Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘Issues’ Category

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 blaming the other resettlement agency in town to defend her own agency, one has to admire her for her honesty. I think 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 completely 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 »

Obama administration declares Central American minors priority for deportation; lawyers scramble

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 27, 2014

FASTPresident Obama’s immigration executive order which includes among other things setting up a program to allow 4000 minors into the country annually from Central America is in marked contrast to his administration’s declaration this past summer that puts similar minors who entered the country illegally on a fast track to deportation. Immigration courts have established accelerated dockets to speed up the process, and lawyers are scrambling to prepare complicated cases in a short amount of time. Although most of the minors requesting asylum report fleeing gang-related violence, immigration courts historically have been reluctant to offer protection on those grounds. An article at Minnesota Public Radio News explains the situation:

Lawyers across the nation are scrambling to piece together how President Barack Obama’s recent executive action on immigration will affect their clients.

But so far, not much has changed for Central American minors who fled their home countries for the United States, said Laura Wilson, a Minneapolis attorney who represents four children.
Wilson’s clients were placed by immigration officials with family members in Minnesota. She is trying to gather their stories about the violence that drove them across the border, bolster them with expert opinions and bring them to a federal immigration hearing.

And she has just a few weeks to do it.

Although the president’s order could defer the deportation of millions of immigrants, it won’t help more than 200 children in Minnesota on a “fast-track” docket federal authorities established for immigrant children. That gives attorneys little time to prepare a case.

For Wilson, who works for Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, and dozens of other lawyers in the state, that means the frantic pace of interviews, affidavits and legal research will continue.

Tight deadlines complicate work

The number of children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has surged from about 4,000 in fiscal year 2011 to more than five times that number in fiscal year 2013, according to a report from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

That influx has swamped immigration courts across the country. The Obama administration this summer declared the children a priority for deportation, and courts established accelerated dockets to speed up the process… Read more here

Posted in asylees, children, el salvadoran, Guatemalan, honduran, teenagers, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Time running out for Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Applications

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 20, 2014

Racing Against Deadline Clock Time CountdownDecember 31, 2014 is the deadline for Afghan SIVs (Special Immigrant Visas). That date is also the deadline by which the visa may be issued according to current law. Processing time can vary, with the US State Department claiming the current average processing time for an SIV in Afghanistan is about 13 months, but with most taking up to five years according to Ron Black, director of the resettlement agency College of Southern Idaho’s refugee program. An article in the Twin Falls Times-News has the details of the issue:

TWIN FALLS | Time might be running out for thousands of Afghans who risked their lives in the U.S.-led War on Terror.
As American forces continue to pull out of Afghanistan, some 5,000 Afghan translators under Taliban threat are competing for a few thousand Special Immigration Visas (SIVs), the New York Times reported in March.

On Aug. 8, President Barack Obama signed the Emergency Afghan Allies Extension Act of 2014, which authorized another 1,000 visas for Afghan principal applicants.

If the special visa program expires at the end of December, it will be nearly impossible for them to come to America through other visas, a State Department official told the Times-News.

“Although the deadline to apply… is December 31, 2014, the current law provides that no SIVs may be issued under this program after that date,” says a State Department online fact sheet. “We welcome action by Congress to extend this program.”

According to the fact sheet, processing time can vary depending on a number of factors. “The current average processing time for an SIV in Afghanistan is approximately 13 months.”

But most have taken much longer, said Ron Black, outgoing director of the College of Southern Idaho’s refugee program. “Up to five years.”…

The biggest difficulty in issuing a visa is establishing the applicant’s identity, Black said. “These SIV applicants use assumed names for their own safety.”

Many use the name “FNU” — which stands for “first name unknown,” he said. The refugees “need identification, and nothing matches.

