Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘Issues’ Category

FACT CHECK: GOP politician authors bill to stop resettlement

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 15, 2015


US Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, has introduced the Resettlement Accountability National Security Act (HR 3314), which would require an “immediate suspension [of the US] refugee resettlement program, until the Government Accountability Office (GAO) completes a thorough examination of its costs on federal, state and local governments.” The bill targeting refugees resettled legally in the US apparently reveals a larger anti-immigration stance for Babin, who over the years has only cited stopping illegal immigration as one of his main priorities. “…[Babin cited] immigration reform as the second biggest issue….[saying] that citizens across [his] district are tired of going to work every day, sweating to eek out a living and pay their bills, and then seeing illegals getting benefits from these hard working taxpayers, who get none.” (See the Immigration Chronicles blog that covered the 2014 Primary). Babin’s response appears designed only to appease an angry part of the electorate. There is no indication that he investigated the issue to determine if people’s assumptions were based in facts, or based on assumptions and ignorance. FACT: Only American citizens and some legal immigrants can get government assistance. Children of undocumented immigrants can get benefits if they are legal permanent residents or citizens (American-born children get automatic citizenship).

In an article and newscast covering Babin’s new bill, News Channel 10 in Amarillo, Texas claims that according to US government reports, a “surge” of nearly 500,000 refugees have come to the U.S. under the resettlement program since President Obama took office. Yet, looking at the raw data reveals that only 454,070 refugees have been admitted to the US since Obama took office, at an average yearly rate of 67,000. That compares to an average yearly rate of 81,145 for Pres. Reagan, 118,899 for Pres. Bush Sr., 99,202 for Pres. Clinton (see ORR Annual Reports to Congress FY1980-2004, and admissions totals at PRM Admissions Comparison Graph 2015, FY2005-2015). Under Pres. George W. Bush the annual rate bottomed out at 47,517 over eight years due to the 9-11 terrorist attacks and a necessity for a new rigorous background and security check system. This bottle-necked the refugee processing system for years, which still has not fully recovered. FACT: There hasn’t been a “surge” (a misapplied military term that the political Right uses) since the Pres. Bush Sr. administration — coming in at a yearly average of 118,899 refugees per year. Here is an excerpt from The News Channel 10 article:

Amarillo, TX – A bill to halt refugees resettling in the United States could substantially affect Amarillo taxpayers.

Amarillo has the highest number of refugees in the country per capita, and according to one Texas representative, if this number increases, taxpayers will feel the burden.

Since President Obama took office, government reports show nearly 500,000 new immigrants have come to the U.S. under the resettlement program…

Because of the surge, Texas U.S. Representative, Brian Babin, has introduced legislation that would halt the resettlement of United-Nations certified refugees in the U.S. pending a full evaluation on the program’s impact on the nation’s economy and national security… Read more here

Posted in Amarillo, Congress, legislation, Obama administration, right-wing, Texas | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

High suicide rate among Bhutanese refugees explained

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 1, 2015

suicide-messageA recent newspaper article from Iowa finally gives the most complete explanation for the high rate of suicide among Bhutanese refugees (Lhotshampa). These refugees have the highest suicide rate in the country (including refugees and every other group in the US), with 20 self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 people (this blog began addressing this issue five years ago, here-1, here-2, here-3, and here-4). Now, Parangkush Subedi, a health policy analyst from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), explains that much of this goes beyond past traumatic experiences, language, isolation, the great difficulty of adjusting to a new culture, and trying to find and maintain employment. Subedi says that the Bhutanese refugees are also deeply influenced by their culture. They believe they must also fight evil spirits, satisfy the lurking souls of the ancestors, and contend with ancient Hindu or Buddhist beliefs about fate — preordained karma. This belief tells them that their problems are a form of punishment; creating a heavy burden of guilt and hopelessness. All these factors combined lead to a large percentage of this refugee group having undiagnosed mental illnesses, chiefly severe depression. To address this issue Subedi urges Bhutanese refugee community members to set aside the stigma, talk about it and ask for help from a doctor, refugee coordinator, teacher or suicide hotline. Subedi asks that the larger Bhutanese refugee community increase its outreach to community members, and that community members listen without judging. He also recommends music, yoga, dance activities, and most importantly, sharing stories of hope so refugees who are struggling are aware that others in their position have succeeded. The article is found in the Des Moines Register:

