Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘Issues’ Category

REMINDER: Monday, Feb 9 Deadline for White House Call for Ideas

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 7, 2015

175px-US-WhiteHouse-Logo.svg

Monday, Feb 9 is the deadline to submit to the White House ideas to help shape the federal refugee integration strategy. Below are excerpts taken from the White House Office of the Press Secretary

In November 2014, President Obama announced a series of executive actions to fix our broken immigration system. As part of these actions, the President created a White House Task Force on New Americans.

Civic integration provides security in rights and liberties. Economic integration empowers self-sufficiency and allows new Americans to give back to their communities and contribute to economic growth. English language acquisition allows employment and career advancement along with active civic participation.

The goal of the Task Force is to develop a federal immigrant integration strategy that allows new Americans to contribute to society to their fullest potential and bring new Americans together with their receiving communities to strengthen communities.

Please send your ideas and examples to NewAmericans@who.eop.gov by Monday, February 9, 2015.

Posted in Obama administration, reform | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Athens has panhandlers, can’t take humanitarian refugees, says Mayor

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 5, 2015

panhandling

According to Athens-Clarke County, Georgia Mayor Nancy Denson, the City has “panhandlers and people sleeping outside”, so sorry, they can’t help humanitarian program refugees. This emphasis on panhandlers shows the Mayor as client of the retail business community. Does people sleeping outside show a lack of adequate shelter space? If not, and people chose to sleep outside, then how does that burden the community so much that they can’t help refugees? Local clergy disagree and have now invited the IRC back to Athens to reconsider opening a local refugee resettlement office after earlier opposition from the Mayor and Governor. Refugees who have migrated to Athens on their own via “secondary migration” are already living in the community. An article in Athens Banner-Herald gives an update to the story:

Less than four months after the U.S. State Department rejected a plan from a nonprofit refugee resettlement group to set up a program in Athens, a small group of Athens area clergy have begun work aimed at convincing the federal agency to reconsider.

Those clergy and others met for 90 minutes Wednesday at Athens’ Covenant Presbyterian Church with J.D. McCrary, executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta. McCrary, who had spearheaded the IRC’s unsuccessful effort to have a resettlement program designed to serve 150 refugees — people fleeing persecution and atrocities, as opposed to people simply wanting to come into the United States — established in Athens, was invited back to the community by some of those ministers.

The local churches represented at Wednesday’s meeting, in addition to Covenant Presbyterian, were Oconee Street United Methodist, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens, Christ Community Church, Commerce Presbyterian, Colbert United Methodist and Comer United Methodist.

McCrary told the group the IRC effort in Athens was rejected by the State Department as a result of what the department saw as significant local political opposition to the proposal…

McCrary told the slightly more than one dozen people gathered at Covenant Presbyterian that the agency has no current plans to submit another proposal for State Department review. If, however, some evidence of community support were to surface, the IRC might consider making another proposal next year, McCrary said, or it could come back to the community following the next election cycle if it appeared that political opposition might have softened.

In a Friday interview, [Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson] said her position on the IRC proposal hadn’t changed.

My responsibility is to take care of the people who are already here,” she said.

It’s purely a capacity issue,” Denson added, noting that Athens is already dealing with “panhandlers and people sleeping outside… Read more here

Posted in Georgia, IRC, refugee, secondary migration, unwelcoming communities | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees in Tucson face underemployment, prejudice and racism from the community

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 1, 2015

stock-vector-business-finance-office-workplace-people-man-working-icon-symbol-sign-78377362

A recent newspaper article explores the plight of refugees placed for resettlement in Tucson, Arizona. It seems that the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is placing refugee professionals such as mechanical engineers and doctors in entry-level jobs such as dish washing. While I don’t wish to be cynical I do wish to have some healthy skepticism here. Are there really no jobs in Tucson, even lower level ones, in which employers are looking for people with engineering or medical knowledge? It seems that the IRC has grown accustomed to using the least effort in placing refugees in jobs, without taking advantage of other options. The state of Idaho created a program to help these refugees, and help Idaho, rather than waste these professionals’ knowledge and experience. The article also discusses a case in which a refugee man was riding his bike home from work at 2 a.m. when a group of men in a pickup truck taunted him and ran him off the road. The entire side of his body was torn up. The IRC relocated him from his home for fear of persecution. An article in The Arizona Daily Wildcat explains:

…Caitlin Reinhard, senior employment specialist for the International Rescue Committee, in Tucson [spoke] about the issues refugees face in the community. Regardless of professional and educational background, the first job that many refugees obtain are minimum wage, entry-level jobs. Therefore, it is not uncommon for a mechanical engineer to be placed in Tucson and work as a dishwasher.

