Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Less than 10 days left to pass bill critical for additional visas for Afghan allies

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 20, 2016

 

ourobligation

There are now less than 10 days left to pass a Senate bill for critical additional SIV (Special Immigrant Visas) for Afghans who served as interpreters to U.S. troops and officials during the war in Afghanistan.  Thousands of these men and women put themselves and their families at risk to help our soldiers and diplomats accomplish their mission and return home safely, and for their service to the US they are often marked for death by the Taliban.  More than 7,800 Afghans have been waiting in a backlog for years. Congress authorizes additional visas through the National Defense Authorization Act, but so far this year efforts have been blocked by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The Act, as proposed, has no provision to increase the number of visas – leaving a backlog of over 4,000 applicants without the life saving visas we promised them. The State Department will run out of visas on 1 October 2016 (the start of the new fiscal year).  To get Congress to act by the deadline signatures are needed on a petition asking Congress to extend and expand the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program to cover all applicants who qualify to earn a visa.  The petition will be delivered to: the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, the President of the United States, and 10 more decision makers.  The petition is part of a movement by the group No One Left Behind and is found at change.org.  It begins this way:

Dear [Decision Maker],

As a constituent and concerned citizen, I write to urge you to take immediate action to protect the Afghan SIV. These loyal Interpreters, Contractors and other allies have stood by us for 15 years for war. We cannot abandon them when they come under threat for their support of the U.S.

Over 7,800 Afghans who served with our troops are currently waiting for the government to process their visas. This number grows larger every day. The State Department reports that Congress has authorized enough visas for only 3,200 of them, leaving at least 4,600 Afghans with one choice: flee or die.

There is still time to actRead more here and sign

Additional information can be found in a May 2016 article at The Hill:

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced an amendment to the 2017 defense policy bill Thursday that would authorize 4,000 additional visas for Afghans who served as interpreters to U.S. troops and officials during the war in Afghanistan to come to the United States…

Congress has authorized additional visas for Afghan interpreters over the past several years through the National Defense Authorization Act but so far this year, efforts have been blocked by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee over security concerns…

The effort is supported by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.)..

“Our nation has a moral obligation to protect those Afghans whose lives are in imminent danger today because they supported American troops and diplomats,” McCain said in a statement.

“This amendment will ensure the continuation of the Special Immigrant Visa program, which our military commanders have said is essential to battlefield success and preserving the gains of the last 15 years in Afghanistan,” McCain continued. “And it will send a clear message that America will not turn its back on those — who at great personal risk — stood with us in the fight against terror”… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, Congress, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugee raised in Fargo may be first former refugee to commit terror act in US

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 19, 2016

internet

A 20-year-old 23-year-old Somali man by the name of Dahir Adan who was resettled in Fargo in the mid-1990s when he was 1-year-old has been identified as the attacker who knifed 10 people Saturday at a mall in St. Cloud, Minn.  An off-duty police officer shot and killed Adan during the attack.  All 10 of the victims were released from the hospital.  St. Cloud authorities said during a news conference that they are investigating the stabbing as a possible terrorist attack, and investigators have not yet found anything to link Aden to the Islamic State, though the group claimed him as a “soldier.”  Adan and his family moved from Fargo to St. Cloud around six years ago according to a woman in Fargo who knew the family. The Fargo Police Department reported that Adan never came onto their radar during his years there, and that there is no sign that any radicalization is occurring in Fargo. A board member of a mosque in south Fargo said his organization has worked closely with local police and the FBI to report anyone suspected of taking a fanatical route. Miami defense attorney Khurrum Wahid who has worked to integrate young American Muslims into American life, said in a 2011 splcenter article, however, that some police have approached young Muslim men and demanded they act as community informants, of suffer retaliation from police. Wahid said that police instead need to build trust with young Muslims by telling them that they are wanted in our communities, and by showing them that they treat “terrorism” from non-Muslims in the same way.  He points out that some Muslim youth are socially disenfranchised and searching for identity; that what can alienate young Muslim people is their interaction with the community around them. There’s a feeling of not fitting in, of being very different, especially vis-à-vis non-Muslims. It’s been worse in the last decade, with growing Islamophobia, as well as inflammatory statements coming from political candidates. Young Muslims can begin a journey out of compassion for injustices, perceived or real, committed against Muslims. Often this is combined with very little knowledge of the Koran and the teachings of Islam. Their hope to do something important and stop the injustice can lead them on a search for information, and when they don’t get it from local sources they go to the Internet. Wahid suggests programs like those used to fight gangs, with funds to help young people take part in positive activities.  Aid could also be used to assist American Muslim parents to help these young men through any identity crisis, and bring them back into the American fold.  An article at the Fargo Forum has the details from Fargo:

FARGO, N.D. — In the wake of a random stabbing attack at a St. Cloud, Minn., mall over the weekend, Fargo’s Somali community is trying to come to grips with the unsettling fact that the suspect grew up in the city.

