Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘Issues’ Category

Sexual Abuse Protections For Child Migrants Await Approval

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 28, 2014

ribbon..Proposed regulations for the protection of unaccompanied child migrants in government facilities from sexual assault await the White House’s approval. Advocates claim the delay leaves children in the facilities without key protections against sexual assault. Although the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was required by law to submit new agency regulations by September 2033, it did not bother to submit more than a draft version in January 2014. The White House has failed to explain the delay. The exact number of assaults in the system that houses unaccompanied migrant children is unknown, although a Houston Chronicle investigation found 101 “significant incident reports” filed between March 2011 and March 2013. Minor victims of abuse also usually have no easy way to report and pursue a case. The children and teenagers are often cut off from the outside, and may have no safe way to report it if they suffer abuse at the hands of a facility staff member. An article in the Huffington Post examines the issue in depth:

WASHINGTON — Proposed regulations that could better protect unaccompanied child migrants in government facilities from sexual assault remain bogged down in the White House’s approval process, despite reports in May that many instances of abuse had been inadequately investigated. Those reports have frustrated advocates who have long pushed for the new rules and see them as even more urgent given the influx of children and teenagers being apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border.

As the administration strains to handle the humanitarian crisis of nearly 63,000 unaccompanied minors caught crossing the border illegally since October, human rights advocates worry the children might remain vulnerable to abuse in the facilities where they are being kept.

While the children and teenagers are often released to family members and eventually may be deported, those from countries other than Mexico or Canada first go to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. The agency has its own internal standards in place, but it hasn’t finalized implementation of the stricter standards required under the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA. That means there are fewer formalized standards to help minors who already may be vulnerable to abuse, scared to speak out and unsure to how to ask for help… Read more here

Posted in abuse, children, Dept of Homeland Security, el salvadoran, guatelmalan, honduran, Obama administration, reform, teenagers, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cockroaches and mice scurry across floor where Luul Botan’s children play

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 24, 2014

slumlordFor new readers, across the US the private, yet publicly-funded, refugee resettlement agencies have in many cases placed refugees in slumlord apartments with no tools for knowing their rights or how to help themselves. This, as part of a humanitarian program. Refugees have also moved to these apartments under their own volition. Somali refugees in Columbus, Ohio have been living in some of these slumlord apartments, in this case owned/manages by Volunteers of America. It seems that (a) local resettlement agency/agencies has/have left the refugees with a poor to nonexistent understanding of their rights, while apparently turning a blind eye to the horrible problems. This is not the first case like this in recent years from Columbus.  Last year a similar case unfolded at the Summit Park apartments. The Columbus Dispatch has the latest story:

Cockroaches and mice scurry across the carpeted floor where Luul Botan’s three young children play.

The bathroom and kitchen faucets leak a steady stream of water. Some of the kitchen cabinets are broken. The drawers stick. And the front door doesn’t close easily, leaving the 32-year-old mother fearful that someone might break into their North Side apartment at night.

“The conditions are horrible, and the management at Capital Park apartments doesn’t care how bad it gets,” she said last week through a Somali interpreter.

Botan said she fears that her children, who are 5 years, 1 year and 4 months old, are being sickened by the insects and mouse droppings. She said she asked the manager five times to replace a missing screen in the living-room window of her second-floor apartment in the complex on Agler Road.

“I’m so afraid my daughter will fall out when she runs over to watch children playing outside. It’s so dangerous,” she said.

During the past several weeks, dozens of Capital Park residents have called the city of Columbus about what they say is a worsening problem. With the help of Legal Aid attorneys and other volunteers, the mostly low-income Somali refugees have also begun sending letters to the management of the 314-unit complex owned by Volunteers of America, requesting repairs that many have already asked for.

“The tenants in this case are stepping up, asking the landlord merely to do what Ohio law requires: Keep the rental property fit, habitable and up to code,” said Benjamin D. Horne, a managing attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.

Most of the residents were resettled by the federal government from refugee camps in Kenya, he said. They have little knowledge of their rights… Read more here

Posted in Columbus, housing, Slumlords, substandard housing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

ORR webinar on refugee secondary migrants on September 23rd

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 19, 2014

webinarThe Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is inviting those who assist refugees to take part in a wbinar on self sufficiency for secondary migrants. Those are refugees that have chosen to move to a new community after initial resettlement. The webinar will highlight best practices for supporting those refugees. The following letter explaining the Secondary Migration webinar was sent out via ORR’s listserve:

The Office of Refugee Resettlement invites you to participate in a webinar on Secondary Migration: What Communities are Doing to Ensure Success and Self-Sufficiency for Second Waves of Refugees on Tuesday, September 23, 2014 (from 1 to 2 p.m. eastern).
Every year, the United States resettles more refugees than any other country in the world. Refugees are resettled to locations throughout the country where services are available to help with resettlement and integration. For a variety of reasons, some refugees choose to move from the city where they are initially placed, which can present challenges and opportunities for both refugees and providers of public services. This webinar will highlight best practices for supporting refugees that have chosen to move to a new community after initial resettlement.
Speakers include:
·        Amy Shir, ORR TA Provider
·        Lewis Kimsey, Kansas State Refugee Coordinator
·        Susan Downs-Karkos, Welcoming America
·        Brenda Zion, formerly of One Morgan County, Colorado
To participate in this ORR-sponsored webinar, please register here.
Thank you,

Posted in best practices, ORR | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Once again refugees “fall though cracks” – Congolese family of 13 homeless

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 16, 2014

cracksA Congolese refugee family of an unnamed resettlement agency in a small town outside Portland, Oregon found themselves homeless this past summer despite a father who is an experienced automotive mechanic. A newspaper article uses the typical refrain of resettlement agencies, claiming they merely fell through the cracks in the system. This seems to be a regular occurrence as illustrated on this blog. The article at KGW News explains:

LAFAYETTE, Ore. – A refugee family of 13 people has a home to rent in a small town after being homeless this past summer.