Reinhard emphasized the reluctance of employers to hire overqualified employees. For example, a refugee who was a doctor in their home country would have more trouble finding employment than a refugee with a grade-school level of education…

In conjunction with employment issues…Tucson refugees face prejudice and racism from the community in which they are working to become members. Reinhard spoke of a client who worked the night shift at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Golf Resort and Spa. On his way home from work, the man rode his bike to the intersection of Alvernon Way and Grant Road at 2 a.m. when a group of men in a pickup truck taunted him and ran him off the road. The entire side of his body was torn up.

We were more outraged than he was,” Reinhard said.

The  man was relocated from his home for fear of persecution. He did not harbor negative feelings toward Americans. However, because of our cultural biases, our community threatened his safety… Read more here

Posted in abuse, Arizona, employment/jobs for refugees, hate crimes, IRC, professionals, safety | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Syrian refugee in Houston – Cockroaches seem to pour from the walls

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 21, 2015

contract

Apparently YMCA International remains in violation of the State Department refugee resettlement contract and no one seems to care. In 2008 during a State Department inspection monitors noted “…All refugee homes inspected had significant roach and/or mice infestation.” Now, a newspaper article reports that a Syrian refugee family resettled in Houston by this resettlement agency is living in an apartment practically overrun by cockroaches. The State Department contract explicitly states that resettlement “Housing should be safe, sanitary, and in good repair.” I don’t think insect infestation would qualify as sanitary. An article in the Houston Chronicle explains:

The sparse two-bedroom apartment in southwest Houston is a far cry from the sprawling home Chujaa Masre owned in Homs. Cockroaches seem to pour out of the walls, appearing to him almost as resistant to defeat as the Syrian army in his war-torn country.

His wife, horrified, at first declared they were going home, never mind the bombs and airstrikes that have ravaged their nation, killing what human rights groups estimate to be about 220,000 people in four years. Ever since fleeing Homs at the beginning of the military’s siege in 2011…

Masre, who was paired with the YMCA, said his assistance runs out in February…

By now, Masre has finessed his skill for eradicating pests. He’s learned to block up holes and fill in cracks to keep out mice and discovered the array of commercial options killing cockroaches. They take up an entire rack in his kitchen.

“But still they come,” he sighed… Read more here

Posted in housing, Houston, rats and roaches, State Department, YMCA International | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Call for Ideas: Help Shape Refugee Integration Strategy

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 17, 2015

Task ForceAs part of an inter-agency Task Force on new Americans on improving our immigration system President Obama is calling for public input of ideas on how to improve our system. This includes the refugee resettlement program. Comments are due by February 9, 2015.

In November 2014, President Obama announced a series of executive actions to fix our broken immigration system. As part of these actions, the President created a White House Task Force on New Americans. We are proud to serve as the co-chairs of this federal interagency Task Force, which will focus on the civic, economic and linguistic integration of new Americans and creating welcoming communities for all residents.

As the President’s memorandum states:

“…Civic integration provides security in rights and liberties. Economic integration empowers      self-sufficiency and allows new Americans to give back to their communities and contribute to economic growth. English language acquisition allows employment and career advancement along with active civic participation.”

We are, and will continue to be, a nation of immigrants. On average, the United States welcomes approximately 1 million lawful permanent residents and more than 700,000 newly naturalized citizens each year. These new Americans contribute significantly to our economy. In fact, while foreign-born residents make up 13 percent of the population, they represent over 16 percent of the labor force and start 28 percent of all new businesses creating jobs for millions of Americans.