The family of 20-year-old Dahir Adan identified him as the man who knifed 10 people Saturday night. All 10 have been released from the hospital, St. Cloud authorities said.

Adan, who was born in Kenya, and his family left Somalia as refugees and settled in Fargo in the mid-1990s when he was 1-year-old, said Fowzia Adde, a local Somali leader. Adan attended Fargo Public Schools until his family moved to St. Cloud at least six years ago, she said.

“If it can happen to them, it’s not far away from me, so what can I do to prevent?” she wondered. “What can I do to save my children?”…

The Islamic State has claimed Adan as a “soldier,” but St. Cloud authorities said during a news conference on Monday that investigators have not found anything to link him to the militant group. Though, just the possibility that a young man raised in Fargo was radicalized and committed an act of terrorism had local officials concerned.

“If it happens in St. Cloud, it could happen in Fargo,” Mayor Tim Mahoney said.

Chief David Todd said Fargo police gave the FBI basic information it had about Adan and his family. Todd said Adan never came onto the radar of Fargo police.

“I don’t have any indication that radicalization is occurring here in Fargo,” the chief said.

In a joint statement, Mahoney and Todd said residents should not react to the St. Cloud attack based on fear, rather they should be vigilant in reporting suspicious activity…

Adde called for the Somali community to work to steer youth away from groups like the Islamic State.

“We need to sit down, understand what’s going on with our children, help them understand who they are,” she said…

Dr. Mohamed Sanaullah, one of the…board members [of the Islamic Society of Fargo-Moorhead, a mosque in south Fargo], said people who commit attacks in the name of Islam are not Muslims. He said the society has worked closely with local police and the FBI to report anyone thought to be taking a fanatical route… Read more here

Posted in alienation-isolation, discrimination, FBI, men, Muslim, North Dakota, police, right-wing, security/terrorism, Somali, St. Cloud, teens, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism, young adults | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Indiana argues that singling out all Syrian refugees not based on national origin

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 18, 2016

illogical

This is a head scratcher. Although the state of Indiana lost the court case over Gov. Mike Pence’s attempt to withhold benefits from Syrian refugees based on nebulous “security concerns”, it is now trying to appeal the case before the 7th District U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago with the argument that singling out “Syrian” refugees has nothing to do with “country of national origin.” (???) A lower court ruled that the narrow focus on Syria was  unconstitutional; clearly discriminating against refugees from that country.  Soon after the Paris attacks last year, Pence cited a Syrian passport found next to one of the terrorists— now believed to be fake — as part of his supposed rationale to discourage any other desperate Syrian refugees from resettling in Indiana by denying benefits to Syrian refugees already in the state.  Think Progress has an interesting article explaining the oral arguments being made by Indiana (note: the two out of three judges questioning the lawyers in this article were both appointed to the court by President Reagan):

In a tense exchange with attorneys defending Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s order to prevent Syrian refugees from resettling in his state, two federal judges sharply criticized the legal rationale behind the effort.

During oral arguments on Wednesday in Exodus Refugee International v. Pence — a court battle focusing on whether the state may prohibit the resettlement of Syrians on the grounds that they could be terrorist threats — Judges Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook objected to Indiana’s attempt to refuse assistance to people based on their nationality and country of origin.

“Honestly, you are so out of it,” Posner said. “You don’t think there are dangers from other countries?”

In a previous ruling, a lower court said the narrow focus on Syria “clearly discriminates” against refugees from that country, a perspective that Posner and Easterbrook appeared to endorse.

