Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘Issues’ Category

Fire that damaged refugee apartment building in Chicago being investigated as “criminal”

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 22, 2016

Building’s owner has long history of legal issues with city: cited 39 times in past 10 years.

apartment_fire

An early morning fire in the Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago Monday caused major damage to an apartment building and left at least seven firefighters injured. Smoke alarms did not sound nor were there any fire extinguishers available in the building. The building’s owner Cameel Halim has long history of legal issues with the city: the city has cited him 39 times in the past 10 years. That includes three times since 2012 where investigators couldn’t gain entry to the building to make sure smoke detectors worked properly, records show. In January 2010, the building was cited for failure “to maintain interior stairway system in safe condition and sound repair” because pickets were missing from the front staircase handrails. Other violations cited by the city included several instances of rotting decks, window frames and doors, peeling paint, non-secured porches, water-damaged balconies, stagnant sewage in the basement, live rats, and open plaster in the basement ceiling. In November 2011, the courts ruled in favor of Centerpoint Energy Services, Inc., which was seeking $1.7 million from natural gas supplied to Halim’s rental properties. In the suit, the energy provider alleged Halim moved funds from Wilmette Real Estate & Management’s account to he and his wife’s personal account to avoid paying the judgment. The energy provider argued many of Halim’s rental property corporations were “shell corporations.” The question is: did a resettlement agency place these refugees in this building (most likely since these are recently resettled Syrian refugees), and if so, which agency? Articles at DNAinfo have the story:

ROGERS PARK — An extra-alarm fire in a Rogers Park apartment building that injured seven firefighters and left some units uninhabitable is now being investigated by Chicago Police as “criminal,” according Ald. Joe Moore (49th).

Moore said Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Jose Santiago updated him Tuesday morning with news that the fire may have been fueled by a possible accelerant found on the wall of a stairwell that collapsed during the blaze, injuring a firefighter.

“They strongly believe it was arson,” Moore said… Read more here

and…

… The building at 1700-08 W. Estes Ave. has been inspected nine times over the past 10 years by the city and was cited for 39 violations during those visits. That includes three times since 2012 where investigators couldn’t gain entry to the building in order to make sure smoke detectors worked properly, records show.

Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Jose Santiago said one firefighter Monday injured his shoulder after a set of stairs collapsed while crews were making their way to the third floor of the building.
In January 2010, the building was cited for failure “to maintain interior stairway system in safe condition and sound repair” because pickets were missing from the front staircase handrails…

Court records show [owner Cameel Halim] and his various real estate corporations have been sued dozens of times in Cook County civil and chancery courts in the past 24 years, including by the city of Chicago for building and environmental violations.

In November 2011, the courts ruled in favor of Centerpoint Energy Services, Inc., which was seeking $1.7 million from natural gas supplied to Halim’s rental properties.

In the suit, the energy provider alleged Halim moved funds from Wilmette Real Estate & Management’s account to he and his wife’s personal account in order to avoid paying the judgment. The energy provider argued many of Halim’s rental property corporations were “shell corporations.”

Jenira Torres…said she was awoken by her distressed cat rather than her smoke alarm. Throughout the ordeal, she said neither the alarm in her apartment nor in her hallway or stairwell sounded.

“They weren’t going off,” she said, adding the hallway alarms weren’t sounding either…

Torres said she never noticed any fire extinguishers in the building.

According to Chicago municipal code, “Fire extinguishers shall not be required in multiple dwellings not exceeding three stories in height and having a floor area not exceeding 3,000 square feet.”

Though the city lists the building as having only three floors, the first floor is elevated…

Other violations cited by the city included several instances of rotting decks, window frames and doors, peeling paint, non-secured porches, water-damaged balconies, stagnant sewage in the basement, live rats, and open plaster in the basement ceiling. Read more here

and…

ROGERS PARK — Members of the Elaly family escaped war-torn Syria and traveled thousands of miles to move to Rogers Park — but were forced to restart their lives again this week after a fire tore through their apartment.

On Monday, the family lost their home in the apartment fire in the 1700 block of West Estes Avenue in Rogers Park.

But by Wednesday evening, more than $3,800 had been raised for the Elalys by more than 50 people through a GoFundMe campaign started by Syrian Community Network’s President Suzanne Akhras. The donation amount far exceeded the $3,000 goal within hours of it being posted. By Thursday morning, about $6,300 had been raised.

