Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Flow of refugees to Illinois has steadily increased since 2006

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 16, 2013

chicago

Ephraim Assefa arrived in Chicago as an Ethiopian refugee almost eight years ago. Today he is the one helping refugees adapt to their new life in the United States, working as the case manager at the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago.

The Ethiopian association is one of the refugee resettlement agencies in Illinois, which are struggling under a triple burden as the number of refugees steadily climbs: large cuts in federal funding, a greater range of native languages among refugees and the recession

There are a lot of challenges,” Assefa said. “In terms of communications, refugees have a language barrier and secondly, because of a high level of education or the economic situation, getting employment is currently a challenge.”

Illinois has received about 23,220 refugees from 66 countries since 2000, and the flow has steadily increased since 2006, according to data of refugee arrivals in Illinois from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement… Read more here

The article talks about refugee resettlement agencies “struggling under a triple burden as the number of refugees steadily climbs: large cuts in federal funding, a greater range of native languages among refugees and the recession.” What large cuts – the cuts that may occur if Congress doesn’t address required spending cuts? That’s an if not a current fact.

While its true that refugees are speaking a greater range of languages now, that’s primarily the case for refugees from Africa and Burma/Myanmar. A caption for one of the article’s photos indicates that, “In fiscal year 2012, the top three countries of origin for refugees were Bhutan, Burma and Iraq, and these are expected to be the top three in fiscal year 2013 in the U.S and in Illinois.” Yet, Iraq and Bhutan produced refugees who mostly speak a single language. Arabic in the case of the Iraqis and Nepali in the case of the Nepali-Bhutanese. I think our refugee program got used to the large number of refugees that came from the former Soviet Union in the 1990’s, in which case there was not as much language variation, Russian being the language most of them were fluent in.

Illinois’ state refugee director Edwin Silverman claims that “the subsidies resettlement agencies provide refugees is the only financial resource for those who can’t find work. The recession means those who are looking for a job rely on these subsidies for a longer period than in the past, Silverman said.” Well no. The refugee resettlement grants derive from the US federal government and funds delineated directly for the refugees are merely passed through the resettlement agencies. Refugees also qualify for all public assistance – therefore the refugee resettlement grants are not the only financial resource.

Silverman also claims that, “in addition to providing resettlement service, the resettlement agencies have had to be in a constant process of fund-raising from the private sector, to assure that refugees can pay their rent and don’t go homeless.” I guess my question is why weren’t the resettlement agencies always doing that? There are many more needs that refugees have then just those that the federal government provides for financially with the seed money they gave to resettlement agencies. In the case of the national refugee resettlement agencies they are still almost completely subsidized by the US government.

Posted in Boise, Chicago, employment/jobs for refugees, Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago, funding, Illinois, IRC, language, professionals, RefugeeONE (formerly, Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries), World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Matching Grant monitoring findings – Heartland Alliance in Chicago

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 30, 2012

The said purpose of the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR’s) Matching Grant Program (MG) is to place refugee clients in jobs which will enable their household units to meet self-sufficiency within 120 to 180 days (in this case “self-sufficiency” is defined as not accessing public cash assistance, although the household units may use other forms of welfare, e.g. SNAP/food stamps, Section 8 housing assistance, etc.). The MG supposedly works to speed up the process of self-sufficiency by offering programs, support, and incentives to refugees, making the transition to self-sufficiency faster and easier. Its called “Matching Grant” because participating agencies (private contractors) agree to match the ORR grant with cash and in-kind contributions (goods and services) from the “community”. The ORR awards $2 for every $1 raised by the refugee resettlement agency from non-federal sources – including state and local support, United Way contributions, and in-kind support from other local and volunteer organizations – up to a maximum of $2,200 in federal funds per refugee. So, self-sufficiency is the goal, but what are the results?

The Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights refugee resettlement agency in Chicago is one of the contractors that the ORR monitored to assess how well resettlement agencies are helping refugees using the Matching Grant money. In the past Heartland Alliance’ use of US Department of State refugee grant money, as well as a human trafficking grant from the US Department of Justice, left much to be desired. Now, it seems that a ORR MG Program Analyst noted deficiencies in Heartland Alliance’s use of the MG program grant as well, according to a newly released 2005 inspection of the agency:

Case Notes – …The reviewer found little detail of services being provided, particularly in cases where clients did not become self-sufficient…

Asylee Payments – Some asylee cases were found to be missing required monthly payments…

Housing Provision – ORR observed a number of cases [where] full rental payments were not provided for the required time period, although needed. This forced clients to supplement the rent payments with their MG cash…

Job Development – The reviewer found little evidence of true job developments on the part of [Heartland Alliance]. The program employment outcomes appear to be the result of fairly intense case management coupled with relatively independent clients who find their own jobs. In cases where clients have a family or a strong community base to assist in the employment search, this system seems adequate in assisting clients to become self-sufficient. However, few to no modifications to that procedure were evident in dealing with free cases [refugees with no local family or ethnic community support] that do not have a strong community base to assist, or other instances where such assistance is necessary. Such sub-par employment services were particularly evident in low English level refugee clients. The [Heartland Alliance] employment rate for CY2004 was 50%. USCRI national average for CY2004 was 85%; the national MG average was 72%… Read more here

This last figure seems to point to a problem at Heartland Alliance and not MG Program weaknesses. Yet, it also shows how dependent government inspectors are on contractors’ own written records in assessing compliance with government grants. Aside from the problems noted, what comes to mind is to what degree the contractor’s written records match refugee clients’ reports about services received, however, the inspection report shows no comments from the clients (as opposed to the State Department’s reviews of refugee resettlement grantees).

Nevertheless, though the national average for refugee employment in the MG program was 82% that year, Heartland Alliance’s refugee clients in MG only achieved a 50% employment rate. Much of that 50% appears to have been refugees finding employment on their own or with the help of family or community.

Posted in asylees, Chicago, economic self-sufficiency, employment services, employment/jobs for refugees, Heartland Alliance, Matching Grant program, ORR | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Unemployed? No Credit History? Credit Ruined By Resettlement Agency? Sorry, No Job For You

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 18, 2012

Refugees who either have no credit history yet or whom resettlement agencies ruined their credit by reporting them to credit bureaus for unpaid travel loans can find it difficult to find jobs. That’s because employers practice credit history discrimination, and Chicago’s City Council is now taking a look at this practice. A lawyer with the Illinois attorney general’s office told the council’s Human Relations Committee that a troubled credit history has no relationship to poor job performance or theft on the job. Employers can also refuse to hire people for being unemployed – no questions asked. An article in the Chicago Tribune discusses a City Council proposal to prevent this sort of discrimination:

Rejecting Chicago job applicants because of credit history would be banned in most cases under a proposal a City Council committee endorsed Thursday…

…Under the city measure, applicants who believe they have been wronged can take the less costly and simpler route of filing a complaint with the city Human Relations Commission.

The proposal, put forward by freshman Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th, also would ban employment ads that say the unemployed cannot apply.

“People have been discriminated against simply on the basis of credit history or for simply being unemployed, and as a result, qualified applicants are being denied jobs,” Pawar said. “Every job seeker, regardless of their credit history, deserves a fair shake.

“And this kind of discrimination has profound impacts on seniors, single-income households, immigrants, refugees and parents re-entering the workforce and finally veterans,” he said…

…A union representative, an employment coordinator for a human rights group and a lawyer with the Illinois attorney general’s office all told the council’s Human Relations Committee that a troubled credit history has no relationship to poor job performance or theft on the job.

The officials also cited studies that indicate about a third of credit reports contain errors… Read more here

***UPDATE*** – Feb. 24, 2012 – Shelly Banjo writing for the Wall Street Journal reports that more than a dozen states are considering making it illegal for companies to discriminate against the unemployed:

“More than a dozen states are considering legislation to make it illegal for companies to discriminate against the unemployed. State lawmakers say they see the bias turning up in a nation with an 8.3% unemployment rate: Companies that explicitly advertise that they won’t hire someone who isn’t currently employed. The proposals from Connecticut to California range in scope from banning advertisements that require current employment to allowing unsuccessful job candidates to sue businesses under the same discrimination laws that apply to bias on the basis of religion, race, gender or national origin…” Read more here