Oswald Mushombe and his wife Nakinga Mahinga have 11 children, ranging in age from 5 months old to nearly 16 years old. Some of them were born in a refugee camp in Africa, where the family lived for five years to escape violence and persecution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Housing problems after they arrived in the United States 16 months ago led to the family bouncing around and eventually ending up living in a Portland park this past summer.
Mushombe said he tried everything to get help from a variety of agencies.

A week ago, they ended up in front of the McMinnville home of Monica Radke. She took them in, and has been spearheading a help campaign ever since.

The family is renting a Lafayette home thanks to a landlord who saw their story and wanted to offer them a place to live. …On Friday, Mushombe learned about some better job prospects. He is an experienced automotive mechanic.

A week after the campaign started, the family of 13 is moving into a home they can call their own. State and other agencies are offering assistance for the family that seemed to have fallen through the cracks of a refugee integration system… Read more here

Posted in Congolese, housing, neglect | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Not to worry – investigators did not personally see misconduct during inspections

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 12, 2014



Can you imagine being accused of misconduct in government work and then repeating that misconduct in front of inspectors who later arrive? The US Department of Homeland Security is relieved to announce that it is unable to substantiate advocates’ claims it abused child immigrants. One reason they make this claim is that its inspectors did not actually witness misconduct during inspections. Alleged misconduct includes inadequate food and water, denial of medical care, and physical abuse and psychological abuse. After looking at 116 complaints of abuse Homeland Security still must investigate 100 more, yet has made this (premature?) announcement of lack of abuse. An article at AP has the story (the AP report claims that the American Civil Liberties Union was not available for “immediate comment”. Why do reporters contact groups at the last minute before publication and then write that they are unavailable when they cannot immediately respond?):

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal investigation that included surprise inspections was unable to substantiate 16 accusations by advocacy groups that the government packed into frigid cells children caught crossing the border alone, made them sleep on hard floors and provided inadequate food or medical care. Other claims about treatment of the children are still under review, according to the Homeland Security Department.

Inspector General John Roth said in a memo made public Tuesday that immigrants alternately complain that detention facilities are too cold or too hot, but either way, there are cloth or disposable blankets. Likewise, Roth said food service has also improved since the American Civil Liberties Union and four other advocacy groups in June made 116 allegations of wrongdoing, mistreatment and abuses by border agents…

Roth told Johnson that the remaining 100 complaints are still being investigated by the Immigration Enforcement’s Office of Professional Responsibility, CBP’s Office of Internal Affairs and the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

In June, the ACLU and others complained of “systematic abuse” of immigrant children caught crossing the border alone. The groups said more than 80 percent of the immigrants complained that they received inadequate food and water, about half were denied medical care, and about one of every four was physically abused.

The complaints included a 13-year-old boy who said he was threatened by an official with a metal rod and was later sexually molested while in custody, a 14-year-old girl who reported her asthma inhaler was confiscated, and a 14-year-old boy who said he was unable to sleep for five days because the lights were always on. A 16-year-old boy said an official told him, “You are in my country now, and we are going to bury you in a hole.”…

Roth said investigators from his office also made three unannounced visits to a family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, where more than 600 immigrant women and their children have been held since late June. He said investigators did not see any misconduct during any of the site visits. Read more here

Posted in abuse, children, Dept of Homeland Security, el salvadoran, Guatemalan, honduran | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Unaccompanied minors arriving from Central America pose little risk of spreading infectious diseases

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 5, 2014


[Editor's note: The following group of minors is not an official part of the US refugee resettlement program, but rather a separate immigrant group that the US Congress has charged the Office of refugee Resettlement (ORR) with managing.  These youth are arriving without official sanction, as opposed to refugees in the national program who have been invited to resettle in the US].

According to a recent news article the Arkansas Department of Health, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has concluded that unaccompanied minors who have arrived in the state from Central America pose little risk of spreading infectious diseases to the public. The minors are screened for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and vaccinated for a host of others. The article is found at The Courier:

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Department of Health, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has concluded that unaccompanied children who have arrived in the state from Central America pose little risk of spreading infectious diseases to the public…

Children arriving to the U.S. from Central America receive multiple vaccines before they are released from the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement’s-funded program into a community. These vaccines protect against: tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, meningococcal disease, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, flu, pneumonia, polio, and hepatitis A and B. Furthermore, any child who enrolls in an Arkansas school also must meet state vaccination requirements.

In addition, the Office of Refugee Resettlement screens all children for tuberculosis. Children found to have TB disease are sent to shelters that have the capacity to care for them. Only those children who are no longer infectious are placed with a sponsor… Read more here

Posted in Arkansas, children, el salvadoran, Guatemalan, health, honduran, office of refugee resettlement, teenagers, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Athens GA mayor opposes IRC resettlement office

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poor policing of private contractors

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 17, 2014

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

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

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

Posted in Congress, CWS, funding, Obama administration, ORR, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

ORR Scam Alert – scheme to rob refugees of personal data

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 15, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Information courtesy of the Federal Trade Commission, FTC Consumer Alert

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

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

Thank you,



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


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