Posts Tagged ‘resettlement’
Posted by Christopher Coen on March 16, 2014
The USCRI (U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants) has announced that its local refugee resettlement office will not close after all when its federal grant runs out. The leadership has instead chosen to keep the office open on a part-time basis. About 1,200 Burmese refugees – attracted to the area by meatpacking jobs – who now make Waterloo their home will have ongoing assistance with interpretation/translation, tax preparation and other needs. An article at KCRG explains:
WATERLOO, Iowa – …
…On Wednesday night, volunteers worked with a handful of newer residents in Waterloo who have escaped persecution in Myanmar… At least 1,200 Burmese refugees now call Waterloo home…
In late February, [Ann Grove, lead case manager of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants office in Waterloo] said the federal funding for the USCRI office to help Burmese refugees in Black Hawk County was running out. Yet, on Tuesday, the office announced the USCRI’s leadership has chosen to keep the office open on a part-time basis.
“It gives us an opportunity to continue providing for the immediate needs of clients who are in town,” said Grove.
With the federal grant now expired, the office may have to depend on the continued involvement of volunteers… Read more here
Posted in Burma/Myanmar, funding, meatpacking industry, USCRI | Tagged: Burmese, funding, immigration, meat packing, meatpacking, Myanmar, refugees, resettlement, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, USCRI, Waterloo | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Christopher Coen on March 14, 2014
Wyoming is the only one of the 50 states that does not have refugee resettlement. That may soon change as advocates work on a draft plan for refugee resettlement in the state. The governor has already come out in support of the idea. Newspaper editorial boards are also supporting the soon-to-be draft plan, citing the central humanitarian nature of the program. One editorial, however, is claiming that the program would require no state government spending, an assertion which seems improbable. A recent analysis of refugee resettlement in Georgia found that the state government there spent an estimated $6.7 million in state and local taxpayer costs on resettlement in fiscal year 2011 (costs for public schools, child care and other expenses), although while receiving $10 million from the federal government for resettlement, much of it paid out to local businesses in the state, and reaping an untold in tax money and earning put back into the system by resettled refugees for purchases of cars, homes and other items and services. The paper also claims that there are standards and an accountability system. We know, however, that those are extremely lax and allow private resettlement agencies to essentially police themselves – a regulatory and oversight model that just does not work in business. An editorial in the Casper Star-Tribune discusses the proposed resettlement program:
…Wyoming is the only one of the 50 states without a refugee resettlement program…
Wyoming must do more to welcome refugees. They are looking to escape the direst of circumstances, from torture to genocide to human trafficking, and we are missing out on the opportunity to help resettle them for everyone’s benefit.
This is what government assistance is for. First, there’s help, when it’s needed most. Then, there are standards and an accountability system. Finally, Wyoming could find itself with more new residents… — self-sufficient, with the skills to make a difference, and happy to give back to the communities that welcomed them.
After fleeing his home nation, Bahige was sent to Maryland, where organizations in that state supported him. He learned English, found a job in food service and became a teacher’s aide. When the University of Wyoming rewarded his hard work with a scholarship offer, he headed west.
…advocates are pushing for Wyoming to adopt a program of its own. [Advocates are] working with the UW law school to come up with a draft plan for Gov. Matt Mead’s consideration. Such efforts are worthy of support.
It’s not about welfare. It’s about help in times of horror.
Members of a nongovernmental agency pick up refugees from the airport and take them to an apartment stocked with donations. Refugees begin learning the language, and their children are enrolled in school. They start with food stamps, but for most refugees, government support begins to diminish after eight months. Within four months, they must have jobs. In fact, they’re even required to repay the cost of their plane tickets.
A program would take no state money. The federal government would funnel resettlement money through Wyoming agencies and a nongovernmental organization.
The system has been successful in Colorado, and advocates say Wyoming’s strong economy might make it an even better landing spot.