Posted in Chicago, economic self-sufficiency, employment abuses, employment/jobs for refugees, Travel Loan Program | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees’ time of vulnerability seen as “a perfect storm” of opportunity to those bent on their conversion

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 8, 2011

A suburban Chicago church, the Wheaton Bible Church, partnering with the World Relief refugee resettlement contractor has found a “window” in their efforts to convert Muslims to Christianity. They term this conversion strategy “immigration engagement theology” and are implementing it via their MOVE Initiative. So committed are they to converting the refugees, several staff and church members have moved into the Wheaton apartment complex where World Relief placed 15 Iraqi families, claiming they want to foster deeper relationships with the refugees. The story is found in the September 2011 issue of Christianity Today:

Shortly after our son Paul graduated from high school this spring, we put him on a plane with seven other students for a two-week trip to France and Italy. Their trek, led by four adults, was a small piece of Wheaton Bible Church’s (WBC) MOVE Initiative, a relatively nascent project defined by its mission and ministry to Muslims both in suburban Chicago and abroad…

…Locally, the MOVE Initiative reaches out to about 15 Iraqi families in a nearby apartment complex through a partnership with World Relief. Several staff and church members have moved into the complex to foster deeper relationships, which typically begin with relatively simple tasks when the refugees arrive: picking them up at the airport, stocking their fridges, running errands, and meeting other practical needs involved in resettlement.

“We’re just meeting needs and building relationships,” says local-impact pastor Chris McElwee. “They’re not strangers to us. They know us and trust us, and they’re interested in spiritual things.” At least a couple of the Iraqi men have been visiting WBC in recent months, attending worship services (with their Arabic/English Bibles in hand) and taking part in a discussion group.

Our new MOVE missionaries, who recently arrived in France, will take essentially the same approach: helping refugees resettle, meeting needs, and building relationships. The hope is that as the friendships grow, so will opportunities to share the gospel…

…Greater Europe Mission president Henry Deneen says the relatively recent influx of Muslims to Europe has affected his ministry’s overall strategy. It still reaches out to native Europeans, but “there’s a window of time here, especially with all the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, that immigrants are flooding into Europe.

“Several European governments—particularly France, Germany, and the UK—are saying that the experiment of multiculturalism … has failed,” he says. “So you have a perfect storm—immigrants flooding in, and governments saying it’s not working. We’re saying, what a great place for the Lord Jesus to be.”

Thus, Wheaton Bible’s efforts to reach out to Muslims in France. Says Bugh, “It’s all part of a larger immigration engagement theology that’s worked for us.” Read more here

Posted in Chicago, churches, converting refugees, evangelical, faith-based, Iraqi, Islamic, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Refugees vote for resettlement locations with their feet

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 18, 2011

While the State Department and their private resettlement agency partners continue to resettle refugees to large urban environments – many in dangerous neighborhoods with expensive, roachy apartments and poor schools – refugees continue to out-migrate. Lynn, Massachusetts and Chicago’s north and northwest suburbs are two areas seeing fairly heavy secondary migration (Lynn is also a primary refugee resettlement site). NPR’s WBUR has the details about Lynn.

LYNN, Mass. — With ts cheaper rentals and abundance of public housing, the city of Lynn has become a magnet for families displaced by an ailing economy. This includes a growing number of immigrants — many of whom are refugees seeking a better life…

…the population has grown by almost a third. The city has become a popular destination because of its access to public assistance programs and to public housing.

Lynn is also one of the few cities in Massachusetts where the United Nations High Commission for Refugees relocates people from all over the world. Families who have endured war and famine come from countries as far away as Sudan, Bhutan and Iraq… Read more here

Chicago Public Media WBEZ explains the situation in the Chicago area. Although Chicago’s suburbs are home to established Iraqi populations, resettlement agencies like Heartland Alliance and RefugeeONE continue to resettle Iraqis into the intercity away from their already established relatives:

The Uptown neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side is an established hub for refugee resettlement. There are many agencies there, and refugees opt to live nearby. But recently more refugees bypass Chicago altogether and head to the north and northwest suburbs instead. Those communities are discovering these new populations in their schools, and suburban educators are having to adjust to meet the unique needs of their newest arrivals…

WANGERIN: We were seeing fewer and fewer Iraqis actually come to our office and avail of our services.

