Friends of Refugees

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Archive for the ‘Amarillo’ Category

FACT CHECK: GOP politician authors bill to stop resettlement

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 15, 2015


US Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, has introduced the Resettlement Accountability National Security Act (HR 3314), which would require an “immediate suspension [of the US] refugee resettlement program, until the Government Accountability Office (GAO) completes a thorough examination of its costs on federal, state and local governments.” The bill targeting refugees resettled legally in the US apparently reveals a larger anti-immigration stance for Babin, who over the years has only cited stopping illegal immigration as one of his main priorities. “…[Babin cited] immigration reform as the second biggest issue….[saying] that citizens across [his] district are tired of going to work every day, sweating to eek out a living and pay their bills, and then seeing illegals getting benefits from these hard working taxpayers, who get none.” (See the Immigration Chronicles blog that covered the 2014 Primary). Babin’s response appears designed only to appease an angry part of the electorate. There is no indication that he investigated the issue to determine if people’s assumptions were based in facts, or based on assumptions and ignorance. FACT: Only American citizens and some legal immigrants can get government assistance. Children of undocumented immigrants can get benefits if they are legal permanent residents or citizens (American-born children get automatic citizenship).

In an article and newscast covering Babin’s new bill, News Channel 10 in Amarillo, Texas claims that according to US government reports, a “surge” of nearly 500,000 refugees have come to the U.S. under the resettlement program since President Obama took office. Yet, looking at the raw data reveals that only 454,070 refugees have been admitted to the US since Obama took office, at an average yearly rate of 67,000. That compares to an average yearly rate of 81,145 for Pres. Reagan, 118,899 for Pres. Bush Sr., 99,202 for Pres. Clinton (see ORR Annual Reports to Congress FY1980-2004, and admissions totals at PRM Admissions Comparison Graph 2015, FY2005-2015). Under Pres. George W. Bush the annual rate bottomed out at 47,517 over eight years due to the 9-11 terrorist attacks and a necessity for a new rigorous background and security check system. This bottle-necked the refugee processing system for years, which still has not fully recovered. FACT: There hasn’t been a “surge” (a misapplied military term that the political Right uses) since the Pres. Bush Sr. administration — coming in at a yearly average of 118,899 refugees per year. Here is an excerpt from The News Channel 10 article:

Amarillo, TX – A bill to halt refugees resettling in the United States could substantially affect Amarillo taxpayers.

Amarillo has the highest number of refugees in the country per capita, and according to one Texas representative, if this number increases, taxpayers will feel the burden.

Since President Obama took office, government reports show nearly 500,000 new immigrants have come to the U.S. under the resettlement program…

Because of the surge, Texas U.S. Representative, Brian Babin, has introduced legislation that would halt the resettlement of United-Nations certified refugees in the U.S. pending a full evaluation on the program’s impact on the nation’s economy and national security… Read more here

Posted in Amarillo, Congress, legislation, Obama administration, right-wing, Texas | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

In Amarillo, requiring coordination with local officials, medical providers & employers

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 28, 2015

legislative_bill Due to apparent overloading of  Amarillo community institutions from refugee resettlement and secondary migration the area’s State Senator has now sponsored a bill that would require the state’s Health and Human Services Commission (which coordinates with HHS-ORR and the US State Department) to coordinate with local officials. The US State Department restricted resettlement in fall 2013, but family reunion cases and an apparent larger secondary migration kept new settlements climbing. If the unfilled job positions are there people will keep arriving. The new leader of Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle (formerly Catholic Family Service Inc.) claimed she found out about the problems with institutional overloading in 2011 from the larger community, the year she took over the agency; implying neither her staff nor her predecessor knew about this glaring concern in the community, or knew but did not tell her.

The bill would require the two local resettlement agencies (the other being Refugee Services of Texas) to “convene and conduct quarterly refugee placement consultations with state and local government and community stakeholders regarding proposed refugee placement; (b) obtain feedback on the proposed refugee placement from community stakeholders including but not limited to city, county, and state officials; local health care systems; local school districts; and local law enforcement agencies; and major employers of refugees; (c) consider all feedback obtained prior to releasing the annual proposed refugee placement report for the United States Department of State’s Reception and Placement (R&P) program; (d) develop a final refugee placement report for the national voluntary agencies and Health and Human Services Commission and include a summary of how stakeholder input contributed to the final request; and (e) inform all community stakeholders, as described in…(b), of the annual proposed refugee placement report.”

