Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

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Austin to pay for resettlement if Texas state government illegally withholds funds

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 27, 2015


If the Republican-controlled Texas state government decides to illegally withholds funds from Syrian refugees the Austin city government plans to step in and assist the refugees. The city has been doing well financially and the city council wants to help the neediest in the community. A video report and article at KXON in Austin has the story:

AUSTIN (KXAN) —  Local refugee service organizations says if Gov. Greg Abbott doesn’t want to pay to support refugees, somebody else will…

Austin City Council-member Greg Casar says he will do all he can to have the city step up and shoulder the burden if need be. On the other side of the debate, Council-member Don Zimmerman says he doesn’t want tax money to help resettle Syrian refugees. In response, Casar says he will make sure Zimmerman’s resolution does not pass… Read more here

Posted in Austin, Caritas of Austin, Refugee Services of Texas, Syrian, Texas | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Feds to Resettlement Agencies – “States Cannot Block Syrians”

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 25, 2015


Today the federal government notified refugee resettlement agencies across the United States that states do not have the authority to refuse to accept Syrians. In a letter to state agencies the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) wrote, “States may not deny ORR-funded benefits and services to refugees based on a refugee’s country of origin or religious affiliation. Accordingly, states may not categorically deny ORR-funded benefits and services to Syrian refugees,” and that states that do not comply would be violating the law and “could be subject to enforcement action, including suspension or termination.” The announcement may mean that the federal government will place Syrians in states regardless hostile statements from 30 Republican governors. An article in the Houston Chronicle tells more:

The federal government on Wednesday informed refugee resettlement agencies in Texas and across the United States that states do not have the authority to refuse to accept Syrians.

The statement, made in a letter obtained by the Houston Chronicle, marks the first time that federal refugee program officials formally have denounced statements by governors including Greg Abbott of Texas and may signal they will place Syrians here and elsewhere regardless of the governors’ wishes…. Read more here

Posted in funding, Houston, Islamic, religion, Syrian, unwelcoming communities | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Exodus Refugee Immigration files suit against Indiana Governor

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 24, 2015


The refugee resettlement agency Exodus Refugee Immigration with the assistance of the ACLU has filed suit against Indiana Governor Mike Pence and the Family and Social Services Administration, claiming the state government violated the US Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in denying support for Syrian refugees. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the governor from taking any actions to suspend, block or withhold aid from refugees or from Exodus. The governor joined 30 other governors last week in an attempt to illegally block Syrian refugees from resettling in their states; immigration be exclusively the province of the federal government. The lawsuit claims the Indiana state government has also violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin in programs receiving federal government financial assistance. An article at ABC News has the story:

A lawsuit challenging the Indiana governor’s decision to stop state agencies from helping resettle Syrian refugees alleges that the action wrongly targets the refugees based on their nationality and violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the federal lawsuit Monday night on behalf of Indianapolis-based nonprofit Exodus Refugee Immigration. It accuses Gov. Mike Pence of violating the U.S.

Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by accepting refugees to Indiana from other countries but not from Syria.

The first-term Republican governor objected to plans for refugees to arrive in Indiana following the deadly attacks in Paris. Five days after the Nov. 13 attacks, a family that had fled war-torn Syria was diverted from Indianapolis to Connecticut when Pence ordered state agencies to halt resettlement activities… Read more here

Posted in ACLU, CWS, Exodus Refugee Immigration, Indiana, Syrian, Uncategorized, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

FL mayor rebukes governor, will accept refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 23, 2015

Several Democrat mayors across the nation are defying some of 30 Republican state governors and saying that they will ahead with plans to welcome refugee families to their cities. The governors have attacked the Syrian refugees in trying to stoke fears for political advantage knowing full well that the federal government has 18-24 month – and up to three years – rigorous security checks before allowing refugees in. The mayors of New York City, Louisville, Phoenix, Seattle, Kansas City, St. Louis, Charleston, Philadelphia, Sante Fe, New Orleans, Dallas, among other cities, and now Tallahassee are pushing back against the demagoguery. On Friday the U.S. Conference of Mayors sent a letter to Congress registering support for the U.S. refugee resettlement system. A video and article at WBBH-TV in Fort Myers has more:

Republican Gov. Rick Scott said Florida is not willing to accept Syrian refugees, but Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, told CNN Wednesday his city will continue to be a safe place for refugees.

