in several languages. 

Unfortunately, people are getting hurt by this scam: some refugees are losing thousands of dollars. How can you avoid scams like this?

Do not give important personal information – or money – to someone you don’t know or to someone who contacts you unexpectedly.

Do not give your personal or financial information to unknown persons who seek payment or solicits charitable contributions: providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.

Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages.

Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as officials asking for payments or donations, door-to-door, via phone, mail, e-mail or social networking sites.

If you are a refugee and get a call like this, talk to the case manager at your resettlement agency immediately. Then report it to the Federal Trade Commission online or at 1-877-FTC-HELP

Information courtesy of the Federal Trade Commission, FTC Consumer Alert

Resettled refugees are once again advised to consult with their local resettlement agencies if someone claiming to represent the government contacts them, especially if there are promises of cash or prizes.  If these scammers come to your home, report the incident to your local police. 

Please help the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) spread the warning about these scams, and stop others from being victimized by these criminals.

Thank you,

ORR

 

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, Iowa, ORR, scams, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

ORR now reneges on cutting refugee funding

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 12, 2014

YippeeeeAfter dire warnings from refugee resettlement contractor non-profits that local economies would suffer if the agencies lost funding for refugees due to the federal government refugee agency ORR shifting funds to the Central-American immigrants coming in across the southern border, the ORR has just as quickly restored the funds. The agency apparently suddenly noticed what others had already suspected and asked the ORR about – that the number of Central American minors had slowed in recent months – and ORR had jumped the gun. An article in the Inlander explains the funding restoration:

We wrote this week about a pot of federal funding that’s meant to help refugees…but is being stretched thin by the growing number of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S./Mexico border..When the federal government decided to withhold this funding recently in order to redirect it to the border, local agencies worried they’d have to cut staff or start charging refugees for services.

Today, a rare happy update to a story about budget cuts: The federal agency that had decided to redirect this funding has changed its mind.

“Although Congress has not approved the additional funding that President Obama requested, there has been a decrease in the rate of [unaccompanied minors] arrivals,” Tom Medina wrote the Inlander in an email late Thursday afternoon. Medina oversees the [Washington] state office that distributes the federal funds to local groups like World Relief. “During the conference call, [the Office of Refugee Resettlement] reported the year-to-date total of UAC’s in the U.S. stood at 54,000 through the end of July. ORR is projecting that the total by September 30 will be around 60,000, which is what they had originally budgeted for.”

“This,” Medina wrote, “means that we will be able to restore the RRA and Mental Health contracts that we had to terminate last month.” Read more here

Posted in children, funding, Guatemalan, ORR, teenagers, unaccompanied minors, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Republican governors go on attack in states receiving fewest Central American immigrant children

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 10, 2014

blitz

It seems that the states with the fewest immigrant children and young adults of the 30,000 that have arrived since January are the ones making the biggest racket over their placement by the ORR. Republican governors of these states have gone on a media blitz complaining about everything from the speculative diseases these immigrants have to claims of so-called potential increases in crime. An article at The Daily Reflector covers North Carolina’s governor Pat McCrory:

Gov. Pat McCrory has been on a media blitz lately, with four news conferences in the last few days, one to fear-monger about refugee children…

McCrory said that the children relocated to North Carolina after fleeing dangerous and abuse situations in Central American countries did not receive health screenings and may be a threat to North Carolina children. He sounded ominous warnings about the lack of background checks of the sponsors providing the children their new home. But the children do undergo health screenings and the sponsors do undergo background checks. McCrory could have found that out by simply visiting the website of the office of Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

When confronted with the information that background checks are done on the sponsors of the children, McCrory said they were not the kind of background checks that need to be done. He didn’t provide any clarification and seemed caught off guard by pointed questions about the remarks he made about the immigrant children the day before… Read here

Posted in asylees, children, Guatemalan, health, North Carolina, ORR, right-wing, schools, teenagers, teens, unaccompanied minors, young adults | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Conservative websites spread misinformation on influx of immigrant children