Greg Wangerin is with RefugeeONE, in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. He started to notice the difference in 2007, when the number of Iraqi refugees spiked. Now, Iraqis are the largest group of refugees coming to the Chicago area.

WANGERIN: We began to examine why, and we noticed that this was the circumstance, again because they were coming to reunite with relatives up in that area.

Chicago’s suburbs are home to established Iraqi populations. They came as a result of the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s, and Operation Desert Storm in the 90s. Wangerin says there are other reasons Iraqi refugees are heading to suburbs… Read more here

Posted in Boston, Chicago, dangerous neighborhoods, Heartland Alliance, Iraqi, RefugeeONE (formerly, Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries), RefugeeONE (formerly, Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries), school for refugee children, schools, secondary migration, refugee, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

First-ever resource center to support the resettlement of LGBT refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 16, 2011

The ORR is giving the Heartland Alliance agency in Chicago a $250,000 grant to create a training and technical assistance center that will support US resettlement agencies that resettle LGBT refugees. A Windy City Times article has more information:

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), a division of ACF, has awarded a $250,000 contract to the Heartland Alliance of Chicago to create this training and technical assistance center, according to a press release from the alliance…

…The focus of this initiative will be to provide:

Resource and capacity development in key resettlement locations;

Sensitivity training to network staff, including overview of key issue regarding newly arriving LGBT refugees;

Technical assistance in service delivery; and

Development of best practices and orientation materials for refugee service providers across the country.

“As many of these refugees left their homelands specifically because of persecution related to their LGBT status, it is particularly incumbent on us to provide a safe and welcoming environment,” [ACF Acting Assistant Secretary David A.] Hansell added.

“The current resettlement network has limited understanding of the LGBT community,” said ORR Director Eskinder Negash. “In addition, no information exists in the context of available resource materials specifically for LGBT refugees. The need for these services is critical to ensure their successful resettlement in the U.S… Read more here

It’s obvious that the State Department’s and ORR’s national network of private resettlement agencies are often anything but sensitive to LGBTI refugees, as seen in Houston last year. Regular incidents include fundamental violation of human rights, with government partners who then act to protect the agencies from any real accountability. The problem I have with this grant is that the Heartland Alliance agency in Chicago has somewhat of a checkered history itself when it comes to basic violations of refugee clients’ most basic needs and rights – as I saw for myself beginning in 2001.

Posted in Chicago, funding, Heartland Alliance, LGBT refugees, ORR | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Chicago’s RefugeeONE (formerly known as Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries)

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 10, 2011

Greg Wangerin, Executive Director of RefugeeONE (fka IRIM)

The Gapers Block -- a Chicago-centric web publication – has an article reporting about refugee clients of the refugee resettlement agency RefugeeONE (formerly known as Interfaith Refugee and
Immigration Ministries, and InterChurch Refugee and Immigration Ministries), an affiliate of CWS, EMM and LIRS.
An audio interview details the abuses the couple suffered in Sierra Leone. When the US government resettled them to Chicago the woman shoveled snow into garbage bags and put them into the dumpster because she didn’t know what else to do with it.  An elderly Somali man arrived and told her, “just push it to the side.”

But what about this resettlement agency? It turns out that they recently rebranded themselves as RefugeeONE, after long being known as Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries (IRIM). Why the name change? Sometimes I worry that these agencies think they can rid themselves of past errors and weaknesses (wrongdoings?) by essentially becoming a completely different agency, in the public’s mind at least, via a name change.

So what is in the agency’s past? It turns out we have an old State Department monitoring report of IRIM, when the agency was under the directorship of someone named May Campbell. This is the most recent available inspection report (which tells me that they are just about ready for another once-in-ten-years inspection, or the Admissions Office has been illegally holding back reports from our FOIA’s. It’s either one or the other.)

Let’s see — 1) Placed a refugee in an apartment with a leaking bathroom ceiling and a broken door lock, and another in an apartment with a “water problem” (normal for Chicago low-income apartments after all), 2) left a refugee family, including an elderly woman, to sleep on the floor of their apartment for almost five months (until the day before the pre-announced monitoring visit – funny how that works). It turned out that the eleventh-hour delivery of beds (two single beds for four people) was the only home visit the case worker did (supposed to be done within 30 days, not at 4.5 months), 3) apparently didn’t bother to give another refugee family any chairs or couch, lamp, or a bed for their one-year-old child — just a dresser, three tables, and a double-bed (???), 4) no table or lamp for another family. [Check out so-called “minimum-requirements” in Operational Guidance to see why this is cheating the refugees and the taxpayers], 5) staff were not meeting with refugee families to make sure that they were giving them basic services and meeting their essential needs.