Sorrow can feel overwhelming if you’ve lost someone, can’t find a job or pay your bills. But imagine also being uprooted from all that’s familiar, not speaking the language or understanding the customs, and being home-bound. Then, to round out the challenges, you have to fight evil spirits, satisfy the lurking souls of the ancestors, and contend with preordained karma…

…the U.N. High Commission for Refugees in 2007 began relocating [Bhutanese refugees] on a permanent basis. America has taken in 75,000 Bhutanese refugees since then. But with 20 self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 people,they have the highest suicide rate in the country.

So suicide prevention commanded center stage at a national gathering in West Des Moines over the weekend of the Association of Bhutanese in America. A health policy analyst from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) urged community members to set aside the stigma, talk about it and ask for help.

More than one in five Bhutanese refugees nationwide is depressed, but according to Parangkush Subedi of ORR, they may not know what that means. Some develop physical symptoms, like panic attacks, stress or gastrointestinal disorders. But many are [also] deeply influenced by ancient Hindu or Buddhist beliefs about fate, and think that if they can’t find a job or make the rent, it’s a form of punishment. Add in traumatic life circumstances and, Subedi told the gathering in Nepali, “They feel they have no alternative to suicide.”…

Depression is the most common mental illness in America, affecting more than one in four adults. Certain triggering factors like job loss or family conflict can bring it on in most of us. And people of any background may abuse substances in response. But refugees have also been separated from the extended family networks they leaned on, and from their places of worship. Less able to navigate society than even their school-age children, parents see their roles shifting from heads of household to burdens. They feel shame and stigma. Their children, increasingly integrated into this new society, start to pull away. Other refugee populations have had similar experiences, but Subedi said the Bhutanese are particularly emotional, and many experienced trauma in the refugee camps. Those who suffered gender-based violence are especially vulnerable…

…in the end we’re all looking for the same basic things: Meaning, connectedness, a way to express ourselves. Forging community may be the best antidote to sorrow… Read more here

Posted in community/cultural orientation, cultural adjustment, employment/jobs for refugees, language, mental health, Nepali Bhutanese, ORR | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Evangelicals split on refugees who are Muslim

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 25, 2015

dividedWhile some evangelicals are saying that they must be wary of anti-immigrant sentiment due to its exploitation for political gain, others continue to scaremonger their congregants, claiming that the small number of high-profile terror attacks by Muslims who came here as refugees is a good enough reason to deny entry to the tens of thousands of Muslim refugees who settle here, running from terrorists, and who seek a return to living peaceful lives. Alex Mandes, director of The Immigration Alliance, a pro-refugee and immigration group of evangelical churches and ministries said, “To hear [Franklin Graham, head of Samaritans Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association] espouse [stopping all immigration of Muslims to the US] saddens me because I would hope a man who speaks for the church would speak for the gospel and not give political rhetoric that we hear.…My biggest hurt is that the church has no better answer than that? We have the great commission and the great commandment. Migration has always been a tool that God has used to bring people to himself.” An article in Christianity Today explains the issue:

…“We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad,” Franklin Graham, head of Samaritans Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, wrote on his public Facebook page on July 17. “We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the US until this threat with Islam has been settled.” At press time, more than 167,000 people had “liked” the post.

Graham’s comments came one day after 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, born in Kuwait and living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, shot seven people, killing five, outside a military recruiting office. Police killed Abdulazeez in an exchange of gunfire a short time later. All five of those killed were US servicemen.

Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration, which advocates for cutbacks on immigration, echoed Graham’s concerns…
But [Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief] says those comments could backfire and lead to policy changes that hurt Christians fleeing persecution.