“Once they get a visa, they must leave immediately,” Black said. “But they still need an exit permit, and that can be cancelled at the last minute. So the process can drag on and on.”… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, College of Southern Idaho, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

U.S. to grant refugee status to Central American minors abroad

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 19, 2014

BorderGuardThe federal government will launch a program in December to grant refugee status to Central American minor children back home of parents who live legally in the US. The program does not apply to minors who have arrived in the U.S. illegally. The program is part of a plan to stem illegal child migration from their countries which culminated in “the surge” of the past two years. The quota for the plan is 4000 children per year. An article at Bismarck, North Dakota’s CBC KXNews has the details:

WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. government will launch a program in December to grant refugee status to some people under the age of 21 who live in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and whose parents legally reside in the United States.

U.S. officials say parents can ask authorities free of charge for refugee status for their children in the Central American countries, which are plagued by poverty and vicious gang violence. The program does not apply to minors who have arrived in the U.S. illegally.

Vice President Joe Biden announced the program Friday at the Inter-American Development Bank, where the presidents of the three Central American countries will present a plan to stem child migration from their countries.

U.S. officials said that children deemed refugees will be able to work immediately upon arrival in the U.S., opt for permanent residency the following year and for naturalization five years later. They did not say how long the process of receiving refugee status will take.

Central American children who meet the requirements will be part of a quota of 4,000 people from Latin America receiving refugee status each fiscal year, officials said. The U.S. quota of Latin America refugees currently consists of Cubans and Colombians.

Applicants who don’t meet the requirements will be evaluated to see if they can be admitted conditionally under a non-permanent migratory status that allows them to work temporarily in the U.S…

The program aims to be a legal and safe alternative to the long and dangerous journey some Central American children take north to reach the U.S. and to reunite with their parents in the U.S. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied child and teenage migrants showed up at the U.S. border earlier this year… Read more here

Posted in asylees, children, el salvadoran, Guatemalan, honduran, Obama administration, teenagers, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Political Right’s baseless criticism of San Diego facility for unaccompanied minors

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 12, 2014

southwest key san diego shelterThe political Right has been trying to attack the federal government’s costs for caring for the unprecedented surge of unaccompanied alien minors (and here, here and here) that have illegally crossed the Mexican border over the past two years. These minors are cared for by the federal Dept. of HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). A so-called prime example of wasteful spending (the real motivation for criticisms being anti-immigrant sentiments rather than government spending) is the nonprofit Southwest Key’s facility in San Diego. Criticisms, now spearheaded by Iowan senator Chuck Grassley, include amenities for the minors including organic orchard and garden supplying the facility’s kitchen as well as a small petting farm with ducks, chickens, and miniature ponies and an Acuaponics system cultivating over 1000 Tilapia fish. Yet, as Southwest Key points out the amenities mostly came with the property when it was leased by the non-profit and have added little costs. The animals on the farm were all donated or born there with the exception of $40 used to buy the stock for the Tilapia fish pond. Veterinary care is donated and feed costs are a negligible $60/month. An article in the San Diego Reader covers the story:

How is life for so-called unaccompanied alien children at a federally sponsored youth shelter in El Cajon? Perhaps too sweet, in the opinion of Iowa Republican senator Charles Grassley, as expressed by him in an October 30 letter to U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell…

But Grassley questioned the government’s “stewardship of taxpayer dollars” already spent by Southwest Key, the Austin, Texas-based nonprofit that runs the facility here, as well as others in Texas, Arizona, and California…

“On April 23, 2014, Southwest Key proposed to charge the government a ‘daily rate’ of $316 to house unaccompanied alien children in a facility in El Cajon, California,” according to Grassley’s letter, which cited Southwest Key’s description of the operation’s amenities on an application for federal funds.

“We have an organic orchard of orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees, as well as an Organic garden that supplements our kitchen with a wide variety of organic vegetables throughout the year,” the nonprofit said.

“We have a small petting farm with ducks, chickens, and miniature ponies. We have also established an Acuaponics system where we are cultivating over 1000 Tilapia.”…

Southwest Key responded to Grassley’s letter with a statement saying “the cost per child in our California facilities is higher than other locations because they are small facilities with fewer beds. As the amount of beds goes up, the cost per child goes down. Unfortunately, Southwest Key has not been able to secure a larger facility in that region in order to expand to more beds.”