The refugee family that was sleeping on the floor of their apartment also reported that their employer was taking advantage of them by requiring them to make up bathroom break times at the end of the day. Apparently IRIM (now RefugeeONE) did nothing to help these refugees with this blatantly unfair treatment. No doubt the excuse would be that the agency “didn’t know about it” (yet aren’t these contractors paid to know what’s happening to their refugee clients? If the only people watching over these refugees in their first several months don’t know what’s going on then who would? No one.) Apparently the refugee clients also reported that the agency had not told them what to do — via required community/cultural orientation — in the event that they experienced unfair, exploitive or illegal labor practices. By the way when I made a trip back to Chicago in 2001 some Lost Boys of Sudan” refugee clients of the Heartland Alliance agency told me that coworkers at an O’hare airport baggage handling company where they worked where screaming at them and physically threatening them. They said they told their Heartland Alliance case workers but nothing happened. Things just seem to keep happening when government monitors are away — for 10 years at a time.

On a last note, in 2009 journalists at the Chicago Tribune quote RefugeeONE’s current director, Greg Wangerin, saying,”I’m ashamed. I feel like I’m selling a lie”, in reference to all the problems in refugee resettlement during the recession. Here’s my question: Do these private refugee resettlement agencies ever look to themselves when pointing the finger of responsibility?

Posted in Baptist, beds, Chicago, Christian, community/cultural orientation, CWS, employment abuses, Episcopal, faith-based, furnishings, lack of, home visits, housing, housing, substandard, Lutheran, Operational Guidance, RefugeeONE (formerly, Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries), RefugeeONE (formerly, Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries), RefugeeONE (formerly, Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries), Sierra Leonean, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

ECDC’s Ethiopian Community Association in Chicago shortchanging refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 16, 2010

It appears that ECDC’s Ethiopian Community Association in Chicago has now been added to the list of refugee resettlement agency contractors that sign federal contracts to give minimum services and material items to refugees, in exchange for federal money, and then don’t bother to do so. (here).

Tulasa Biswa, 30, a refugee from Bhutan who arrived 13 months ago with her husband and 4-year-old son, reports the following:

Ms. Biswa recalled her family’s arrival in Chicago in February 2009, the coldest winter in more than a decade. No one in the family had a proper coat, and it was the first time they had seen snow. When they entered their Rogers Park apartment, set up by the Ethiopian Community Association, it had only kitchenware and a single bed. Twice a day for the next two months, she and her husband went out looking for furniture left out for trash collection.

“We didn’t have money, and we had an empty house,” Ms. Biswa said.

Okay, so let’s check the State Department refugee contract minimum requirements again, which ECDC signed. In the Operational Guidance to Resettlement Agencies (here) it still seems to list some minimal items that this family should have received, so that they wouldn’t have to go garbage picking, and could instead focus on searching for employment to become self-sufficient.

Ed Silverman (he is the Illinois state refugee coordinator who sat by as the Lost Boys of Sudan refugees were brutalized in Chicago in 2000-2002, here), who directs the Illinois Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Services, then has the audacity to claim this:

What was once a public and private partnership has become increasingly private.

Okay, so how much private funding does the Ethiopian Community Association contribute to refugee resettlement in Chicago? Their form 990 for 2008 reports that they received 64% of their funding from the government. So the public/private partnership is “increasingly” private but still mostly public? Okaaaaay. The 990’s also show that in 2007 they got 73% of their funding from the government (here), and in 2006 69% (here).

Then this:

The resettlement agencies got some relief in January when the United States State Department increased a one-time stipend for food, clothing and shelter to between $900 and $1,100 from $450. But the money is allotted for individuals and cannot be applied to services like the sewing class.