“My fear is that if we say, ‘Muslim refugees shouldn’t come in,’ then it will probably be harder for Christian refugees to come in,” Yang said….

Christian groups that assist refugees have run into challenges from anti-refugee sentiment at the grassroots, driven in part by other recent fatal assaults by radicalized Muslims:

  • The April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed 3 and injured 264.
  • The June 2014 killing of two gay men Seattle.
  • The September 2014 beheading of a woman in Moore, Oklahoma.

Muslim immigrants have also been targets of violence. Earlier this year, three young students—Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha—were gunned down in their North Carolina apartment…

Alex Mandes, director of The Immigration Alliance, a pro-refugee and immigration group of evangelical churches and ministries, said evangelicals should be wary of anti-immigrant sentiment, which can be exploited for political gain.
He said he was disappointed to hear Graham’s comments…. Read more here

Posted in evangelical, Islamic, security/terrorism, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Politicizing the unimaginable pain & suffering experienced by refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 9, 2015

Spartanburg_SCEmily Conrad, who “works in communications for an international textile firm in Spartanburg, S.C.”, is a “Phi Beta Kappa Wofford College graduate [and] founder of book blog, Global Book Challenge”, and has written a piece for Fitnews discussing the politicization of refugees’ plight in Spartanburg, S.C. by republican politicians and tea party activists. She points to the ugliness of, “a political system which is politicizing the unimaginable pain and suffering experienced by these refugees.” She describes these politicians as, “creating yet another politically insecure and potentially socially hostile environment for some of the weakest members of our global society; individuals who have experienced the most evil manifestations of humanity.” U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, the politician who has come out most vocally about refugees resettling in Spartanburg, wrote a public letter in early April claiming he was, “deeply concerned about the lack of notice, information, and consultation afforded to me and my constituents about this issue.” Yet, as a reader pointed out in a letter in the The Spartanburg Herald-Journal, she had been at a meeting in August 2014 about the possibility of World Relief opening an office in Spartanburg to resettle refugees, and that U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy had sent an official representative from his office to attend to the meeting. She expressed her disappointed with Gowdy’s efforts to play politics with the issue, and asked that he explain the discrepancy between his public letter and the actions of his local office. Below is Emily Conrad’s op-ed piece:

I’d like to tell you about a country where 5.4 million people are estimated to have died since 1998 – a number of almost “Holocaustic” proportions.  The bloody conflict responsible for so many causalities may surprise some…

[It is] the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire. A vast country in the middle of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Congo has long attracted the attention of westerners: King Leopold of Belgium made the extraction of the country’s resources the source of his personal wealth.  Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was written following his travels in the country…

The Democratic Republic of the Congo also happens to be the country of origin for the first two refugees who have been recently resettled to Spartanburg, S.C. (with the support of faith-based organization World Relief and local churches).  These are the refugees whose entrance has caused so much ruckus and rabble-rousing from elected officials, most notably U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy…

I want to communicate my profound disappointment in a political system which is politicizing the unimaginable pain and suffering experienced by these refugees.  The politicians who have decided to question and cast doubts on the individuals entering our community are creating yet another politically insecure and potentially socially hostile environment for some of the weakest members of our global society; individuals who have experienced the most evil manifestations of humanity…

While Gowdy’s so-called “scrutiny” of this refugee resettlement community might seem to be a non-issue at first, it comes at a high moral cost – undermining the very foundational pillars of our country.  As we look back on our own personal family trees and our ancestors who immigrated to the United States, we see countless narratives of political and/or religious refugees…

The United States has provided a stable home, full of limitless opportunities, to generations of refugees and their descendants.  To deny this same home to generations of new refugees and their descendants is to deny our own history…

It is time to stop making the refugees entering Spartanburg a political issue and instead start making it an issue based on people…I hope that Spartanburg residents (and Representative Gowdy) will come to recognize these incoming refugees as deserving and worthy of our compassion and generosity… Read more here

Posted in Congolese, right-wing, South Carolina, unwelcoming communities, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Unaccompanied refugee minors denied health coverage in California