“I believe strongly that we cannot turn our backs on the refugee community in their time of greatest need,” he said. “The U.S. vetting process for refugees is extremely rigorous, extensive, and comprehensive, and allows us to aid those that pose no threat to our country. Gov. Scott’s stance is driven by divisive politics.”… Read more here

Posted in Dallas/Fort Worth, Louisiana, New Mexico, NYC, Phoenix, security/terrorism, Syrian, Tallahassee | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

First Governor to Urge Pause Unable to Point to Single Concern in Refugee Screening

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 21, 2015

refugee logo2

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder who was the first of more than 30 mostly Republican governors to attempt to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees, was unable to point to a single problem with the current refugee security checks system when asked by reporters.  The only thing he was able to come up with was the need for a nebulous “review.” Of course, a highly rigorous security system is already in place.  Also having problems explaining what concerns there may be about the current two-year screening process for refugees seeking to enter the U.S. was Governor Rick Scott of Florida.  This week while making the rounds on news outlets to explain his decision to block new Syrian refugees from coming to Florida, Scott criticized President Obama’s administration for not providing background information to Florida law enforcement agencies.  When asked what specific information his administration had asked for that it hadn’t received, Scott replied, “They don’t provide any information.”  When reporters repeatedly asked if the State had asked for any information that it had not received, Scott was unable to refer to any information his administration had requested.  New Jersey governor Chris Christie said his state will not take in any refugees – “not even orphans under the age of five”.  Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal said he has directed state police to “track” the Syrian refugees in his state, which Louisiana state police then quickly played down.  Articles at Think Progress and National Public Radio gives Governor Snyder’s responses:

Michigan’s Rick Snyder was the first governor to urge a pause in admitting Syrian refugees into the United States. He triggered a national debate about refugee resettlement, and insists now that he only wants answers…

If we get to the point where we can say that review has taken place and people are confident that we have a system to let in people who have had their lives shattered, and at the same time can keep out the bad guys, hopefully we can start the process again of accepting refugees

“I wouldn’t single out any specific problem I have with it” … Read more here

Posted in Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, right-wing, security/terrorism, Syrian, Uncategorized, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Conservatives Pounce on Paris Attacks to Pursue Anti-immigration Agenda

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 17, 2015


Political football

After the Paris attacks, and in line with conservatives’ opposition to immigration reform, 30 republican and one democrat governors have announced opposition to resettlement of Syrian refugees and/or called for a “review” of security procedures for vetting refugees. In another sign of politically-motivated machinations not one of the governors has any authority to reject refugees, with immigration being a function of the federal government, and refugees admitted to the US as permanent residents free to live in any state they choose. With no credible threats from Syrian refugees – the very people running from ISIS and Syrian dictator Assad waging war on the Syrian civilian population – Republicans have nevertheless rushed to use the Paris attacks to opportunistically attack the humanitarian refugee program. Its worth noting that of the three million refugees the US has resettled since 1975 not one has ever committed a terrorist act here. Not deterred by mere facts Michigan’s governor Rick Snyder, who made statements welcoming Syrian refugees in just the past two weeks, has now issued an announcement outright refusing to allow Syrian refugees into Michigan. His office only later clarified that he did not generally oppose the resettlement of new Syrian refugees to Michigan, but that the state government’s efforts in the process would be suspended until further assurances from the Department of Homeland Security; although not before his first statement helped contribute to a politically hostile climate against refugees and encouraging other Republican governors to join in. All of this of course ignores that security procedures already involve a laborious  13-step, on average 18-24 month (up to three years) process of security and background checks that include investigations by the National Counterterrorism Center, the Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the State Department.  Governor Snyder and the other Republican governors’ knee-jerk reactions play into the terrorists’ plan – to create fear and divisions.  An article at The Guardian succinctly expresses the conundrum:

The 26 US states that have refused to accept Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris attacks are playing political football – immigrants and immigration reform has already been a hot topic thrown back and forth between 2016 presidential hopefuls to demonstrate hardline positions on crime, terrorism and economic issues.

But the reversal of Michigan, where we are immigration attorneys, from trying to speed up the resettlement process to refusing refugees altogether is shocking and sends a very bleak message to the state’s residents – including the second-largest Arab American community in the country, which was looking forward to hosting them.

Republican governor Rick Snyder, a self-proclaimed “pro-immigration governor”, said Sunday that the state would not be accepting any Syrian refugees until the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fully reviewed its procedures. “Our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents,” he added…  Read more here

Posted in Dept of Homeland Security, Michigan, right-wing, security/terrorism, Syrian, Uncategorized, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Social Worker Extorts Families of Refugee Children

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 13, 2015


A social worker in Miami whose job it was to reunite unaccompanied Central American refugee children with their parents or legal guardians in the United States, was extorting the children’s families for extra payments, ranging from $200 to $1,500 each. The agency she worked with, HHCS in Miami, works under contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. When one mother tried to complain about the abuse the social worker told her she would label her an unfit mother and take her daughters back. An article in the Miami Herald has more:

As a newly hired employee for a Miami social service agency, Leslie Rubero Padilla’s job was to reunite unaccompanied refugee children with their parents or legal guardians in the United States.