Like the former child soldier, many Wyomingites or their ancestors came from somewhere else and stayed to make a better life. We should welcome others who are following the same dream. Read more here
Posted in funding, Wyoming | Tagged: draft plan, georgia, government spending, immigration, Matt Mead, refugees, resettlement, state resources, Wyoming | Leave a Comment »
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 complain that the schools are unable to handle to 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 Burma, but also from Iraq and Iran – have been migrating to the city for the $14 per hour meatpacking plant jobs as well as to be 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 Family Service, Amarillo, children, Iranian, Iraqi, meatpacking industry, moratorium / restriction / reduction, Office of Admissions, Refugee Services of Texas, Refugee Services of Texas, school for refugee children, schools, secondary migration, refugee | Tagged: Amarillo, Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle, immigration, meat packing, Refugee Services of Texas, refugees, resettlement, restriction, schools, State Department | 1 Comment »
Posted by Christopher Coen on February 16, 2014
In the fiscal year ending in September, resettlement agencies in Georgia proposed resettling 3520 refugees, yet only resettled 2,710 refugees. Even that number, however, was up 8 percent from the year before. The U.S. State Department confirmed it limited the number of refugees coming to Georgia based partly on the state government’s request for reductions. The Republican governor has asked for reductions in resettlement since 2012. At 2,710 refugees resettled last year, that ranks the state at eighth among states in refugees resettled, closely matching Georgia’s ninth-place ranking for total population. The state government complains about Georgia’s share of costs to support refugees – an estimated $6.7 million in state and local taxpayer costs in fiscal year 2011 for public schools, child care and other expenses. The resettlement agencies point out that the federal government directed over $10 million dollars to the state for resettlement in that fiscal year alone, and that private aid money was also attracted to the statewide resettlement efforts (though they don’t say how much in private funding. One problem is that the resettlement agencies are concentrating nearly all the refugees in the Atlanta area, particularly in DeKalb County and especially in Clarkston – not only stressing that area but resulting in de facto segregation.) An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution covers the issue:
The federal government is placing new limits on the number of refugees being resettled in Georgia, following requests from Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration for sharp cuts, public records show.
State officials started asking for reductions in 2012, citing worries that refugees are straining taxpayer-funded resources, including public schools.
Alarmed by the state’s position, resettlement agencies are publicly highlighting the economic benefits refugees bring. The agencies say refugees create a net gain by working, creating businesses, paying taxes and attracting more federal and private aid money than what the state and local governments spend on services…
In the fiscal year ending in September, Georgia received 2,710 refugees from around the world. That is up 8 percent from the year before. But it is 810 fewer people than originally proposed by resettlement agencies.
The U.S. State Department confirmed it limited the number of refugees coming to Georgia, based partly on the state’s requests…
In July, Deal’s administration asked the federal government to keep the same limits in place for this fiscal year, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And the federal government is sticking to roughly the same range.
Georgia’s Department of Human Services — which distributes federal funding to resettlement agencies — estimated it cost $6.7 million in state and local taxpayer funds to support refugees in fiscal year 2011. That figure includes Georgia’s share of costs for public schools, child care and other expenses. The state’s estimate does not reflect taxes paid by refugees and the businesses they have created. A state report also shows the federal government kicked in $10.2 million for refugees during the same time frame.
Over the past three fiscal years, 7,866 refugees have been resettled in Georgia. During that same time frame, 184,589 were resettled nationwide. Georgia ranked eighth among states in the past fiscal year, according to an AJC analysis of pubic records. That hews closely to Georgia’s ninth-place ranking for total population.
“Georgia has been a welcoming home for many refugees, but the program does pose some challenges for the state,” said Brian Robinson, a spokesman for the governor. “We’re willing to do our part, but we want to make sure we’re not taking more than our fair share.”…
J.D. McCrary, the executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta, called the state’s actions “unfortunate.” He and other advocates said Georgia — a state of more than 9 million people — could successfully resettle as many as 4,000 refugees each year… Read more here
Posted in capacity, Catholic Charities Atlanta, funding, Georgia, IRC, moratorium / restriction / reduction, Office of Admissions, schools | Tagged: Catholic Charities Atlanta, child care, funding, immigration, J.D. McCrary, Nathan Deal, reduction, refugees, resettlement, schools | 1 Comment »
Posted by Christopher Coen on February 9, 2014
The Wyoming state government is requesting that the federal government help it set up refugee resettlement in the state. Up to now it has been the only state without direct refugee resettlement. Republican Governor Matt Mead wrote a letter in September to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) saying the state is interested in establishing a public/private center to help refugees. (No doubt the request is motivated less by this red state’s interest in helping refugees as it is in bringing in labor willing to accept low wages for the state’s businesses. ) A newspaper article claims that the state may also decide how many refugees it will accept each year, but that is not correct. State refugee coordinators may only give their recommendations to the U.S. State Department, which manages the first stage of resettlement. The State Department decides whether to accept in whole or in part resettlement agency plans (plans submitted by the local resettlement agencies’ national affiliates) for the upcoming fiscal year, including numbers of refugees that the agencies plan to resettle. An article in Gillette News Record announces the plans:
The governor wrote a letter in September to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement saying Wyoming was interested in establishing a public/private center to help refugees.