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 1, 2015

denied health careOnce again the state of California is denying services to eligible refugees. In April there was the case of improperly denying SSI benefits to a disabled refugee; part of a larger pattern of wrongful SSI denials that fly in the face of the law of refugee eligibility for disability benefits. It has now become clear that California is also denying health care coverage to unaccompanied refugee minors. An article and video at KALW Local Public Radio in San Francisco tells the story:

…[Nor] Kathem was born in Iraq in 1995. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and his family was forced to go to Jordan and then Syria. In 2011, the Arab Spring erupted and his family was displaced again. This time, they ended up in America. Kathem was just 16…

But at home [in the US] things weren’t easy. “My mother had PTSD, ADHD, and she had many other symptoms,” he says.

Like his mother, he also struggled to adjust, “I had many problems,” he says. “I couldn’t understand the culture, I didn’t understand the people, I didn’t understand the language, I had a lot of frustrations, in public and at home.”

After less than a year in the country, Kathem’s mother kicked him out of the house. At age 16, Katham became a foster youth through the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program, or URM.

Nationwide, there are about 1300 unaccompanied minors in the URM program…

Katham had chronic problems from his childhood on the run. Not the mental pain his mother faced, but physical ailments: a broken write, back pain, and hamstring problems. Some of his teeth were rotting from a lack of early dental care.

“My dentist told me beforehand that if I don’t find an orthodontist, I would lose four of my teeth,”…And then I looked for some orthodontist that would cover Medi-Cal, but my Medi-Cal was off.”

As an unaccompanied refugee minor, Katham is entitled to coverage through the state’s Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal. He was supposed to be covered until age 26, but when he turned 18 he lost his coverage with no explanation.

Katham says he found himself in a tight spot, but he found an orthodontist who would accept out-of-pocket payments for braces…

Katham was not the only URM being dropped from Medi-Cal earlier than promised.

“We noticed was that increasingly we were seeing the same clients over and over again with the same issues,”

says Marina Pantchenko, an attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid. She says URM’s are being denied Medi-Cal coverage they are entitled to.

Pantchenko says this kind of experience is traumatic. “Really quite horrific for a [ten] entering this country and not being able to access health care coverage”…

Pantchenko says so far she has seen 10 young people who are being denied health care. But she believes it’s just the tip of the iceberg… Read more here

Posted in California, children, health, SSI, teenagers, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Main terrorist threat in US not from Muslims, but from right-wing extremists

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 25, 2015

terror_attacksNews headlines keep informing us about violent Muslim extremists launching attacks in the US. A very few have arrived here as refugees, with the remaining 99.99…% of Muslim refugees posing to threat to this country. Law enforcement, however, rank right-wing extremists — including radical Christianists, white supremacists and far-right militia groups — as the greatest threat.  Ironically, at the same time, the political right is trying to incite fear and hatred of Muslims in general. An article in the New York Times describes the main internal terrorist threat the U.S. is facing:

THIS month, the headlines were about a Muslim man in Boston who was accused of threatening police officers with a knife. Last month, two Muslims attacked an anti-Islamic conference in Garland, Tex. The month before, a Muslim man was charged with plotting to drive a truck bomb onto a military installation in Kansas. If you keep up with the news, you know that a small but steady stream of American Muslims, radicalized by overseas extremists, are engaging in violence here in the United States.

But headlines can mislead. The main terrorist threat in the United States is not from violent Muslim extremists, but from right-wing extremists. Just ask the police.