The goal of the Task Force is to develop a federal immigrant integration strategy that allows new Americans to contribute to society to their fullest potential and bring new Americans together with their receiving communities to strengthen communities.

By March 2015, the Task Force will submit a plan to the President that includes recommendations for federal actions to promote the integration of new Americans. In developing this plan, we need to hear from you. You know best what is working to support immigrant integration in your community. Send us input on promising practices and examples of model programs that help immigrants and refugees to contribute to your communities and our economy.

We also need your input to ensure that federal programs and policies continue to reflect our ongoing commitment to welcoming and integrating newcomers into the fabric of our country.

Please send your ideas and examples to NewAmericans@who.eop.gov by February 9, 2015.

Cecilia Muñoz is Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. León Rodríguez is Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
…Read here

Posted in Obama administration, reform | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Resources for Helping Low-Income, Low-Skilled Workers

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 7, 2015

employment _assistanceThere are some online resources that look useful for helping refugees with employment issues, poverty and education. The Center for Law & Social Policy (CLASP) features different resources aimed at improving services to low-income youth and adults:

In July 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)—passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress—was signed into law by President Obama. WIOA is the first update to the nation’s core workforce training programs  since the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) 16 years ago. But a lot has changed since 1998—and our workforce system hasn’t kept up. Low-income, lower-skilled workers face more barriers than ever to securing an education and getting a good job.

CLASP features different resources aimed at improving services to low-income youth and adults under the WIOA. In addition, they highlight promising state and local strategies and models that align WIOA’s goals and help create pathways to postsecondary and economic success for low-skilled workers, youth, and adults… (Read more here)

Posted in economic self-sufficiency, employment services, employment/jobs for refugees, teenagers | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Amarillo TX resettlement agencies oblivious to local conditions

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 28, 2014

obliviousNancy Koons, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle (CFS), has an op-ed piece in the local newspaper in Amarillo claiming that her organization’s attempt to cut resettlement in response to an overwhelmed local community and government agencies was undermined by increased refugee resettlement by Refugee Services of Texas, Amarillo office (RST). The picture she presents is of resettlement agencies seemingly disconnected from each other and from the impact of resettlement on the local host community. If the details are correct, then looking beyond her blaming the other resettlement agency in town to defend her own agency, one has to admire her for her honesty. Its only by facing the truth that problems may be corrected, and honesty promotes community trust. Although Koons took over as head of CFS in 2011 neither her predecessor nor anyone else at her agency apparently passed on to her the facts about the local community being overwhelmed with resettlement numbers (were they oblivious too?), and despite having lived in the community herself for six years Koons claims not have known anything until local government units came to her to complain. She claims to have then invited resettlement leaders to town to meet with local resettlement partners (something alternatively that Representative Mac Thornberry, Republican of Clarendon took credit for). Koons says she then reduced CFS’ projected refugee arrivals for 2012, but that RST, also claiming to be completely unaware of overwhelmed local government units, then increased their projected 2012 arrivals. The story paints a picture of resettlement agencies out of touch with their local community. The op-ed piece is found online at Amarillo Globe-News:

Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle, formerly Catholic Family Service Inc. [CFS], has provided social services in the Texas Panhandle since 1932, including a refugee resettlement program that began in the mid-1970s, following the fall of Saigon…

The refugee program was in response to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] which, with other national organizations, assisted the U.S. State Department with resettlement nationwide. With the goal of helping refugees achieve self-sufficiency, one consideration for establishment of a resettlement site was availability of employment. The meat-packing industry became a primary source…

…Until 2007-2008, USCCB was the only volunteer agency (volag) that facilitated resettlement in Amarillo, doing so through CFS.

In 2007-08, two more national volags began facilitating resettlement in Amarillo — Lutheran Immigration Services and Church World Services…These two additional volags facilitate refugee resettlement through Refugee Services of Texas, Amarillo office [RST].