The federal agency has responded that it was happy to hear of that wish and the work in progress.
Since then, state officials, University of Wyoming officials and the Lutheran Family Services-Rocky Mountain have been working to put a plan together to make it possible.
“There are some federal requirements and we are addressing those,” said Shawn Reese, the policy director in the governor’s office.
Among the decisions to be made is where that resettlement center will be located in Wyoming. University of Wyoming College of Law students will begin a study to determine the best site for that center with a conference call taking place next week to set a timeline for that work.
“They will be conducting community profiles to determine where it makes the most sense,” said Merit Thomas, who…is working on the project. …The state also can determine how many refugees it will accept each year.
“The center will happen within the next year,” Reese predicted. “We’re trying to get that hammered out.”… Read more here
Posted in Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountain, ORR, public/private partnership, Wyoming | Tagged: governor, immigration, Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountain, Matt Mead, Office of Refugee Resettlement, refugees, Republican, resettlement, University of Wyoming College of Law, Wyoming | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Christopher Coen on February 7, 2014
The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) having made a late arrival to Waterloo, Iowa to serve thousands of secondary migrant refugees (refugees who first resettled elsewhere and then relocated to Waterloo for jobs) is now pulling out. The ORR funded a branch office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants to offer services to the refugees since late 2012. Now, the group is arranging for volunteer groups and people to supposedly take over in its place and offer refugee services. Finding between $100,000 and $140,000 each year to fund these efforts is the biggest hurdle. An article in The Republic carries the story originally reported by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier:
WATERLOO, Iowa — A federal agency is ending services to Burmese refugees in Waterloo, leaving volunteers scrambling to figure out how they can continue to help the immigrants.
The local office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which opened in December 2012, will close on Feb. 28 when federal funding runs out, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported (http://bit.ly/1n1t9DG ). It has been helping Burmese refugees, especially those in their few first years in the country, learn English and understand what community services are available. That includes preparing for citizenship.
The office always intended to be a temporary presence in Waterloo, where about 1,200 Burmese refugees currently reside. To date, it has helped about 200 refugees…
[Ann Grove, lead case worker] said finding ways to fund these efforts among the groups may be the biggest hurdle. It will take about $100,000 a year to replicate most services provided by the federal office, she said… “…If we’re looking at increasing the amount of interpretation to our desired level, we’re probably talking closer to $140,000.”
…[the] plan [is] to focus on case work, community education, employment and language. Read more here
Posted in Burma/Myanmar, funding, meatpacking industry, ORR, poultry production, secondary migration, refugee, USCRI, Waterloo | Tagged: immigration, Office of Refugee Resettlement, ORR, refugees, resettlement, secondary migration, US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, USCRI, volunteers, Waterloo | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Christopher Coen on January 27, 2014
Congress has increased the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s budget by nearly half a billion dollars this year (compare to last year), but resettlement agencies and some others are claiming this as a shortfall. That’s because the ORR had requested $1.6 billlion to cover an estimated 26,000 unaccompanied children coming to the United States from Mexico and Central America this year – an increase of approximately 10,000 unaccompanied minors from the number of children in the 2012 fiscal year. Critics of the numbers, however, say that taking care of 10,000 extra children should not require yet another half billion dollars added to the ORR budget. An article in The Duke Chronicle explains the numbers:
Congress has…increased funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement to $1.489 billion from last year’s $1.12 billion, said Jen Smyers, associate director for immigration and refugee policy at Church World Service—a group that works with refugees in Durham and across the country. ORR estimated it would need $1.6 billion to serve all the populations in its care this year—a half billion increase from last year’s budget—and is looking for ways to meet the more than $100 million shortfall, Smyers added.
“We never thought [the funding] was going to get cut from last year’s level,” Smyers said. “Our fear was that they would not get anywhere near [ORR's] needs…
Projected costs for this fiscal year increased by nearly half a billion dollars to cover an estimated 26,000 unaccompanied alien children coming to the United States from Mexico and Central America this year, Smyers said. This is an increase of approximately 10,000 unaccompanied children from the number of children in the 2012 fiscal year.
Suzanne Shanahan, associate director of ethics at the Kenan Institute and associate research professor in sociology, was critical of the calculations used to reach the increase in ORR’s budget requirements. She said that taking care of 10,000 extra children should not require a 30 percent increase in funds.