But what is not mentioned is that they actually get $1800 per refugee, and can spend the entire $1800 on each refugee. They can use $700 per capita of it on overhead, but they don’t have to. Instead, they can use private funding for overhead — and yet they don’t. Hmmm.

And what about all the federal money they get from HHS’s ORR for refugees? Oops, they forgot to mention that again.

Posted in beds, Chicago, ECDC, Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago, funding, government, HHS, Illinois, neglect, Nepali Bhutanese, Operational Guidance, ORR, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Continuing repercussions from World Relief’s new hiring policy

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 29, 2010

World Relief’s new hiring policy banning non-evangelical Christians has triggered an exodus of World Relief Chicago staff members, who have denounced the policy as religious discrimination (here).

See our previous posts on this issue (here, here, here and here).

The former director of the Chicago office of World Relief, a global evangelical Christian charity that receives federal funds to resettle refugees, said she was forced out in January because she disagreed with how the policy was implemented. …


….”As a Christian, I feel it is my duty to advocate for the most vulnerable,” said former legal specialist Trisha Teofilo, who also left because of the policy. “I believe Jesus would not promote a policy of discrimination.”
President Barack Obama faces pressure to reverse former President George W. Bush‘s executive order enforcing the right of organizations to receive federal funds while hiring based on faith. On the campaign trail, Obama recommended halting government contracts with groups that proselytize to clients or hire only members of a certain faith.

The hiring policy comes as

Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the hiring policy is legal. But opponents, including current and former employees, say it is hypocritical for an agency to discriminate when its mission is settling refugees — many of whom have fled religious intolerance in their home countries.

“It’s legal, but it’s ridiculously wrong and un-Christian,” said Delia Seeburg, the director of immigrant legal services in World Relief’s Chicago office. She plans to leave for a new job next month.

World Relief, an arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, said the policy simply establishes a routine that has been in place for years.

The hiring policy is legal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but that doesn’t mean that religious organizations that discriminate against refugee services workers based on religion are the right agencies for the U.S. refugee resettlement program. President George W. Bush enacted two executive orders that made it easier for faith-based groups to take part in federal programs.

Executive Order 13198 created a Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at HHS in order to identify and eliminate regulatory, contracting, and other programmatic obstacles to the equal participation of faith-based and community organizations in the provision of social services by HHS (Federal Register, January 31, 2001).

Executive Order 13279 charged HHS to give equal treatment to faith-based and community groups that apply for funds to meet social needs in America’s communities. This Executive Order was designed to ensure that no organization is discriminated against based on religion, and that federally funded social services are available to all regardless of religion (Federal Register, December 16, 2002).

In addition, World Relief’s new discriminatory hiring policy has led to refugees losing an important local mental-health services program.

The agency also has dismantled mental health services for refugees in Chicago after losing staff and funding because of the hiring rule, officials said. …

….Because a selective hiring policy could conflict with professional guidelines for social workers and clinical psychologists, the mental health unit was forced to close and refer its clients elsewhere.

Furthermore, World Relief is also now losing important private sources of funding as a result of this discriminatory hiring policy — a problem in the refugee resettlement program where private resettlement agencies must add significant private funding to most of the funding that comes from the federal government, also known as the “public/private partnership”.

But some foundations have declined to renew grants for World Relief based on the hiring policy.

Nikki Will Stein, executive director of Polk Bros. Foundation, said that as long as the policy is in effect, the foundation will not consider applications from World Relief.

“We live in a multicultural, multireligious world,” she said. “We were very surprised with the specificity of the document. … People should be free to believe what they believe as long as they’re doing their job.”

President Obama’s stance on this issue during the 2008 election was that he did not belive that organizations that discriminate based on religion should receive federal funds, but he is now reviewing the legal ramifications.

Since suggesting that federal funds be held back from organizations that discriminate based on religion, Obama has referred the matter of religious hiring to the Department of Justice.

A current World Relief Chicago employee also worries about what might go on behind closed doors, his implication being that groups that are so wedded to their personal religious beliefs irrespective of our Constitution, laws, and regulations may not be playing by the rules when the doors are shut.

Translators, counselors and legal aid providers help refugees navigate their new world, including emergency rooms, banks, real estate and employment, putting World Relief workers in a unique position of power.