The bill’s sponsor, State Senator Kel Seliger, has, according to Wikipedia, served four terms in the nonpartisan position as mayor of Amarillo from 1993–2001. He is considered one of the most moderate of the twenty (as of 2015) Texas Senate Republicans…according to an analysis by Mark P. Jones of the political science department at Rice University in Houston. Seliger filed and sponsored over seventy-five bills, fifty of which passed in one form or another during the regular session of the 79th Legislature. (Seliger passed a bill requiring local law enforcement agencies to report to the state the reason for a peace officer’s termination to protect state law enforcement officers’ integrity – preventing those peace officers with a history of poor performance or unethical behavior from taking advantage of police departments that lack the resources to investigate their employment history. He also passed a bill ensuring that effective pipeline safety standards are in place for all construction work around oil and gas pipelines).

Oddly, federal regulations already require quarterly meetings, however HHS-ORR’s director may exempt states from the requirement (Title 45: Public Welfare, 45 C.F.R. PART 400—Refugee Resettlement Program, § 400.5 Content of the plan). The mayor claims that quarterly meetings haven’t happened in over 20 years. Senator Seliger’s bill has the support of some local officials, including Amarillo’s mayor, as well as the superintendent of schools. As of today’s date the bill has been placed on the Texas Senate’s intent calendar.

If, however, the bulk of the refugees coming in are from secondary migration – refugees arriving under their own volition from their primary resettlement sites, then I don’t see how this bill or any other would stop that. People have the constitutional right to live wherever they chose (freedom of movement), and the other arriving refugees, for reunification with family, have the same right. Its only in the case of “free” cases (no geographical connections) that resettlement agencies and the State Department can chose where to direct them. But the State Department already restricted that as of 2013, so this bill will do nothing to prevent people from arriving to fill local job vacancies. Growing companies add to the local tax base; they need more employees, who in turn add to the tax base with their earnings and spending. That money is what needs to be used wisely for increasing public services to meet demand, rather than just scapegoating refugees.  An article at KFDA ABC News Channel-10 explains current happenings:

Amarillo, TX – A new bill by a State Senator Kel Seliger …SB 1928 would allow local healthcare officials, school districts, and law enforcement to give feedback to the State Department about how many refugees our community can accept and reasonably deal with in the future. Under the bill, there would also be quarterly meetings on refugee placement with state and local officials – something Mayor Paul Harpole says hasn’t happened in over 20 years. The whole point of this bill is to get further input from people in the community rather than just the two resettlement agencies in Amarillo, Refugee Services of Texas and Catholic Family Charities… Many are in support of this new bill, including AISD’s superintendent Rod Schroder. “This is a good bill that will help the agencies who resettle refugees understand the issues and challenges our city faces,” said Schroder. He adds hopefully the city can play catch up with the refugees they have now… Read more here

Posted in Amarillo, Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle, legislation, moratorium / restriction / reduction, ORR, Refugee Services of Texas, school for refugee children, schools, secondary migration | 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 Services of Texas, school for refugee children, schools, secondary migration, Texas | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Refuge placements to Amarillo restricted

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 23, 2014


Last fall the State Department restricted new refugee placements to Amarillo in fiscal year 2014 to family reunion cases after local government agencies reported being overloaded with newly resettled refugees and secondary migrants coming from other resettlement sites. Congressman Mac Thornberry brought State Department refugee resettlement office officials to Amarillo to meet with community leaders. Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle and Refugee Services of Texas are the local area resettlement agencies. They were asked three years ago to cut the number of resettled refugees (but apparently did not do so). Local government agencies complained that the schools were unable to handle the load of new refugee children and that the City’s 911 emergency phone system was struggling to deal with the many languages spoken. Refugees – largely from Myanmar (Burma), but also from Iraq and Iran – have been migrating to the city for the $14/hour meatpacking plant jobs, as well as to live near relatives. That “secondary migration” apparently continues, with the State Department only being able to cut the number of directly resettled refugees. An article in the Texas Tribune covers the story:

More international refugees were resettled in Texas in 2012 than in any other state, according to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. And one of the leading destinations is Amarillo, where members of Mr. Thawng’s church and other newcomers from places like Myanmar and Iraq often work in meatpacking plants.

Now local officials are worried that Amarillo’s refugee population is straining the city’s ability to respond to 911 callers who speak numerous languages and to help children learn English and adapt to a new culture.

We’ve raised some red flags and said this isn’t good for some entities in the city or for the refugees themselves,” said Mayor Paul Harpole.