“The U.S. resettles 60,000 refugees a year, and the 60,000 refugees cost $1.12 billion [last year],” Shanahan said. “To say that a half billion dollars is what it takes to increase that by 10,000, the math is extremely wrong.”
With regard to the $100 million shortfall, Shanahan said this is only between a 6 and 7 percent total shortfall, which is not “extraordinary.”… Read more here
Posted in children, Congress, CWS, funding, ORR | Tagged: budget, Congress, immigration, Kenan Institute, Office of Refugee Resettlement, ORR, refugees, resettlement, Suzanne Shanahan, unaccompanied minors | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Christopher Coen on January 24, 2014
An alderman in Appleton, Wisconsin has authored a resolution questioning the community’s ability to absorb the refugees who are due to arrive in Appleton in 2014 through October via World Relief (the group started resettling refugees in Oshkosh and then Fond du Lac before adding Appleton as a resettlement site). He seems to stand alone among his fellow aldermen and the mayor who have come out to vehemently oppose his stance. Jeff Jirschele, who represents part of the city’s south side, claims that planning has been lax, but the Mayor, other aldermen and a variety of nonprofit organizations involved in the resettlement have pointed to an extensive plan in place to help the refugees. An article in Post Cresent Media explains the situation, while unfortunately not linking to the resolution so that we can inspect exactly what it opposes and proposes:
APPLETON — An Appleton alderman says he has serious concerns about 75 refugees relocating in Appleton this year, setting off a furious response from City Hall.
Jeff Jirschele, who represents a portion of the city’s south side, said this week that planning has been lax and the region needs to be sure it’s prepared for the challenges with the resettlement…
“I’m worried about these people and our social safety net when they arrive,” Jirschele said. “… we have no room to flounder on housing or medical care despite the best intentions of the groups involved.”
Jirschele authored a resolution with some tough language aimed at World Relief Fox Valley, the Oshkosh-based group shepherding the resettlement, and its selection of Appleton for a resettlement city.
He said the group had “not been vetted” and called for an immediate suspension of all city efforts in the relocation until a group could identify the impact of absorbing the refugees into the community…
Jirschele’s sentiment hit a nerve on Thursday among fellow aldermen and Mayor Tim Hanna.
Hanna said he spoke for all City Hall departments in criticizing both the tone and content of Jirschele’s resolution.
“… there’s more happening to get ready than people understand,” Hanna said…
Hanna rattled off a list of community partners — including Goodwill, the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley, school districts, churches, health care providers and county agencies — who are preparing for the resettlement.
More concerning than the physical preparation, Hanna said, was the tinge of judgment in the resolution.
“This is not the message we want to send as a welcoming, inclusive community,” Hanna said. “There are some undertones that make assumptions about these people as being poor or a drain on us, but quite the opposite…
This is the third year for resettlement operations for World Relief, which has already moved 174 individuals to the Fox Valley, largely from Burma… Read more here
An article in the newspaper from January 22 explains the organizations and programs in place to help the refugees become employed. No where though are there any figures mentioned that help us to understand how many refugees up to now have become successfully employed through the programs.
APPLETON —Refugee assistance groups say preparations are on track to accommodate the 75 refugees relocating to Appleton this year, despite concern from an Appleton alderman to the contrary…
Key parts of the resettlement effort are job training and placement, and those are handled in part through the state’s Wisconsin Works or W-2 program, said Jim Nitz, an internal program consultant with Forward Service Corp., a nonprofit employment agency.
“Forward Services has the state contract for W-2 and we’ve worked with other refugees that meet the requirements,” Nitz said Tuesday. “If they’re ready for employment we’ll help them with employment. If it’s other family stabilization, we’ll focus on that.” …
Nitz said Service Corp. has collaborated with World Relief and smoothly brought refugees to Oshkosh…
“My experience with World Relief has been very professional. They focus on workforce programs and know what they’re doing,” Nitz said. “I’ve been involved in a number of community resettlements and Appleton is taking a proactive approach to be prepared.”…
Another player in the upcoming resettlement is the Appleton-based Hmong-American Partnership.
Lo Lee, the group’s executive director, said the group is uniquely suited to “creating a road map” for the refugees, since thousands of Hmong refugees arrived in the Fox Valley from the 1980s through the early 2000s.