In a survey we conducted with the Police Executive Research Forum last year of 382 law enforcement agencies, 74 percent reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction; 39 percent listed extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations. And only 3 percent identified the threat from Muslim extremists as severe, compared with 7 percent for anti-government and other forms of extremism.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State’s efforts to radicalize American Muslims, which began just after the survey ended, may have increased threat perceptions somewhat, but not by much, as we found in follow-up interviews over the past year with counterterrorism specialists at 19 law enforcement agencies. These officers, selected from urban and rural areas around the country, said that radicalization from the Middle East was a concern, but not as dangerous as radicalization among right-wing extremists… Read more here

Posted in Islamic, police, right-wing, safety | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

World Refugee Day — June 20th, 2015

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 20, 2015

global-crisisOn this World Refugee Day in 2015 the world is now seeing the most dire refugee crises that has ever been recorded. The UNHCR reports that at the end of 2014 there were 60 million people displaced (one in every 122 people on Earth); the highest number of people ever recorded that have been forcibly displaced from their homes. In 2014 there were 13.9 million people added to the ranks of the world’s refugees. Over half of the world’s refugees are children. The number of conflicts and refugees is now so great that it is outpacing the international community’s ability or willingness to help them. An article at U.S. News & World Report explains more:

Nearly 60 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced at the end of 2014, representing the highest number of people ever recorded that have been driven to leave their homes. A report released by the United Nations Thursday found the sharpest ever one-year raise in refugees between 2013-2014. One in every 122 people in the world are now refugees outside their country of origin, internally displaced or seeking asylum. The U.N. cites the multitude of worldwide conflicts, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, causing the displacement from war, conflict and persecution. “The world became a mess and if people think that humanitarians can clean up the mess, they are wrong,” said the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres. “We no longer have the capacity to pick up the pieces, more and more people are suffering and more and more of the people that are suffering have no chance to get protection or support because we no longer have the resources to do so.” Over half of the globe’s refugees are children, and nine out of every 10 refugees come from less economically developed regions of the world. In 2014, 13.9 million people joined the growing number of those forced to flee from their homes. The highest number of those displaced globally remain displaced inside their own countries, at 38.2 million… “The international community seems not to have capacity to prevent conflicts and to timely solve them,” Guterres said. “Some of them get totally out of control, if you look at Syria and Iraq now, we have 15 million people displaced in and from the two countries.”… Read more here

Posted in UN (United Nations), UNHCR | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Capital campaigns in refugee resettlement

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 16, 2015

headquarters-3Whenever it comes to capital campaigns for new headquarters, refugee resettlement contractors (non-profit businesses) often excel at raising millions of dollars (see examples here and here and here). Conversely, ask resettlement agencies to give their refugee clients basic services and material items and they are quick to say that resources are limited and that they don’t get enough funding from the federal government. A case in point is Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND). According to recent media reports the agency recently moved into its new $5 million headquarters, which houses many of its community service programs, including refugee resettlement. In the ten years during which I monitored this agency, however, refugee clients often went without basic clothing items, including winter boots and coats — in Fargo of all places (not exactly a warm climate). LSSND often gave refugees damaged, dirty and broken donated housing items and furnishings. Refugees were pushed into any jobs offered, no matter how inappropriate and even dangerous due to the person’s health condition or lack of English skills, due to limited resources for helping refugees become economically self-sufficient. A LSSND middle-age Sudanese refugee client who had helped birth over 10,000 infants in Africa was required to take a job at a storage tank manufacturing company, despite his protestations that he was not strong enough. He was then injured, involving an apparent hernia, while doing lifting. Now, $5 million later, however, LSSND agency employees at the new headquarters are basking under “large windows that fill the interior with natural light”, illuminating “the new structure’s fine art décor.” LSSND’s CEO Jessica Thomasson says these amenities are not just for clients’ “sense of pride”, but for the benefit of employees (maybe that’s the other way around). My idea, however, is that instead of resettlement agencies raising millions for capital improvements, they have campaigns to raise millions for basic services for refugees, and begin funding needs before wants.

Thomasson also prides LSSND’s “great” relationships with area employers, allowing refugees can find quick employment. Yet, that also includes quick termination, and from jobs paying scarcely more than the federal minimum wage. I had the opportunity two years ago to sit down with the owner and a vice president of one of the main companies LSSND works with; a wire harness manufacturer. The two men made it clear to me that they terminate refugees quickly when there is any under-performance. In fact, they were looking to hire a supervisor whose job would mainly be to fire people; essentially someone who did not need to have supervisory skills — working with employees to resolve problems.