The blaze consumed the family’s living space along with their personal belongings. Of the 16 apartments affected by the fire, Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said about seven units total were left uninhabitable… Read more here

Posted in apartment building fires, Chicago, housing, housing, substandard, Slumlords, Syrian | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

St. Cloud Times Columnist spreads misinformation

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 21, 2016

factcheck

If you have to make your point with lies, what does that say about the value of your message?  A “volunteer” right-wing columnist at The St. Cloud Times named A.J. Kern claims that Muslim refugees are, “pushed on towns by the United Nations.” Ms. Kern doesn’t understand that basic process of refugee resettlement. The U.S. and other nations  participate voluntarily in the UN-run global resettlement program; in our case via The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Refugee Convention), and The 1967 Protocol. Refugees may be referred to the program via the UNHCR, non-governmental organizations trained to refer refugees, or various nations’, including US, embassies. Resettlement is determined via people’s fitting the definition of a refugee as spelled out in the 1951 Convention. No religion is are favored, though in the case of Syria, Sunni Muslims are the overwhelming majority of people escaping the terror of the minority-dominated Assad regime, composed of minority Alawite Muslims, Christians and other groups. Sunni Muslims therefore make up the balk of refugees referred for resettlement from Syria. Ms. Kern also goes on the make nutty , “out there”statements about sharia law, CAIR being a “terrorist” group, and “communist techniques.” An article in The City Pages (Minneapolis) has the story:

Back in September — when presidential hopeful Ben Carson declared that America should never elect a Muslim president because “it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America” — …Republicans not named Trump pushed Carson to apologize to American Muslims. Even bomb-throwing evangelist Ted Cruz (R-Texas) denounced the idea of barring anyone from public office based on religion.

But one columnist from St. Cloud defended Carson.

“Having lived in an Islamic dominant country, I agree with Carson,” wrote St. Cloud Times columnist A.J. Kern…

… Cable access show Speechless MN has had her on to talk about how Muslim refugees are pushed on towns by the United Nations…

Kern, who lived in Iran during the 1970s, was no doubt influenced by the Iranian Revolution… Kern somehow came to view Minnesota’s new Muslim refugees as harbingers of the same oppression.

To prove her point, Kern cites a Wenzel Strategies survey that found 32 percent of American Muslims are in favor of making Sharia law the supreme law of America. This happens to be the same pollster that claimed one in four Americans believed the U.S. would collapse within a decade after Obama’s re-election.

Kern has also written that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights organization, is a terrorist organization. And she’s dismissed St. Cloud’s CreateCommUnity team, Mayor Dave Kleis’ racial harmony program, as being driven by communist techniques… Read more here

Posted in Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, Muslim, right-wing, Somali, St. Cloud, Syrian, UN, UNHCR, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Conservative websites caught lying about Amarillo

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 20, 2016

Pinochio

Amarillo officials had concerns last year about school’s and city services being able to handle the number of refugees moving into the area (many via secondary migration). That story wasn’t juicy enough. so Breitbart News and other conservative media outlets have been embellishing the story with lies, e.g. that City officials don’t want Muslim refugees (a lie), a photo of apparent overloaded schools (from Turkey), that there are “warring tribes” (a lie), and lies misquoting the Mayor. An article at The Amarillo Globe News has the details:

A popular conservative blog reporting Amarillo is drowning in Muslim refugees and that city leaders are demanding a halt to more coming has it all wrong, Mayor Paul Harpole said.

The headline on a Jan. 15 post on Breitbart.com reads, “A city in the Texas Panhandle says ‘enough already’ when it comes to resettling refugees from the Middle East.”

Harpole said Amarillo’s issue is the high amount of refugees of any kind, not just Muslims, which is making it hard for schools and government to properly deliver services while coping with language and cultural barriers. He also said the story misquoted him several times… Read more here

Posted in Amarillo, Muslim, right-wing, secondary migration, refugee | Leave a Comment »

ORR funnels money for immigrant minor’s legal services to lawyer-less USCRI group

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 19, 2016

CorruptionUnder ORR director Eskinder Negash’s reign the agency funneled large amounts of funding to the USCRI, of which he had been the deputy director. After he resigned from the ORR last year the agency continued to funnel a large amount of funding to the USCRI, to which he has now returned as it’s Senior Vice President for Global Engagement. One of those ORR contracts recently went to USCRI for its Youth Coop affiliate in Miami for legal services for unaccompanied minors, though the group had no legal staff. Tossed aside were the organizations Americans for Immigrant Justice and Catholic Legal Services, which have represented migrant children for years, prompting Archbishop Thomas Wenski to write to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell in October expressing his concern and that immigration court judges were angry about the situation. Youth-Coop has now formed a legal services entity and hired Arno Lemus as its legal director. Lemus, however, does not have the right legal background and has only two years as a barred lawyer. None of Lemus’ specialties in the law deal with the legal services the unaccompanied minors need, yet he’s being tasked with running a massive, extremely complex project linked with the fates of thousands of young, vulnerable children. An article at HuffPost explains the case:

WASHINGTON — Thousands of unaccompanied minors who came across the U.S. border as part of the migrant crisis are at risk of being deported without due process, the archbishop of Miami has warned the Obama administration.