Resettlement peaked in 2010 when CFS resettled 448 individuals and RST-Amarillo resettled 251 individuals. In total, 699 refugees were resettled in Amarillo in 2010. Refugees also came to Amarillo from other areas of the country, having already resettled through agencies in other cities. This is referred to as secondary migration…

In August 2011, I began in my role as executive director at CFS. Residing out of the Amarillo area for six years, I was unaware of the dramatic increase in refugee resettlement, languages and cultures, and consequently the impact on the community — particularly the schools. It wasn’t long before I heard from numerous concerned residents and staff from the Amarillo Independent School District. It was clear that the increasing rate of resettlement needed to slow down significantly to allow the community to catch up with challenges brought about by dramatic demographic changes. I invited officials from USCCB in Washington D.C., and the state refugee coordinator from Austin to meet with representatives from AISD to hear their challenges. At this meeting, AISD representatives graciously articulated extraordinary challenges in the schools. They begged USCCB and the state refugee coordinator to slow down the rate of resettlement to give AISD and the community the opportunity to “catch up,” and enable them to better serve all of the student population.

At CFS, I immediately reduced our projected arrivals for fiscal year 2012 by 50 percent, the projection of 400 was reduced to 200. RST-Amarillo had projected 200 arrivals for fiscal year 2012.

I learned soon after that our agency’s reduction was picked up by RST-Amarillo — they increased their projected 2012 arrivals to 400. Unfortunately, the community did not experience the reduction we had intended. In the following months, the local director of RST-Amarillo said he was unaware of problems at the schools. To his defense, complaints came to CFS because the community was, and still is, largely unaware of a second resettlement agency in Amarillo.

Frustrated that our effort to reduce was wasted, I researched arrival data from the State Department and compared it to Census data. Clearly, Amarillo had one of the highest resettlement rates per-capita in the state, if not the U.S.

In July 2012, I shared this information with Mayor Paul Harpole. Dialogue continues on the local and national levels to address critical refugee issues in our community. Compared to fiscal year 2010, Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle anticipates 160 arrivals, a 64 percent reduction from 2010. RST-Amarillo anticipates 282 arrivals, a 12 percent increase from 2010… Read more here

Posted in Amarillo, Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle, police, refugee, Refugee Services of Texas, school for refugee children, schools, secondary migration, Texas | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

ORR issues zero tolerance policy to protect unaccompanied children immigrants from sexual abuse

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 23, 2014

Bewerbungsbilder, bewerber, arbeiter, mitarbeiter,The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has issued new standards intended to prevent, detect and respond to the sexual abuse of unaccompanied children living in government facilities. We wrote about this issue back in September when the policy was awaiting White House approval. An article in The Hill from December 19th announces the new policy:

The Obama administration is rolling out long-awaited rules to protect unaccompanied children immigrants from sexual abuse.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Friday issued new standards intended to prevent, detect and respond to the sexual abuse of unaccompanied children living in government facilities.

The new rules come in response to the tens of thousands of Central American children who are crossing the southwest U.S. boarder without their parents.

The unaccompanied minors are housed in government-run facilities like shelters, group homes and residential therapeutic centers as they await their immigration proceedings, where they may be vulnerable to sexual abuse.

In response to what critics say is a growing crisis, HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) issued a “zero tolerance policy” Friday that it says will weed out sexual abuse from the system.

“Sexual violence and abuse are an assault on human dignity and have devastating, lifelong mental and physical effects on an individual,” HHS wrote in the Federal Register.

The rules follow recommendations made by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. They go into effect June 24. Read here

Posted in abuse, children, Obama administration, ORR, teenagers, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

ORR oversight of unaccompanied minors shelter questioned

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 21, 2014

citationsAn ORR shelter in Texas for traumatized unaccompanied minors has been cited for overly using restraints. State records show children at Shiloh have made allegations of physical abuses and painful restraints. The state has cited the company that runs the facility 21 times for violating restraint guidelines. The local prosecutor has urged ORR officials to increase monitoring and lower the number of placements to “reduce the risks.” (one has to wonder if cases like this lead to the resignation of ORR’s director — its easier to cut and run when failing to answer questions no longer works). An AP article at the Star-Telegram has the details:

MANVEL, Texas   A shelter for traumatized immigrant children near Houston that has received $13 million in federal funds and been cited for overly using restraints says staff members deeply care about the well-being of residents, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Shiloh Treatment Center in rural Manvel is among a network of shelters that Congress says needs greater oversight from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which has been overwhelmed by a record number of children from Central America.