“We have two grants for the new arrivals from the federal government and state refugee office,” Lee said. “One is to design the transportation assistance program and the other is to provide case management and job placement for them.”Lee said understanding the unique culture and home circumstances the refugees are facing is key to lending a hand… Read more here
Posted in Appleton, moratorium / restriction / reduction, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, World Relief | Tagged: alderman, appleton, immigration, Jeff Jirschele, Oshkosh, refugees, resettlement, resolution, Wisconsin Works, World Relief | 1 Comment »
Posted by Christopher Coen on January 19, 2014
Democratic and Republican U.S. senators in a rare bipartisan show of unity last week called for the country to take in more of the millions of desperate Syrian refugees displaced by the three-year civil war. Out of an estimated 2.3 million, only 31 Syrian refugees were allowed in last fiscal year. So far, 135,000 Syrians have applied for asylum in the United States but strict restrictions on immigration designed to prevent terrorists from entering the country have kept almost all of the Syrian refugees out. An article at Reuters explains the crisis and the senators’ reactions:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic and Republican U.S. senators called on Tuesday for the country to take in more of the millions of people forced from their homes during Syria’s nearly three-year civil war.
Only 31 Syrian refugees – out of an estimated 2.3 million – were allowed into the United States in the fiscal year that ended in October.
At a Senate hearing a week before an international donors conference in Kuwait, U.S. officials and senators discussed the crisis in Syria, and the burden of housing hundreds of thousands of refugees for neighboring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon.
“This is the world’s worst ongoing humanitarian crisis and the worst refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and perhaps since World War Two,” said Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on human rights, who said the United States has a “moral obligation” to assist.
So far, 135,000 Syrians have applied for asylum in the United States. But strict restrictions on immigration, many instituted to prevent terrorists from entering the country, have kept almost all of them out…
The United Nations is also trying to relocate this year 30,000 displaced Syrians it considers especially vulnerable…
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said he was particularly concerned about the plight of Christian refugees and said they should be considered as Washington decides how to deal with the demand for more visas.
Durbin, Cruz and other senators said Washington should remain zealous about screening would-be immigrants to make sure that no potential terrorists were allowed into the United States as part of any program for Syrians.
However, several said they believed it was possible.
“I think we should be making it easier, while still checking everything that we need to check,” Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said... Read more here
Posted in Congress, security/terrorism, Syrian | Tagged: Amy Klobuchar, immigration, refugees, resettlement, Richard Durbin, senate, Syria, syrian, Ted Cruz, Terrorists | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Christopher Coen on January 15, 2014
A gentleman who contacted us back in April (history is here and here) about conditions for refugees resettled via Bridge Refugee Services in Knoxville contacted us again recently to give an update and more information.
He said there have been at least five injuries of refugees at the factories where they were placed by the temporary employment agencies that Bridge uses to get refugees employed.
One refugee reportedly injured his shoulder at work and Bridge would not do anything to help. An Ethiopian refugee broke his hand at Quality Bakery Products. African refugees were also injured at Ifco Systems pallets division in Knoxville. Again, the agency would not help. Another refugee injured his lungs, inhaling a chemical at a Cooper Standard factory (production of plastic automobile bumper parts). Yet another refugee passed out at that factory, also due to the chemicals. He now coughs a lot and has respiratory problems. A third refugee who worked at the factory developed a rash on his body, which may have been due to the chemicals used there. Yet another refugee, an older Iraqi gentleman, severely injured his shoulder pushing a heavy cart at the Goodwill warehouse on Middlebrook Pike. The cart came back at him and he put his arms out to stop it. He needed surgery to repair the shoulder and was off work for months. He said Goodwill treated him well so he decided not to sue. At Custom Food Inc. exposure to spices caused sinus problems for an Ethiopian refugee who has allergies. He requested to switch jobs but Bridge’s employment coordinator refused to help him. Finally, at Propak Logistics’ pallets repair section many Iraqi refugees reported injuries for years to Bridge’s employment coordinator but the coordinator ignored their complaints and sided with the company against the refugees.
Bridge has arranged work via Express Employment (and Adico), for whom the refugees work. Many refugees sign papers not knowing what they are signing; some do not read English. Under this arrangement with Express a factory pays $9 per hour but refugees only get a bit more than $7 per hour. The work is unstable, with refugees working a week and then being off a week.
A former case manager also sent us information about the agency and pointed out that the refugee employment figures are dishonest as most of the refuges have only temporary employment that does not help them to pay rent and be self-sufficient. The nature of the temp jobs also means that the refugees will be unemployed just a short time after the agency reports them employed to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at 90 days and 180 days. (This, however, is a problem throughout the refugee program, and it doesn’t seem that the the ORR has much of an interest in requiring that resettlement agencies report if refugees are working at temporary or non-temporary jobs.)