Although the law dictates that these children must be given legal services, recent moves by the Office of Refugee Resettlement have thrown that into doubt. ORR, which is an agency under the umbrella of Health and Human Services, awarded the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants a contract to represent the children. USCRI in turn planned to subcontract with a social services firm that employed zero attorneys at the time.

“Many of these cases are time sensitive, and if they do not receive immediate attention, the affected children face imminent deportation,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski warned HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell in a letter sent in October, and which The Huffington Post obtained last week. Judges in Miami have privately warned that the move could jam up the court dockets for as long as a year… Read more here

Posted in children, funding, Guatemalan, Honduran, immigration services, Miami, ORR, revolving door, Salvadoran, teenagers, teens, USCRI, Youth Co-op, Inc. | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Evangelicals recommit to refugee resettlement

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 17, 2016

church

As in earlier statements of support in November, evangelicals are again reaffirming their support of refugee resettlement efforts. In these ongoing statements evangelicals are rejecting Republican fear-mongering and scapegoating of refugees. Evangelical leaders said more churches are now stepping forward to resettle refugees, and they emphasized that they offer their services based on need, not religious affiliation. An article at The Deseret News has the story:

WHEATON, Ill. — Rejecting fearmongering about the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S., about 100 evangelical leaders are calling on Christians and their churches “to support ministries showing the love of Jesus to the most vulnerable, those in desperate need, and the hurting.”

“Our statement is to change a narrative of fear and instead focus on faith and compassion,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn. “Our desire is not to resettle everybody in another country. When a house is burning down, we need to put out the fire and rescue people fleeing the fire.”

Meeting on Thursday (Dec. 17) at Wheaton College, outside of Chicago, evangelical leaders said in their statement, “We will motivate and prepare our churches and movements to care for refugees. We will not be motivated by fear but by love for God and others. … We cannot allow voices of fear to dominate. Instead, we commit to actions of love and compassion for refugees.” They said there are nearly 60 million displaced or refugee people worldwide, “a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented size”… Read more here

Posted in evangelical | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lawsuit that migrants held in filthy, inhumane conditions goes forward

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 16, 2016

the-underclass3

A federal judge in Arizona has ruled that a lawsuit may go forward alleging that the US Border Patrol has kept Central American migrants in filthy, inhumane conditions.  Conditions included migrants sleeping in crowded, dirty and freezing cells, deprived of sleep and denied basic hygiene items such as showers, soap and sanitary napkins for women. Migrants were allegedly held almost incommunicado, without access to telephones or legal counsel. An article in The Washington Post has the story:

Lawyers for undocumented Central American immigrants who have flocked to the United States since 2014 have won an early round in their legal battle to prove that the migrants were held in filthy, inhumane conditions at U.S. Border Patrol stations.

A federal judge in Arizona this week allowed a lawsuit over the alleged mistreatment to go forward and granted the case class-action status, which allows the lawyers to interview far more migrants and gather more evidence about their treatment. The Obama administration had sought to dismiss the case.

The lawsuit says immigrants at border patrol facilities near Tucson were subjected to harsh conditions in the days after they crossed the southwest border, sleeping in crowded, dirty and freezing cells, deprived of sleep and denied basic hygiene items such as showers, soap and sanitary napkins for women. The complaint — filed in June on behalf of three migrants by four immigrant advocacy groups and a law firm in U.S. District Court in the District of Arizona — also says the migrants were held virtually incommunicado, without access to telephones or legal  counsel. It alleges that the mistreatment violated the U.S. Constitution and Department of Homeland Security policies… Read more here

Posted in abuse, U.S. Customs & Border Protection | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Only 2% of Syrian refugees admitted to US are men of military age

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 16, 2016

logo-factcheck

Once again conservative politicians are spreading misinformation. This time the claim is that almost all the Syrian refugees are men of military age — scary young men.  I wonder: if you have to lie to win elections, what is the value of what you have to offer to the electorate? An article at Forbes.com has the details:

Billionaire Donald Trump warned the U.S. against admitting Syrian refugees into the country at the sixth Republican debate Thursday evening, suggesting the process could be a Trojan horse for terrorists. The frontrunner in the polls said he saw “very strong, powerful men, young,” and asked, “Where are the women?”

The billionaire has been touting this theory since last year. At a November speech in Massachusetts, Trump said, “And then I said to myself, ‘Wow. They’re all men.’ You look at it. There are so few women and there are so few children”… Read more here

Posted in men, Syrian | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Syrian refugees pepper-sprayed in Vancouver

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 12, 2016

Pepper_Spray

Last Friday someone riding a bicycle pepper sprayed a group of 15 Syrian refugees at a welcome event in Vancouver, Canada. Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime. An article in The Grand Forks Gazette has the story:

VANCOUVER – A high-profile member of Canada’s Syrian community says Friday night’s pepper spraying of Syrian refugees at a welcome event in Vancouver was likely a one-off event and doesn’t reflect how the majority of Canadians view the newly arrived migrants…

A large group was gathered outside a Muslim Association of Canada centre during an event for newly arrived Syrian refugees last Friday around 10:30 p.m. when a man on a bicycle rode by and pepper sprayed about 15 people, said Vancouver police spokesman St. Randy Fincham.

