Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

Somali-Bantu refugees in Maine farm to support themselves

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 29, 2013

farmbox

In Maine and around the country Somali-Bantu refugees are learning to support themselves as farmers. There is now a whole resettlement movement focused on agriculture, with scores of programs around the country. In Maine backers of the local program claim the efforts help the refugees learn some English while improving their physical and mental health. The farming is also a source of economic self-sufficiency for the refugees – at least during the growing season in Maine. A radio report and article at Public Radio International explains:

…Somali Bantu refugees refuse to let the weeds overtake their hard-won fields near Maine’s second largest city. That they’ve come to embrace farming as exalted work is significant, given the ethnic minority’s history. Farming was about the last thing Somali Bantus expected to do after fleeing their country, which collapsed into civil war in 1991.

For 200 years, the Bantus had toiled as subsistence farmers along the fertile floodplains of the Juba Valley in Somalia, where they had been brought as slaves from Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi.

…[Refugees] flocked here from Atlanta, Dallas and Syracuse, drawn by affordable housing, good schools and, importantly, access to land. About 13,000 Somali Bantus were resettled from Kenyan refugee camps to the US by 2007. Now they farm and garden around the country, but perhaps nowhere as intensively as in Maine, where one of the greatest concentrations of Somalis — roughly 5,000 (about 1,500 Bantus) — has resettled in Lewiston housing projects and abandoned multiplexes…

Resettlement agencies gradually realized farming could help these otherwise low-skilled refugees (who didn’t know how to drive and lacked literacy even in their native dialects) learn some English while improving their physical and mental health. There’s now a whole resettlement movement focused on agriculture, with scores of programs around the country since the US Office of Refugee Resettlement started funding such efforts in 1998. In 2004, the USDA signed a joint memorandum to significantly fund these programs, though money for such beginning and socially-disadvantaged farmers lapsed when the Farm Bill expired last fall…

Maine’s New America Sustainable Agriculture Project, or NASAP, is a movement leader. Conceived in 2002, the project has helped nearly 100 recent immigrants (primarily Somali Bantu but also South Sudanese, Guatemalan and Mexican) grow from community gardeners into managers of a 30-acre incubator on a land trust-protected family farm.

The program broadened in 2009, when NASAP merged with the youth gardening non-profit Cultivating Community. The farmers, who collaboratively market as Fresh Start Farms, sold more than $150,000 of produce this season to 300 CSA (community supported agriculture) customers, at 20 Maine farmers’ markets and to several restaurants. As the first group of farmers — nine of them…graduate from the program this fall, they’ll still lease land together and receive technical and business support.

It’s really a great resource for people to be in a community of other farmers,” says NASAP director Daniel Ungier. “We try to be aware of the fact that sustainable agriculture is moving towards ‘interdependence.’ We don’t want to push them in the opposite direction by asking people to do it on their own.”… Read more here

Posted in community farms, economic self-sufficiency, Lewiston, Maine, secondary migration, refugee, Somali Bantu, women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lewiston welcomes refugees, Mayor doesn’t

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 12, 2012

Somali Bantu refugees in Maine have been adapting to what one former Lewiston mayor describes as the “whitest state in the nation.” Although the city’s community has been for the most part welcoming of the refugees, current Lewiston Mayor Bob McDonald claims the refugees have “cost the city a lot of money”, and “if you want to come in here…that’s fine…but…when you come here you accept OUR culture, and you leave your culture at the door” (this is the same genius — self-described as “tired and overly emotional” — who said that he wanted to make changes so that the city would be less attractive to layabouts and deadbeats, many of whom didn’t speak English).

It’s amazing how little the mayor understands what it was like for his first generation ancestors in America. A video at the BBC examines the refugee issue in Lewiston.

**UPDATE**Mayor gets reaction to bigoted remarks

Posted in Lewiston, Somali Bantu | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Changes to Maine law prevent lawful permanent residents access to Medicaid

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 30, 2011

**Clarification** — Refugees (they may apply to become Lawful Permanent Residents after one year in the US) are exempt from this new rule, although other Lawful Permanent Residents are not exempted (e.g. refugees’ family members who immigrate via family member status), except for pregnant women and children (those under age 21) . See January 5, 2012 Sun Journal article.

Changes to Maine law governing its Medicaid program (MaineCare), sold to voters by Gov. Paul LePage as a way to save money, are now preventing lawful permanent residents from access to Medicaid during their first 5 years (this does not affect refugees access to Medicaid during their first 8 months in the US). The changes also scapegoats, and singles out for exclusion, people waiting on decisions to their asylum applications. All of these people are poor, and many are elderly, disabled or frail, and have serious health care needs. An Op-ed in the Portland Press Herald details the case:

In October, about 500 legal immigrants, mostly living in Portland and Lewiston, lost their health insurance coverage, which had been provided through MaineCare.

The change in law affects lawful permanent residents who haven’t had that status for at least five years, as well as asylum seekers who have a pending application with the federal government.

Just like refugees, many of these folks have escaped atrocities in their own country or faced persecution based on their race, religion or political beliefs.

Now they are being singled out again…

…While the decision to eliminate health insurance coverage was sold as a way to save money by Gov. Paul LePage, that will not be the end result. 

This insensitive change in the law merely shifts and hides costs, while leaving 500 people in our communities at risk of reduced access to health care.

All of these individuals are poor, and many are elderly, disabled or frail. 

Many have serious health care needs, and in many cases, the community supports that do exist are unable to meet their serious health care needs when they become uninsured. 