An article in the Fargo Forum announces LSSND’s new headquarters grand opening:

FARGO – Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota’s new headquarters building is a beauty. Large windows fill the interior with natural light and there are many spaces, big and small, where folks can gather and talk, either in a large-meeting setting, or one on one.

As you enter the building, there’s not one waiting room but two, and there are large photos on the walls showing people with warm smiles.

The portraits, which include images of past clients as well as volunteers and staff, are a feature of LSS offices across the state and are intended to put visitors at ease, said Kristi Becker Ulrich, director of communications and development at LSS.

That aim is bolstered by the new structure’s fine art decor and overall feel, she said.

“I think there’s a sense of pride when they (clients) come to a building like this,” said Ulrich, who along with other staff moved into the new structure at 3911 20th Ave. S. in March…

The work cost about $5 million, which came from private donations.

A sculpture in the lobby pays tribute to that generosity with a display of the names of donors inscribed on medallions. The size of the medallions varies and is commensurate with the size of a given donation.

“We had one donor who donated more than $500,000 to our capital campaign, so she has a dove,” Ulrich said…
One area where the agency plays a major role is in resettling refugees, a service it started offering at the end of World War II.

“We’re really a conduit for that resettlement work to happen,” said Jessica Thomasson, LSS of North Dakota CEO.

 said the agency is only able to do such work because of the many connections it has built with others, including schools and employers.

“We have a great relationship with a lot of employers,” Thomasson said, which allows many new Americans to find work quickly.

“I think employers are both supportive (of resettlement efforts), but also grateful for the opportunity to have access to a very hard-working workforce,” Thomasson said while acknowledging that some in the community don’t always view newcomers favorably… Read more here

Posted in employment services, employment/jobs for refugees, lavish new offices | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

In Amarillo, requiring coordination with local officials, medical providers & employers

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 28, 2015

legislative_bill Due to apparent overloading of  Amarillo community institutions from refugee resettlement and secondary migration the area’s State Senator has now sponsored a bill that would require the state’s Health and Human Services Commission (which coordinates with HHS-ORR and the US State Department) to coordinate with local officials. The US State Department restricted resettlement in fall 2013, but family reunion cases and an apparent larger secondary migration kept new settlements climbing. If the unfilled job positions are there people will keep arriving. The new leader of Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle (formerly Catholic Family Service Inc.) claimed she found out about the problems with institutional overloading in 2011 from the larger community, the year she took over the agency; implying neither her staff nor her predecessor knew about this glaring concern in the community, or knew but did not tell her.

The bill would require the two local resettlement agencies (the other being Refugee Services of Texas) to “convene and conduct quarterly refugee placement consultations with state and local government and community stakeholders regarding proposed refugee placement; (b) obtain feedback on the proposed refugee placement from community stakeholders including but not limited to city, county, and state officials; local health care systems; local school districts; and local law enforcement agencies; and major employers of refugees; (c) consider all feedback obtained prior to releasing the annual proposed refugee placement report for the United States Department of State’s Reception and Placement (R&P) program; (d) develop a final refugee placement report for the national voluntary agencies and Health and Human Services Commission and include a summary of how stakeholder input contributed to the final request; and (e) inform all community stakeholders, as described in…(b), of the annual proposed refugee placement report.”

The bill’s sponsor, State Senator Kel Seliger, has, according to Wikipedia, served four terms in the nonpartisan position as mayor of Amarillo from 1993–2001. He is considered one of the most moderate of the twenty (as of 2015) Texas Senate Republicans…according to an analysis by Mark P. Jones of the political science department at Rice University in Houston. Seliger filed and sponsored over seventy-five bills, fifty of which passed in one form or another during the regular session of the 79th Legislature. (Seliger passed a bill requiring local law enforcement agencies to report to the state the reason for a peace officer’s termination to protect state law enforcement officers’ integrity – preventing those peace officers with a history of poor performance or unethical behavior from taking advantage of police departments that lack the resources to investigate their employment history. He also passed a bill ensuring that effective pipeline safety standards are in place for all construction work around oil and gas pipelines).