The shelter network overseen by the agency, known as ORR, has jumped from 50 to 125 facilities since the federal government began contracting with Shiloh in 2009, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Facilities such as Shiloh take among the most challenging immigrant cases, including children who arrive traumatized by their journeys or violence back home. State records show children at Shiloh have made allegations of physical abuses and painful restraints, and a local prosecutor wrote to federal authorities in 2011 with concerns…
U.S. Rep. Pete Olson said that when he called ORR with questions about Shiloh this summer, it only sent him a letter with basic information.

“The one thing that comes out over and over is the lack of transparency,” Olson said…

Jeri Yenne, Brazoria County’s Republican district attorney, said she firmly believes that Shiloh’s staff is made up of well-intentioned people. But she sent a letter to federal officials after the state had documented abuse allegations at Shiloh and another treatment center founded by Hill, according to the newspaper.

Yenne said she urged officials to increase monitoring and lower the number of placements to “reduce the risks.” An agency spokesman said federal staff are assigned to monitor every facility…

The newspaper reported that the agency has not responded to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Houston Chronicle in January for monitoring reports and other communication with Shiloh. Read more here

Posted in abuse, asylees, children, ORR, PTSD, teenagers, Texas, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Conservative Canadian government deemphasizes need and vulnerability in pushing Syrian Muslims to the bottom of the list

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 18, 2014

List-512The conservative-led Canadian federal government has announced that it will be “prioritizing” ethnic and religious minorities while resettling refugees from Syria. Apparently Muslim Syrian refugees will be pushed to the bottom or off the list entirely of refugees to be resettled. The troubling move is being condemned by Canadian Muslim and non-Muslim religious leaders. If adopted, it will contradict with the United Nation policies that include helping “the most vulnerable, no matter their religious back ground”. According to the UN policies, families led by women, torture victims and those with serious medical conditions must be resettled. An article at OnIslam.net explains the issue:

OTTAWA – Reports that Canadian government will be prioritizing religious minorities while resettling Syrian refugees has triggered a fierce criticism, accusing it of abandoning thousands of vulnerable Muslim refugees.

“We are deeply troubled by this report and we hope the federal government can provide answers,” Ihsaan Gardee, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) executive director, said in a statement obtained by OnIslam.net on Friday, December 12.

“It is inconceivable that our government would suggest implementing a policy that creates a two-tier refugee system in which vulnerable people are assessed based on their personal religious beliefs rather than on their needs.”

Gardee’s comments followed reports that Canada is set to accept more Syrian refugees “only from the religious minorities”.

The new refugees’ trend, if adopted, will contradict with the United Nation policies that include helping “the most vulnerable, no matter their religious back ground”.

Families led by women, torture victims and those with serious medical conditions must be resettled, according to the UN policies.

Although Canada has previously accepted to resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees, only 457 had arrived by mid-November, according to statistics tabled in the House of Commons…

Religious minorities make up an important and vibrant part of Syria’s culture, “and no one is suggesting that non-Muslims should not be protected,” Syrian Canadian Council spokesman Faisal Alazem stated.

“But you treat people based on the need and on the vulnerability…

Critics of the new policies blamed the conservative government for “breaking form the international community”, blowing away the traditions of the European country.

“It’s unprecedented and going in a terrible direction,” agreed Liberal immigration critic John McCallum.

“I find this shocking. To impose a religious filter is just not right.”

A similar criticism was shared by Canadian non-Muslim religious leaders.

“All of our religions teach the fundamental worth of every human being,” reads a forthcoming statement which has already been signed by several concerned faith groups and organizations including the United Church, the Presbyterian World Service and Development, and the Jewish Refugee Action Network.

“A person should never be excluded from refugee protection or resettlement on the basis of his or her religion. Refugees must be selected for resettlement based on need.”… Read more here

Posted in Canadian refugee resettlement pgrm, Islamic, right-wing, Syrian, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 286 other followers