Nancy 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