She was supposed to charge the families only for transportation, such as airfare. But authorities say Rubero shook down more than a dozen of them by insisting they had to send her additional money or the reunification with their children would be delayed — or, worse, they would be deported back to their native country in Central America…

Rubero was hired as a social worker with HHCS in Miami in November 2014. The agency worked under contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services…

Rubero…was assigned these duties, including contacting the parents or guardians in the United States and requiring them to pay for transportation as well as an escort if a child was under 14.

“The parent or legal guardian is not required to make any other payments to the social services agencies that contract with the ORR [Office of Refugee Resettlement],” according to a statement signed by Rubero with her plea agreement.

But between November of last year and March of this year, Rubero squeezed the children’s families for extra payments beyond transportation or escort costs, ranging from $200 to $1,500 each.

“The defendant told the parents or legal guardians that they needed to send this money to her or the UAC [Unaccompanied Alien Children] would be placed in a different process and that in this process it might take longer for the UAC to be reunited with the parent or guardian,” Rubero’s statement said… Read more here

Posted in children, Miami, Salvadoran, scams, unaccompanied minors | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Delivering the Basics in the US Resettlement Program – St. Cloud, Minnesota

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 12, 2015

report_An Office of Admissions (US Department of State) inspection report received through a Freedom of Information Act request for Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota (LSS-MN) shows problems refugees in St. Cloud have had trying to access the fairly minimal minimum-required services and items of the resettlement program.  In summer of 2012 office of Admissions monitors found, from a sample of just four refugee cases, that the resettlement agency had not given refugees a variety of items the refugees needed for starting a new life: clothes, beds, towels, and cleaning supplies. Refugees reported that they had trouble getting interpretation and that LSS-MN had not shown them how to use the bus system.  Casefiles showed that second home visits had in four cases occurred beyond the 30-day timeframe.  Monitors also discovered that while case files recorded that LSS-MN had given refugees required items such as a table and clothing storage items when they first arrived 2-4 months earlier, in fact, the agency had delivered the items to the refugees in the days just before the inspection (fabrication of written records – contract fraud):

“Three refugee families visited had received additional required clothing storage in the days preceding the monitors’ visit, and one refugee had also received a table during that time. Supply checklists in the files indicated the items were provided upon arrival…” Read more here

Posted in beds, clothes, furnishings, lack of, language interpretation/translation, lack of, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, Office of Admissions, St. Cloud | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Second Tragic Van Crash in Three Years for Refugees in Jacksonville, Florida

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 2, 2015

vancrashIt’s been three years since word of the last passenger van rollover crash involving refugees. In October 2012 there was a van crash outside Jacksonville, Florida.  In that case a car driving the wrong way on Interstate 10 in Baker County struck a van carrying refugees resettled by World Relief who were on the return leg of a 190-mile round-trip to jobs at a chicken processing plant; two refugees were killed and seven injured. Last Friday, almost three years to the day, 17 refugee workers resettled by World Relief in Jacksonville, and traveling in a passenger van to their jobs at the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant in Suwannee County, were involved in another crash that overturned the vehicle, ejecting multiple unsecured passengers. The 2006 Ford E-350 van, carrying 17, is designed to carry at most 15 passengers.  There has been a series of passenger van rollover accidents involving refugees.  One man has since 2008 advised groups to get rid of all 12-passenger and 15-passenger vans, and replace them with 7-passenger mini vans or school buses, which have a much lower rollover propensity at higher occupant loads.  Articles and video news reports about this recent rollover are found at Action News Jax:

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Fla. — Thirteen people are in the hospital after a three-vehicle crash in Columbia County on Friday afternoon. Two of those people are in critical condition.

The crash backed up Interstate 75 northbound…

The Florida Highway Patrol said Pah Kyar was driving a van that was carrying at least 17 foreign workers to their jobs at the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant in Suwannee County.

According to an FHP report, Kyar was traveling northbound in the center lane of I-75. A Ford F350 truck was in front of a Toyota 4-Runner that were both traveling in the inside lane also heading northbound. FHP says Kyar slowed rapidly in the van and attempted to move to the center median….the 4-Runner was unable to avoid Kyar’s rapid deceleration and lane change. The front end of the 4-Runner struck the rear of the van driven by Kyar sending the van into the median. The van overturned and multiple unsecured passengers were ejected, the report says. Kyar was cited for an improper lane change and was not injured in the crash.

“Due to the fact that there were ejections and it sounds like there was multiple people in the vehicle – upwards to possibly 17 – we’re thinking obviously that there were many not wearing seatbelts,” said FHP Sgt. Tracy Pace.

Action News Jax checked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website and found the 2006 Ford E-350 driven by Kyar is designed to carry a maximum of 15 passengers.

Pace said the workers are from Myanmar and Nepal.

Ten people in the van were driven to the hospital. Three more were airlifted… Read more here


COLUMBIA COUNTY, Fla. — The Wah family is just one of the families recovering from a crash that happened on Interstate 75 in Columbia County on Friday.