Many of the interpreters quit in 2012 and 2013 after the agency’s officer manager lowered their pay from $10 per hour to $8, and since that time the agency has picked the refugees up at the airport upon their arrival without interpreters for refugees from Myanmar (Burma) and Africa. The agency then takes the refugees to their apartments and gives flawed home safety orientation involving just pointing to things and turning things on and off in an attempt to show them how things work. It then takes weeks before they find an interpreter. When the case manager voiced his concerns about this to the office manager she responded that it was case managers’ responsibility to bring an interpreter. He asked her how he could use one that is not contracted. She said they would look into but that it was his responsibility to get one and that it was okay to have a volunteer interpreter.
These refugees don’t receive proper attention because nobody can communicate with them. The African refugees compared services the agency was giving them to other refugees and realized they were receiving fewer services and less attention in all areas. As a result, when the African refugees started their own organization to help their own community they refused to work with Bridge.
The case manager points out that the Bridge office in Chattanooga is more organized than the office in Knoxville due to the qualifications, dedication and experience of the office coordinator in Chattanooga. She comes in everyday at 8:30 am and leaves at 4:30 pm unlike the one in Knoxville who comes in at 9am or 10am and sneaks out around 2pm-3pm yet submits weekly time sheets indicating 40 hours of work. The agency lists the working hours on the door as 8:30am to 4:30pm, yet if refugees and others come in at 8:30am the only people they find are the financial manager and the case managers. If the case managers are not there the office stays closed until 9:30am.
The Knoxville office manager also wastes staff time with pointless staff meetings early on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Friday they have two staff meetings; one for the Executive Director with meeting agendas that contain her personal events such as her son’s birthday and her marriage anniversary, and a second meeting with the office manager. The meetings consume most of the day until 2pm, at which time the Director and the office manager leave the office to go home while the rest of the staff stay to finish their paperwork, as Friday is supposed to be a day for that and not for meetings.
The case manager tried many times to tell the administration that their everyday meetings are just a barrier that prevents them from doing their jobs but the office manager insisted on enforcing these meetings. He said she has no management skills and is only in the office manager position because the Director of Bridge is her close friend. The office manager also told the staff that no one is allowed to communicate with the agency’s board of directors, EMM and CWS (Bridge’s national affiliates), or TOR (Tennessee Office for Refugees); this to prevent any leaks of information to those organizations. He said anyone who dares to violate that rule knows they may face retaliation and lose their job.
He also reports that Bridge is placing refugees in apartments in a bad downtown neighborhood with a lot buying, selling and use of street drugs. The apartments have carpeting that smells bad, broken plumbing, and heavy insect infestations.
Transportation of refugees was yet another area of violation by the agency. A van donated in 2011 used to transport refugees had mechanical problems in the steering wheel as well as no air-conditioning. The case manager told the managers that the vehicle was not safe to use but it was clear to him that money in the budget for their salaries (the director and the office manager who do not even work the full-time they are supposed to work) was more important than refugee safety issues. The heat inside the vehicle was so unbearable in the summer months that a staff member was overcome by the heat and had to be taken to the ER by ambulance. The agency only stopped using the van and sold it to the junkyard when the major mechanical problem in the steering wheel prevented it from being driven.
He pointed to another serious problem – that the agency did not have a shredder for years until recently in 2013. He used his own shredder that he brought from home. He says that every-time he spoke to the current administrators to give the staff a shredder they ignored him just as the previous executive director did when he told her a case manager who quit in 2010 threw boxes filled with confidential papers in the trash. She wasn’t concerned so he and another staff member dived in the dumpster to recover those boxes. The current administrators also do not care if staff use their own equipment to get the job done, such as their own laptops and other devices needed – a violation of HIPAA policy (privacy law). The agency is also violating the HIPAA policy by having unauthorized people being involved with refugee clients’ personal medical information, e.g. the office manager talks about the clients’ medical issues in front of her husband who often comes to the office.
The agency is run so poorly by the current administration, and with a lack of supervision from the board of directors, that the most highly qualified and decorated case workers have quit the agency since 2010 – in 2010 three case workers quit; in 2011 two quit; and three in 2013. In early 2013 the only two case managers left quit in the same month due to the hopeless situation with the management.
By the way, the most recent State Department monitoring report for this agency seems to have occurred back in 2006 — at least that is the most recent one that the State Department has released to us. The agency had a different director and case managers at that time.
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