Amarillo, the state’s 14th largest city, with 195,000 residents, receives a higher ratio of new refugees to the existing population than any other Texas city, according to 2007-12 State Department data from Representative Mac Thornberry, Republican of Clarendon. And the only Texas cities that receive a larger number of refugees than Amarillo (which received 480 in 2012) are also the state’s largest: Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.

But those numbers show only a refugee’s initial placement and do not account for secondary migration, Mr. Thornberry said. Many refugees who initially settle elsewhere relocate to Amarillo for jobs or to join family members.

The State Department decides how many refugees are resettled in an area, and states review those recommendations. Last fall, the department, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and refugee placement organizations agreed that for 2014, placements in Amarillo should be limited to family reunifications, Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the commission, said.

We cannot keep going at the rate we’ve been going,” Mr. Thornberry said… Read more here

An article at FOX KAMR has more:

…Over the last five calendar years, more than 2,700 refugees have resettled in Amarillo.  That represents roughly 1.3% of our current population…

Right now, the bulk of refugees coming to Amarillo are from Burma, followed by Iraq and Iran.

Refugees will always be welcome but, right now, the numbers are growing too quickly. Putting too many in one place and putting too much burden on the schools system or the police or fire, is not healthy for refugees or us.” Mayor Paul Hapole said.

There are two organizations that help refugees in the resettlement process:  Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle and Refugee Services of Texas.

They were both asked three years ago to reduce the number of refugees brought to Amarillo.  But, original resettlements are not the main problem.

Nancy Koons, the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle said.  “In addition to that we see a lot of secondary refugees that settle in other cities then choose to move to Amarillo because they have family here, they like the weather or they know that there’s employment.”

Despite the efforts to reduce the number of refugees brought into Amarillo, the population is still growing too fast.  That’s why congressman Mac Thornberry brought the state department to Amarillo to meet with community leaders.

“One of the things I hope we can accomplish is helping the state department understand that we’re not just dealing with the people they bring to Amarillo.  But, it’s the relatives and the secondary migration that we’re also dealing with and they’ve also got to take that into account.”  Thornberry said… Read more here

Posted in Amarillo, Burma/Myanmar, Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle, Catholic Family Service, Amarillo, children, Iranian, Iraqi, meatpacking industry, moratorium / restriction / reduction, Office of Admissions, Refugee Services of Texas, school for refugee children, schools, secondary migration | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Kansas bounty hunter wrongfully attacks former Lost Boy of Sudan in Amarillo

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 2, 2013


One of the former Lost Boys of Sudan now living in Amarillo, Texas has filed a negligence lawsuit against a Kansas bounty hunter claiming the man wrongfully targeted him and attacked without warning. Aguer Gak claims that Donald Ray Adams, without announcing his intentions or identifying himself as a bounty hunter, and without asking Gak his name or for any identification, Tased Gak, pepper sprayed him, Tased him again, and then shackled Gak in Amarillo on Nov. 17, 2012. Adams claimed he was searching for a bail jumper. In the state of Kansas becoming a licensed bounty hunter requires only completing a two-day course and paying $200. An article at has the details of the story:

An Amarillo man filed a negligence suit Wednesday against a Kansas bounty hunter, alleging the man wrongfully identified him as a bail jumper, Tasing and assaulting him in front of a north Amarillo motel last year.

The suit was filed in 320th District Court by Aguer Gak, a Sudanese immigrant who works at Tyson Fresh Meats, against Donald Ray Adams.

On Nov. 17, 2012, Adams, 66, approached Gak about 8:30 p.m. as Gak was talking on a cellphone near the Cowboy Motel, 3619. E. Amarillo Blvd., according to the suit and Amarillo police reports.

Without announcing his intentions or identifying himself as a bounty hunter, and without asking Gak his name or for any identification, Adams Tased Gak, then pepper sprayed him, then Tased him again, then shackled Gak,” the suit states. “The quick actions of an intervening Good Samaritan with a broom allowed Gak to escape Adams’ capture, with Gak fleeing for his life, still shackled with Adams’ restraints.”

During the melee, two other witnesses called 911 and one man told police the fracas sounded like someone was being killed…

One witness, Deng Awon Kon, told police Adams left in his pickup before police arrived. Kon said he followed Adams until he stopped near some police vehicles.

Adams, according to a police report, told officers Gak, 33, was a Kansas bail jumper he was attempting to apprehend, but one investigating officer determined Adams had attempted to capture the wrong man.