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 3, 2014

SpreadingMisinformation

The now long ongoing influx of immigrant children across the US southern border – and highly publicized due to an increase in recent months – is now being met by a wave of misinformation spearheaded by conservative websites. The US agency responsible for apprehending the immigrants (ICE and here) and handing them over to the ORR advertised in January for contractors to aid with the transfer following ICE taking these illegal immigrants into custody. Conservative websites have locked on the issue to spread misinformation by falsely claiming that ICE is instead requesting services to transport these immigrants across the border to the US. They also claim that ICE, therefore the Obama administration, had anticipated the influx in January. Instead, the influx has actually been going on for several years with a more recent surge due to drug and gang related violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. An article in the Reno Gazette-Journal looks at this issue:

…The recent wave of publicity concerning the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America being apprehended at the southwest border has unleashed a flood of emails from readers. Many refer, directly or indirectly, to a request for information submitted Jan. 29 by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the Federal Business Opportunities website titled “Escort Services for Unaccompanied Alien Children.”

Some have asked if Homeland Security is paying to bring foreign children across the border illegally, based on some conservative websites that misinterpreted the request for information. Infowars, for example, claimed that the Obama administration is using “taxpayer money to escort illegal minors into the United States.”
Other readers asked if the Obama administration placed the advertisement “back in January” and wonder how the administration knew months ago there would be a crisis at the border.

First of all, ICE did not solicit bids for vendors to bring children across the border, as Infowars claimed. The request for information was referring to children who illegally crossed the border and were apprehended by Border Patrol agents. The private escorts would transfer “approximately 65,000″ unaccompanied foreign children from Border Patrol facilities to Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters… Read more here

Posted in children, gangs, Guatemalan, ICE, ORR, right-wing, teens, Texas, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

San Diego police kill Myanmar refugee who had mental illness

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 19, 2014

human-target-bullet-holes-300

San Diego police have shot and killed a refugee from Myanmar who had a mental illness.  The young man’s family called police after he threatened them with knives and a stick and police then escalated the volatile situation by breaking down the door and sending in a police dog.  After the young man injured the dog with a machete swing to its back he allegedly swung the weapon at police prompting two officers to open fire. This case is part of a growing problem of people with severe mental disorders who are coming in contact with the criminal justice system, with sometimes deadly consequences, without adequate mental health services.  As a result of other tragic killings by police, many police departments are using a crisis intervention team model, in which specially trained officers are dispatched to a scene when a person with mental illness is involved. An article at Fox 5 San Diego covers the killing of the refugee from Myanmar:

SAN DIEGO – Friends of a young man with mental illness, who was killed by police after he threatened his family and police with knives and a stick at his City Heights apartment over the weekend, wondered if police could have handled it differently.

Patrol personnel went to the residence in the 3800 block of Menlo Avenue at 10:20 p.m. Sunday on reports that a man was threatening the lives of his family, according to San Diego police.

Officers arrived to find the man holding a knife and a stick and behaving in an “agitated” manner, Lt. Mike Hastings said. As the officers tried to persuade him to disarm himself, he allegedly began threatening them and retrieved a machete.
Officers tried in vain to subdue the suspect with stun guns and police dogs, Hastings said. When one of the canines approached, the man struck the animal on the back with the machete, according to police.

The suspect then allegedly swung the weapon at an officer, prompting two others to open fire. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died at the scene.
The man was identified by friends on a social media website as 21-year-old Burmese refugee from Myanmar named Ja Ma Lo Day…

He suffered from mental illness and had been involved in several prior encounters with the police, according to the online posting… Read more here

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, language, mental health, police, San Diego | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

US federal government begins fast-track deportation of Central American adults and children

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 16, 2014

aiplane take-off

The Obama administration is now taking a stiff position on the huge influx of people, most of them children, from Central America and Mexico fleeing drug and gang violence and poverty. On Monday the administration deported a group of Honduran children and their adult accompanists.  The administration claims that without government action, more than 150,000 unaccompanied children could flee the Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala alone next year.  Technically these are not refugees as they are not claiming they are fleeing political oppression.  The ORR contends that it will need to pay for the influx by diverting funds away from refugees already resettled to the US.  Reuters has the latest development in this ongoing disaster:

(Reuters) – The United States deported a group of Honduran children as young as 1-1/2 years old on Monday in the first flight since President Barack Obama pledged to speed up the process of sending back illegal immigrant minors from Central America.