Fincham said the force is investigating the incident as a hate crime… Read more here

Posted in Canadian refugee resettlement pgrm, hate crimes, Syrian | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mexico’s Southern Border Program endangers refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 12, 2016

brutality
The US put heavy pressure on Mexico to deport Central American refugees in Mexico before they could reach the US. The result was Mexico’s Southern Border Program. Reports are now coming in that the program, said to have increased “security, inclusion and prosperity” for migrants, has actually added to the dangers the refugees were already exposed to. An Albuquerque, New Mexico resident says that on a journey he took along the refugee’s route in Mexico he found that in addition to the dangers of riding atop train cars, 80 percent of refugees were assaulted, and 60 percent of the women raped. He visited a small cemetery where 15 unidentified refugees were buried; all were found along the train tracks. He says the Mexican government has taken severe steps to keep people off of the trains; that there are documented cases of immigration officials pulling refugees off trains with hooks, using Tasers or shooting at them. Other advocates report that state or local police have killed refugees. Railroad companies have also increased the speed of their trains, making them more difficult to board and some have erected cement barriers next to tracks to prevent people from running along trains and climbing on. A number of refugees have been injured or killed when they struck the poles. Companies have also hired private security guards who, according to advocates and refugees, beat, threaten and rob refugees. Recently, human rights activists reported three instances where guards killed refugees. An article in The Albuquerque Journal has the details:

In a recent op-ed column, Carlos Pérez Verdia, the Mexican undersecretary for North America, wrote that countries in our hemisphere must better care for migrants fleeing Central America, calling for increased cooperation among countries and for “coherence,” defined as being “ground on the premise of treating immigrants in (Mexico) as we want (Mexican) immigrants to be treated abroad.” He claims that Mexico’s Southern Border

Program has increased “security, inclusion and prosperity” for migrants.
While I applaud Pérez Verdia’s call for better treatment of migrants, I know from firsthand experience that the program hasn’t protected them but instead has worsened an already brutal journey for migrants and refugees through Mexico.

First, it’s necessary to point out that the vast majority of people fleeing Central America are refugees, not migrants. They’re fleeing the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador), which have some of the world’s highest murder rates. Because they’re fleeing violence and because they face danger, even death, should they return to their home countries, they meet the United Nations High Commission on Refugees definition of refugees… Read more here

Posted in abuse, Guatemalan, Honduran, police, safety, Salvadoran, sexual abuse | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Federal terrorism charges lodged against two Iraqi refugees in Texas and California

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 11, 2016

th

Federal authorities have lodged terrorism charges against two Iraqi Palestinian men who came to the US as refugees, who were seeking to aid groups fighting the Syrian regime. There is no sign, however, that the men planned to commit acts of terrorism while in the US. Though conservatives will play up the case to the furthest extent possible, this type of case is extremely rare, and shows that US intelligence is fully capable of detecting any threats without abandoning hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees. In other words, terrorism has not won so far in its effort to drive a wedge between the US and Muslims. An article in USA Today has the story:

Federal terrorism charges lodged against two Iraqi refugees living in Texas and California added new fodder to a national debate over U.S. plans to accept thousands of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria and the violent Islamic State, which has sought to take its fight to Europe and much of the west…

U.S. officials granted [Omar Faraj Al Hardan, 24, in Houston] legal permanent residence status in 2011, two years after he entered the country as an Iraqi refugee…

[Aws Mohammed Younis al-Jayab, in Sacramento] came to the U.S. as an Iraqi refugee in October 2012. He was charged with lying to federal authorities about his travel to fight with various terror groups. There is no indication, however, that Al-Jayab planned to commit acts of terrorism while in the U.S.

According to court documents, he communicated with nearly a dozen others, both in Syria and elsewhere, about his intention to fight for terrorist organizations in the region against the Syrian regime…

Shireen Jasser, president of the Syrian American Council of Houston, said recent Arab refugees in the Houston area fear a backlash – from authorities and citizens – related to Al Hardan’s arrest.

“There’s so much hate already directed at Syrian refugees, so much xenophobia,” she said, referring to Abbott’s efforts last year to block Syrian refugees from entering Texas. “They’re worried about how [the arrest] will affect their future. They’re scared for their physical safety”… Read more here

Posted in California, Houston, Iraqi, Palestinian, Sacramento, security/terrorism, Syrian, Texas | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 317 other followers