Officers said they later located Gak — who still was handcuffed and had two Taser probes buried in his arm — a few blocks from the motel. Officers transported him back to the motel, where he identified Adams as the man who attacked him, Amarillo police reports said.

A Potter County jury found Adams guilty of misdemeanor assault July 17, and a judge sentenced him to serve nine days in jail and ordered him to pay a $2,000 fine…

Gak’s Amarillo attorney, Vince Nowak, said he suffered injuries to his head and his arm during the incident… Read more here

Posted in Amarillo, police, safety, Sudanese | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

With schools overloaded Catholic Family Service in Amarillo to limit resettlement to “family reunification cases”

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 11, 2012

Catholic Family Service in Amarillo has decided to reduce new refugee resettlement numbers by half due to concerns of overload from the local school district, according to an article in the Amarillo Globe-News. Resettlement will now be limited to “family reunification cases” – refugees who are resettling to be reunified with local family members. (The article also gives various confusing numbers for the amount of money the State Department gives for initial resettlement needs (intended as seed money). As of last year the amount was $1800 per refugee, with $700 available for resettlement agency overhead, $900 minimum to each refugee, and $200 that resettlement agencies may redirect to the neediest refugees at the agency. The $1800 was supposedly increased this year, but no numbers yet available.)

Catholic Family Service has lowered the number of new refugees it helps settle in Amarillo to help school officials better handle unique needs posed by refugee children and help the organization meet budget cuts.

Roughly 800 to 900 of the 1,100 refugee students enrolled in Amarillo schools had little to no formal schooling when they arrived in the U.S., and that has created a major learning block, said Kevin Phillips, executive director of student performance for the Palo Duro High School cluster…

…Catholic Family Service, a nonprofit organization, is one of two groups that receives federal funds to help newly arrived refugees settle in Amarillo. Executive Director Nancy Koons said the organization has decided to take in no more than 200 arrivals per year, down from 400 in previous years. Koons said the arrivals will be limited to “family reunification cases.”…

…Koons said [Amarillo Independent School District] principals and school nurses have expressed concerns about the challenges posed by refugee children.

It seems like we were creating needs by bringing in too many refugees,” she said… Read more here

Posted in Amarillo, Catholic, Catholic Family Service, Amarillo, children, funding, R&P, schools, Somali Bantu | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Van Rollover Kills Three Refugees From Amarillo On Way to Cargill Jobs

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 31, 2011

A Chevrolet passenger van carrying 15 Somali refugees from Amarillo in the Texas panhandle to their jobs at Cargill in Plainview rolled over today, killing three people. There are seven others in critical condition. The van, supposedly owned by one of the workers, struck debris on the road, swerved, overcorrected and rolled as many as five times. According to authorities neither those killed nor those critically hurt were wearing seat belts. An article in the Plainview Daily Herald reports on this tragic incident, the fourth van rollover this year in which refugees died or endured serious injuries:

Twelve of the 15 people in a van headed from Amarillo to Plainview to work at Cargill on Friday afternoon were ejected in a one-vehicle rollover two miles south of Canyon on Interstate 27.

Three of them died.

Department of Public Safety officials said Amar Ashur, Omar Abdi Qadir and Abdirizak Addulle Mohamed, 24, all of Amarillo, were killed in the accident that occurred when the Chevrolet van in which they were riding hit debris on the road, swerved, overcorrected and rolled as many as five times. The van, driven by 28-year-old Ibrahim M. Iden of Amarillo, came to rest on its roof…

…Neither those killed nor those critically hurt were wearing seat belts, authorities said…

…The van was carrying 15 Somali workers from their homes in and around Amarillo to work the second shift at Cargill…

…Catholic Family Service estimated about 1,000 Somalis lived in Amarillo in 2008 and expected about 400 refugees to come to the city this year, many of them fleeing military conflict.

The van apparently belonged to one of the occupants… Read more here

There was another van rollover on November 19 near Rushmore, Minnesota. Earlier this year there were van rollover accidents involving refugees in central Georgia (and here) and northern Georgia. A passenger van rollover in 2009 in Arizona killed six.

These vans are not safe when used for the intended purpose of carrying 15 passengers, due to instability caused by the raised center of gravity. Even 12-passenger vans are suspect.

***UPDATE*** January 3, 2012 — 3 still in critical condition, passanger van was a 2003 Chevrolet Express.

Posted in Amarillo, Catholic Family Service, Amarillo, meatpacking industry, passenger van roll-over, Somali | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


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