Fleeing violence and poverty, record numbers of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have crossed into the United States over the past year, testing U.S. border facilities and sparking intense debate about how to solve the problem.

Monday’s charter flight from New Mexico to San Pedro Sula, the city with the highest murder rate in the world, returned 17 Honduran women, as well as 12 girls and nine boys, aged between 18 months and 15 years, the Honduran government said.

Looking happy, the deported children exited the airport on an overcast and sweltering afternoon. One by one, they filed into a bus, playing with balloons they had been given…

During the eight months ended June 15, some 52,000 children were detained at the U.S. border with Mexico, most of them from Central America. That was double the previous year’s tally and tens of thousands more are believed to have slipped through.

So chaotic are the circumstances of the exodus that some of the children are not even correctly reunited with their parents, said Valdette Willeman, director of the Center for Attention for Returned Migrants in Honduras.

“Many of the mothers are sometimes not even the real mothers of the children,” she said…

Obama’s administration has projected that without government action, more than 150,000 unaccompanied children under the age of 18 could flee the three Central American nations next year. .. Read more here

Posted in capacity, children, funding, gangs, Guatemalan, ORR, safety, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Another fatal fire – this time in Phoenix

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 12, 2014

cartoon_fire

A late afternoon fire killed a 7-month-old Somali baby boy at the McDowell East Apartments in Phoenix two weeks ago.  The cause of the fire remains under investigation.  Firefighters believe that a smoke detector had no batteries.  The local fire marshal says it’s shockingly common for smoke detectors to have no batteries, which should be a message to resettlement agencies to check refugee clients’ smoke detectors periodically.  Another fire in June in New Bern, NC displaced many refugee families.  In that case the cause of the fire was children playing with a lighter.  An article in The Republic covers the Phoenix story:

As residents of a Phoenix community continue to grieve for a 7-month-old baby who died in an apartment fire, questions linger about whether the unit had a working smoke detector and if family members, who are Somali ­refugees, would have understood its importance.

Officials said 7-month-old Mohamed Ali likely died of smoke inhalation after his family’s home in the McDowell East Apartments, near 24th Street and McDowell Road, caught fire at about 3 p.m. Monday.

The baby’s mother and grandmother were able to get the other children living in the home out of harm’s way but were unable to get the baby out because of heavy smoke and a wall of flames that blocked their path. Neighbors, including an off-duty firefighter, also rushed in to help but were unable to reach Mohamed.

The fire displaced about 80 people living in the complex, which is largely occupied by refugee families. Most of them have since returned home to their apartments.

Investigators on Wednesday were still trying to determine the fire’s cause.

Sgt. Trent Crump, a police spokesman, said investigators believe the family’s apartment didn’t have a working detector — the battery was missing. Crump said that it’s not clear who ­removed the battery or when but that it is part of the ongoing inquiry…

Fatuma Dubow, a Somali refugee who lives in the complex, said most people from her homeland don’t have electricity, so checking a smoke detector or understanding how it works is knowledge that develops over time…

Another Somali refugee who lives nearby said she knew that smoke detectors were important but was under the impression that they alerted police and fire automatically during a fire…

Cathy Peterson, vice president of program operations for Catholic Charities Community Service, gave a…description for her group’s health and safety orientations.

“The heath and safety (primer) would include the smoke alarms,” she said… Read more here

Posted in apartment building fires, children, housing, Phoenix, Somali Bantu | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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