Oddly, federal regulations already require quarterly meetings, however HHS-ORR’s director may exempt states from the requirement (Title 45: Public Welfare, 45 C.F.R. PART 400—Refugee Resettlement Program, § 400.5 Content of the plan). The mayor claims that quarterly meetings haven’t happened in over 20 years. Senator Seliger’s bill has the support of some local officials, including Amarillo’s mayor, as well as the superintendent of schools. As of today’s date the bill has been placed on the Texas Senate’s intent calendar.

If, however, the bulk of the refugees coming in are from secondary migration – refugees arriving under their own volition from their primary resettlement sites, then I don’t see how this bill or any other would stop that. People have the constitutional right to live wherever they chose (freedom of movement), and the other arriving refugees, for reunification with family, have the same right. Its only in the case of “free” cases (no geographical connections) that resettlement agencies and the State Department can chose where to direct them. But the State Department already restricted that as of 2013, so this bill will do nothing to prevent people from arriving to fill local job vacancies. Growing companies add to the local tax base; they need more employees, who in turn add to the tax base with their earnings and spending. That money is what needs to be used wisely for increasing public services to meet demand, rather than just scapegoating refugees.  An article at KFDA ABC News Channel-10 explains current happenings:

Amarillo, TX – A new bill by a State Senator Kel Seliger …SB 1928 would allow local healthcare officials, school districts, and law enforcement to give feedback to the State Department about how many refugees our community can accept and reasonably deal with in the future. Under the bill, there would also be quarterly meetings on refugee placement with state and local officials – something Mayor Paul Harpole says hasn’t happened in over 20 years. The whole point of this bill is to get further input from people in the community rather than just the two resettlement agencies in Amarillo, Refugee Services of Texas and Catholic Family Charities… Many are in support of this new bill, including AISD’s superintendent Rod Schroder. “This is a good bill that will help the agencies who resettle refugees understand the issues and challenges our city faces,” said Schroder. He adds hopefully the city can play catch up with the refugees they have now… Read more here

Posted in Amarillo, Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle, legislation, moratorium / restriction / reduction, ORR, Refugee Services of Texas, school for refugee children, schools, secondary migration | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

SIVs still being wrongfully denied SSI benefits

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 19, 2015

deniedAn issue we first reported on in 2011 continues — SIV immigrants improperly denied social security benefits. An Iraqi SIV visa (Special Immigrant Visa) holder in California named Danial who arrived in June 2012 contacted us to report that the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied him SSI (Supplemental Security Income benefits). Yet, US law entitles SIV holders to these benefits for up to seven years if the person proves disability and has not been able to work for at least a year. Danial reports his case was medically approved as disabled. The SSA office in question is in Victorville, CA.

Following the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2010, P.L.(111-118) enacted on December 19,2009 making Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants eligible for resettlement assistance, federal benefits and entitlements including SSI benefits to the same extent and for the same period as refugees (limited to 7 years if they do not become US citizens), some social Security offices around the US did not seem to understand the law though the SSA put out a letter to local offices to clarify that SIVs were eligible (SSA emergency message EM10023). Also, the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) published State letter #10-02 confirming Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants as eligible for those benefits.

In 2015 this problem of SSA offices denying SIVs their legally allowed benefits continues – some SSA offices apparently still don’t understand the rules and are not observing the SSA’s letter. Instead, they are denying the applicants, with the only recourse to the denied applicant being to apply for a hearing on the matter if they wish to contest the decision. This involves a waiting period until the hearing, that the SIV may have to hire an attorney, going without desperately needed benefits, etc. Danial reports that he applied for Supplemental Security Income in March 2014, his case denied in September 2014, and that he appealed that decision in November 2014. As of today the SSA has still not reported to him any date for an appeal hearing.

Posted in Afghan, California, Iraqi, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, Social Security Administration | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


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