“I really feel for the refugee clients who have no choice,” [another employee] said. “If they are victims of religious persecution and they’re being resettled through an agency staffed by all Christians who may or may not understand their plight, I think that is unjust.”

Yet, the Rev. Brad Morris, an interim director for World Relief Chicago, brought in from Nashville, Tenn., after Embling’s departure, claims that this is about religious freedom.

[Rev. Morris] said the hiring policy has nothing to do with the services provided and that he doesn’t see a conflict.

“I don’t believe it’s discrimination. It’s an internal hiring policy,” he said. “Corporations want to hire people who are in line with who they are and what they stand for. One of the reasons I came to work with World Relief was it was a Christian organization to begin with.”

But World Relief is free to pursue its religious beliefs and pursue good works for the public without having to take part in national programs that are inherently multi-ethnic and multi-religious. The issue here is groups’ participation in our government programs and who use our tax money. Does it make sense for participating groups to discriminate against the very groups of people they are resettling here as refugees?

For example, Iraqi SIV immigrants are a new source of Arabic interpreters for whom we have a shortage in this country. How would World Relief or other religious groups that chose to discriminate be able to serve their Arabic-speaking refugee clients without these interpreters? Is it okay that we just resettle refugees without essential services?

I think its clear that President Obama needs to repeal the ill-advised Bush Administration executive orders that have helped this situation to occur — Executive Orders 13198 and 13279. Please contact the White House via their email form and ask the President to repeal these orders (here).

Posted in Christian, discrimination in hiring, evangelical, funding, Illinois, Islamic, religion, volunteers, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

President Obama requests an 18.5% increase in FY 2011 funding for the ORR

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 12, 2010

President Obama’s budget request for (FY) 2011 calls for an 18.5% increase (above the FY10 enacted level) in refugee funding via the Refugee and Entrant Assistance account  for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. This account funds the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) (here). Scroll down to page 34 and see REFUGEE AND ENTRANT ASSISTANCE.

This budget increase, if approved by Congress, would be paid for by a proportional decrease in other HHS funding, to abide by the spending freeze the President announced last month for discretionary spending (not entitlement program spending) for (FY) 2011.

Congressman Dingell and some other Congressmen put out a letter in support of Obama’s budget request for the ORR (see here). Joining Dingell were Peters (MI), Berman (CA), Clarke (NY), Conyers (MI), Ellison (MN), Grijalva (AZ), Hastings (FL), Levin (MI), Moore (WI), Pingree (ME), Rangel (NY), Rush (IL), and Schakowsky (IL). I notice that they claim that ORR needs a larger budget to increase funding for things like refugee cash assistance, claiming that refugees need this to pay for groceries. Yet that is already covered by food stamps.

We support an increase for refugee cash assistance to refugees, so that refugees can afford safe and sanitary apartments for their first eight months while they are attempting to become reestablished here and become self-sufficient. Any increase for other forms of funding that the ORR provides to refugee resettlement agencies and other local agencies (including local and state government agencies), however, should come with the stipulation that the ORR will adequately oversee the use of these funds.

As it stands, refugees in many places around the country are currently receiving extremely low-quality job placement services and English training. State refugee coordinators in turn do their best to cover up any of these inadequacies and even outright wrongdoing by resettlement agencies (they “defend” their states, and therefore their own job). When we report abuses to the ORR they simply send these to the state refugee coordinator in question — an obviously useless practice — and do nothing else. So pumping more money into a system like that will do little to help refugees.

(By the way, we experienced how Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky runs her office. We contacted her in 2002 when the Heartland Alliance refugee resettlement agency in Chicago — a USCRI affiliate — was abusing and neglecting the Chicago ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’ refugees.  Although claiming that she is “pro-refugee”, in fact, she is just “pro-refugee resettlement agency in her district”. A high up member of her staff was singularly rude on the telephone and made it clear that Schakowsky was there to defend Heartland Alliance, not the refugees. It seems that the closer to home wrongdoing is, the harder it is to acknowledge and face.)

See also the President’s request for the State Department’s budget for (FY) 2011 (here). Scroll down to page 21 and see UNITED STATES EMERGENCY REFUGEE AND MIGRATION ASSISTANCE FUND.

Posted in funding, Heartland Alliance, HHS, Obama administration, ORR | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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