As for the alleged amenities, the nonprofit said, “The orchard and organic farm were pre-existing on the property when we leased it, so we have not purchased any trees or plants.

“We did pay a one-time fee of $40 to buy forty fish as stock. Since then they have reproduced at no cost to us. The cost to keep the orchard and garden is only the electricity used to run the well pump for watering. The crops they produce, however, supplement to our food supply and actually lower our expenditures there.

“The poultry on the farm also supplements our food supply. The water in the tilapia farm is constantly recycled and only requires minimal watering to compensate for evaporation and the waste from the fish is used to fertilize the organic garden….

“The animals at the farm in our El Cajon facility were all donated with the exception of one pony that was born at El Cajon. The veterinary care provided to the animals is also donated. The total cost of feed for all the animals — ponies, chickens, ducks and tilapia is a negligible part of the overall budget (approximately $60/month for feeding all animals)…. Read more here

Posted in asylees, children, funding, ORR, right-wing, San Diego, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Border Patrol youth detention centers – freezing, dank & dirty clothes, little food or exercise

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 7, 2014

detentionA social worker who couldn’t take any more explains in a new article the conditions in the Border Patrol detention centers where the wave of Central American youth known as “the surge” are kept before being sent on to ORR shelters. Conditions include bright lights, constant blasting AC, little food and rare exercise. Youth are processed in without showers or clean clothes and remain for long periods in the dank and dirty clothes they trekked hundreds of miles in. An article in the Washington Post by a social worker describes these detention centers:

About 70,000 immigrant kids will show up alone at the U.S. border this year. According to Mother Jones, that’s a 59 percent increase from 2013, a 142 percent jump from 2011.

These children are fleeing instability, unrest and danger in their home countries (according to one study, 58 percent of the young people “had suffered, been threatened, or feared serious harm”). As Wendy Young, executive director of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), told Mother Jones:

“This is becoming less like an immigration issue and much more like a refugee issue. … Because this really is a forced migration. This is not kids choosing voluntarily to leave…”

[in detention centers in Texas] Kids were crammed into rooms under bright lights and were forced to wait.

Kids…called the detention center “la hielera,” or “the icebox,” because of the blasting air conditioning in the arctic-chilled cells. Some children were left there for weeks; they described the smell of their own festering feet and urine that filled the spaces.

In Texas, an officer had told [one boy] to put his face against the cold wall and to empty his pockets. Sometimes kids bring money with them. He pocketed the kid’s $10.

They were processed into jail with the dank clothes they traveled in, were not always showered, were provided with little food and little nutrition, and not always permitted physical exercise… Read more here

Posted in asylees, Border Patrol, children, el salvadoran, Guatemalan, honduran, ORR, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Feverous speculation of enterovirus in unaccompanied illegal alien children unfounded

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 3, 2014

respiratory_virusNone of the unaccompanied illegal alien children who entered the U.S. last year were reported to have enterovirus according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. An article at CNSNews explains:

(CNSNews.com) – Of the 68,541 unaccompanied illegal alien children who entered the U.S. in fiscal year 2014, none were reported to have the enterovirus, according to the Department of Health and Human Services…

The virus causes respiratory illness, is found in the infected person’s respiratory secretions and is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or touches a surface that is then touched by others. There are no anti-viral medications currently available to treat the disease. In 2014, eight patients who were diagnosed with the enterovirus have died, the CDC reported.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reported that 68,541 unaccompanied children were apprehended along the southwest U.S. border in Fiscal Year 2014, which is from Oct. 1, 2013 to Sept. 30, 2014.

As CNSNews.com previously reported, [Kenneth Wolfe, spokesman for the Administration of Children and Families for the Department of Health and Human Services] said that between January and September 2014, 10 minors in the unaccompanied alien children were diagnosed with active tuberculosis.

When CNSNews.com asked what strains of TB the illegal minors had, Wolfe responded, “sensitive to first line TB drugs.”

According to Wolfe, none of the minors had multi-drug resistant TB or extensively drug resistant TB… Read more here

Posted in asylees, children, el salvadoran, Guatemalan, health, honduran, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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