The cost will fall back on the state either way…

But perhaps, even more distressing, the policy doesn’t really accomplish its stated goal, which is to reduce costs.

While the money to pay for MaineCare for 500 people is removed from the state budget, the need for medical care doesn’t disappear.

It is shifted onto communities and health care providers such as clinics and hospitals.

Instead of receiving assistance through MaineCare, which has cost controls and a focus on preventative care, they are forced to rely upon emergency rooms, where the cost of care is the highest… Read more here

and

…Many of the new immigrants in Maine fall into a category described as asylum seekers because they are individuals waiting for an asylum decision from the federal government. As a result of new state laws, many of these individuals can no longer get help from the safety net programs administered by the state.

Being a person seeking asylum in a new country is already an uncertain time. It’s a time of limbo and people in this position may need some assistance from others until the immigration process grants the permits necessary to be able to get a paid job. It’s a time that calls for compassion… Read more here

Also see Maine Equal Justice Partners handout, here.

Posted in asylees, health, legislation, Maine | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert apparently misinformed

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 26, 2011

Larry Gilbert, the Mayor of Lewiston, Maine spoke about refugee resettlement at a Senate hearing on immigration reform today. He claimed, incorrectly, that federal refugee assistance cannot be redirected when refugees migrate to new locations (secondary migration). In fact it is transferable. Further, he claimed that the assistance is inadequate, apparently unaware that the State Department just last year doubled initial resettlement assistance to $1800 per refugee. An article in the Morning Sentinel has more:

WASHINGTON – Lewiston’s experience with an influx of Somali immigrants shows the economic energy they can bring, but also the need for the federal government to do more to help the new residents settle into their new life, says Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert.

Gilbert testified Tuesday at a Senate hearing on immigration reform, a session that mostly focused on the system for attracting and retaining high-skill foreign workers in fields such as computer sciences and engineering.

But Gilbert was one of three mayors from around the country invited to address the broader topic of the economic impact of legal immigrants on local communities…

…more support, some of it from the federal government, is needed to help the immigrants living in Lewiston in areas such as workforce training and learning English, Gilbert said.

Aid from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement is often available to help immigrants adjust to their new lives. However, the assistance is good for just eight months and does not follow an immigrant to a new city. If an immigrant starts receiving the assistance in, say, Atlanta, and then leaves that city after several months to live in Lewiston, the aid is cut off, Gilbert said.

This makes it harder for immigrants to find jobs and creates more of a hardship on the secondary migration city, Gilbert said.

The “inadequate federal funding associated with a refugee resettlement program simply does not meet the many needs of our refugee residents,” Gilbert said.

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Read more here

Posted in Congress, funding, Lewiston, secondary migration, refugee, Somali, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Catholic Charities Maine – dispelling misconceptions or creating them?

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 8, 2010

The chairman of the board of Catholic Charities Maine, Jack McCormack, has written an Op-ed piece to the Portland Press Herald to supposedly dispel some misconceptions about the local refugee resettlement program here.

Mr. McCormack claims that these misconceptions include that his group seeks out refugees to come to Maine, that the program takes money and social aid out of the hands of Mainers, and that refugees are here illegally.

RIS does not “bring” refugees into the United States or Maine. The U.S. State Department works with the United Nations to provide resettlement opportunities for refugees.

…The refugees that arrive in Maine are not illegal aliens, but rather people who have been persecuted in their countries of origin and are brought here by the federal government for their own safety.

The number of refugees that arrive in Maine is determined annually by RIS’ completion of a capacity survey that is approved by the State Department. The survey assesses the refugee populations who are already here, the housing market, the employment market, access to health care, languages spoken and available interpreters, staff to client ratios, etc.

As far as funding is concerned, RIS is financed by a number of grants, almost all of which are federal and are either allocated directly from Washington, D.C., or are funneled through Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

All of the federal grants that RIS currently receives are specific to meeting the needs of refugees being resettled in the United States and cannot be applied for by U.S. citizens or other immigrant groups. There is only one grant from a local agency, which represents 1 percent of total funding.

He claims Catholic Charities Maine does not “bring” refugees to Maine, and that an annual State Department capacity survey determines the number of refugees who arrive in Maine each year. Yet, this is really trying to mislead the public into thinking that the federal government somehow forces refugees on Maine each year, when in fact Catholic Charities Maine essentially does bring the refugees to Maine. Catholic Charities Maine cannot have more refugees than the capacity survey determines his group can handle, but his group takes the largest number of refugees each year allowed by the survey. If his group doesn’t want that many refugeess they could just reduce capacity.

In addition, if not for Catholic Charities Maine’s participation in USCCB’s refugee refugee contract with the State Department, the refugees would be placed elsewhere. The program is entirely voluntary, hence the moniker “voluntary agencies”. Maine is not required to resettle refugees.

Then the legal immigrant vs. illegal alien issue. It strikes me as a red herring. Does the public really believe that refugees are illegal aliens? I doubt it.

What bothers me about these type of Op-ed’s is the implication that in order for us to get public support for the refugee program we must mislead them. It’s nice that Mr. McCormack takes credit for bringing federal dollars to Maine, but he also fails to mention the local costs of refugee resettlement. It’s inarguable that local counties pay salaries and other administrative expenses for state and federal aid programs that refugees use. Local school districts also have to teach refugee children basic English, with much of the costs footed by city and county property owners. Must the public be misinformed to get their support for the refugee program?

Posted in Catholic, Catholic Charities Maine, faith-based, funding, government, Maine, public/private partnership, State Department, USCCB | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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