The Florida Highway Patrol said 17 people were in the van when it crashed with another vehicle and a tow truck.

World Relief in Jacksonville said those in the van were all refugees and were headed to work at Pilgrim’s Pride…
Pilgrim’s Pride said the van that was involved in the crash was not theirs. Koirala said the van is what the refugees personally used to carpool to work.

World Relief said there was a fatal crash back in 2012 when refugees were returning home from work at Pilgrim’s Pride… Read more here

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, Jacksonville, meatpacking industry, Nepali Bhutanese, passenger van roll-over, poultry production, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Banning Martian Refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 28, 2015

ban martians 1

A THREAT to American values.

Pickens County Council in S. Carolina has cast a unanimous resolution prohibiting Syrian refugees from being resettled in the county. The director of the Spartanburg SC branch of World Relief Rev. Jason Lee describes the Council’s actions as “mind-boggling”, and that “[they] can pass resolutions for Martians not to come too, because they’re not coming either.” World Relief has been resettling refugees in Spartanburg and Greenville counties, not Pickens County. Angry conservative tea party activists have spent a lot of energy sounding the alarm bells about Syrian refugees in Pickens County, where no one is resettling them. One zany activist stood before members of the Pickens County Republican Party at a meeting at Liberty Auditorium and warned the hushed crowd of about 40, breathless in anticipation, that the refugee program is part of a “CONSPIRACY orchestrated by insiders” in Washington, designed to create “a ONE-PARTY POLITICAL SYSTEM” and “enlarge a populace DEPENDENT on BIG GOVERNMENT!” She went on to charge up the crowd with panic and fear, telling attendees that the influx of “Muslims from the Middle East”, most of them men of “FIGHTING AGE”, is part of the Islamic State’s “STEALTH ATTACK” on “AMERICAN VALUES!” One almost envisions scary Middle East terrorists whipping and abusing little frightened and defenseless American values, cringing in fear. Meanwhile refugees resettled, clear over in Spartanburg county, are “persecuted Christians from the Congo and Burma. Four…from Iraq and the rest…from other African nations.” No plans for Syrian refugees being resettled there either. In fact, no one has resettled Syrian refugees at all in all of South Carolina. Nevertheless, Greenville County Councilman Joe Dill made the political pronouncement that he doesn’t like “the way” resettlement is being done, and insisted that a workshop be scheduled to answer all of his “questions.” Lee at World Relief said he invited the legislative delegations of both Greenville and Spartanburg counties to a meeting to discuss the issue, yet not one lawmaker showed up. Articles in the Greenville News by Ron Barnett attempt to explain the strange and bewildering tea party and Republican political goings on:

Members of the Pickens County Republican Party recently heard a chilling update on the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program at Liberty Auditorium….

Critics of the alarmist sentiment, however, say the meeting only serves to show how unfounded some of the fears are regarding a mass influx of immigrants that simply aren’t expected to come to Pickens County. The differing opinions on extreme opposite ends of the spectrum reveal an emotional tug-of-war that exists in the Upstate…

This week, a posting on the Pickens County News Facebook page warned: “Do you want these children of unvetted Syrians coming in to your child’s public school and sitting beside your child?… cause if one of these kids brings a real bomb clock into the classroom and your child gets blown up…whose fault is it?”…

The Rev. Keith Ray, pastor of Clemson United Methodist Church and a former member of the Greenville County School Board, said he’s concerned about “an unfounded panic” over refugees coming here.

“We don’t need meetings to create panic and fear based on our own prejudices,” he said. “Instead, understanding more about the plight of those who are having to be relocated would be most helpful…

The State Department, which oversees the program, paints a different picture…

All refugees who enter the United States are screened by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, the official said… Read more here


While those who oppose refugee resettlement here have been making their voices heard the loudest lately, there’s also a large contingent of people who support offering help to those seeking asylum, according to Lee, the World Relief official.

More than 40 pastors and others representing churches across the Upstate signed a letter of support, he said…

[Rev. Jason Lee, the director of the Spartanburg branch of World Relief] took issue with claims that the Syrians coming in are “unvetted.”

“There’s no such thing as an unvetted refugee that comes in, period,” he said.

It takes 18-24 months to go through a 13-step security and health screening process before they can be approved, he said.

He said he invited the legislative delegations of Greenville and Spartanburg counties to a meeting in June to discuss the issue, and not one Upstate lawmaker attended.

“There’s a lot of political motivation in this and that’s unfortunate, because we’re driven by Christian charity,” he said…

Miji Bell, a spokesman for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the only other organization in the state approved to resettle refugees, said no Syrians have been relocated here. Read more here

Posted in faith-based, right-wing, South Carolina, Spartanburg, Syrian, World Relief, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


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