“When a state makes an argument that’s saying, ‘we’re differentiating based on whether someone is from Syria, but that has nothing to do with national origin,’ all it produces is a broad smile,” Easterbrook told Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher on Wednesday…

“Are Syrians the only Muslims Indiana fears?” Posner asked…

Soon after the Paris attacks, Pence cited a Syrian passport found next to one of the terrorists— now believed to be fake — as part of his rationale to stem the flow of Syrian refugees from entering the United States… Read more here

Posted in ACLU, court, discrimination, Exodus Refugee Immigration, Exodus Refugee Immigration, funding, Indiana, Muslim, security/terrorism, Syrian, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tennessee Governor No Longer Opposes Resettlement In State

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 15, 2016

changeofmind

Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee said today that he’s had a change of heart and no longer opposes resettling Syrian refugees or any other refugees in the state.  Haslam was one of the thirty republican and one democrat governors who announced opposition to resettlement of Syrian refugees last November after the Paris terrorist attacks, which were not known to have been committed by refugees or Syrians.  Tennessee’s state attorney issued an opinion saying the state had no authority to ban Syrian refugees, and the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security announced that the background check process for refugees is extremely rigorous.  Haslam also did not oppose a piece of Tennessee state legislation requiring the state attorney to sue the federal government, though the proposed lawsuit had no legal basis.  The state attorney general then declined to sue the federal government, pointing out that the issue had been dismissed in federal court and that the supposed basis for the lawsuit (“coerced spending issue”; the notion that the federal government was “confiscating state resources” by “coercing” Tennessee to accept refugees) was an untested legal theory and unlikely to succeed. Gov. Slater says that he now knows that the federal government security vets refugees before their entry into the country and that he confident in the process. An article from USA TODAY NETWORK in The Tennessean has the story:

WASHINGTON — With the Obama administration poised to welcome thousands more Syrian refugees into the country, Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he’s had a change of heart and no longer opposes resettling them in Tennessee.

Haslam told the USA TODAY NETWORK he no longer objects to Syrian refugees or others making a new home in Tennessee after fleeing a war zone.

…the governor said he met recently with State Department officials and Catholic Charities and is convinced “they’re doing a good job” vetting refugees coming to Tennessee…

His shift in perspective comes just four months after he agreed to let the state sue the federal government over refugee settlement, and just one day after the Obama administration announced it plans to sharply increase the number of refugees accepted by the United States to 110,000 in fiscal 2017…

Resettlement has proved controversial in many states, including Tennessee, where the legislature voted earlier this year to instruct Attorney General Herbert Slatery to sue the federal government for noncompliance with the Refugee Act of 1980…

Haslam allowed the resolution calling for the lawsuit to take effect without his signature. Slatery, however, declined to file the suit, saying the state was unlikely to succeed… Read more here

Posted in Catholic, Catholic Charities, Catholic Charities of Tennessee, ceiling limit, refugee annual, security/terrorism, Syrian, Tennessee | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Obama Administration To Increase Ceiling Limit to 110,000 in Fiscal Year 2017

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 14, 2016

fy2017

Each year the President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling limit for refugee admissions to the United States.  For fiscal year (FY) 2016, the President set the worldwide refugee admission ceiling limit at 85,000.  Up to now the Obama administration estimated that it would set the limit in the upcoming 2017 fiscal year at 100,000.  With the 2017 fiscal year about to start on October 1, the administration must now make a final ceiling limit determination, and US Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress this week that the US plans to increase the number of refugees into the country to 110,000 in 2017. Kerry also told lawmakers “that if it is possible to do more we would,” the Washington Post reported.  A legal option may be able to admit more Syrian refugees in FY 2017 through humanitarian parole.  Parolees may legally be admitted temporarily for urgent humanitarian reasons, with a non-temporary possibility determined at a future date, although there hasn’t been any talk of that option.  An article at Think Progress has the details:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers on Tuesday that the United States plans to increase the number of refugees into the country to 110,000 in the upcoming 2017 fiscal year, up 10,000 more than he previously called for. This year’s ceiling is capped at 85,000.

In a closed-door briefing with congressional members of the House and Senate judiciary committees, Kerry said that the figure would include a “significantly higher” number of refugee admissions from Syria, past the 10,000 goal it set for this year.

No official figures have been set for just Syria, though 40,000 refugees would be authorized from the Near East/South Asia, an area that includes Syria, according to the Wall Street Journal, which obtained a copy of the annual refugee report sent to Congress. About 35,000 slots would be given for African refugees and 14,000 slots were “listed as not allocated,” the publication noted.

Kerry also told lawmakers “that if it is possible to do more” in terms of accepting refugees, “we would,” the Washington Post reported.

President Barack Obama is expected to officially release more details next week at the high-level U.N. Summit on Refugees and Migrants… Read more here

Posted in ceiling limit, refugee annual, Congress, Obama administration, Syrian | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Catholic Charities in Springfield Mass. gains approval to resettle refugees to Northampton

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 11, 2016

northampton

Catholic Charities based in Springfield, Massachusetts has gained approval from the US Department of State to begin resettling refugees in Northampton.  Beginning in January, 51 Syrian refugees will arrive in the city. An article at Western Massachusetts News has the story:

NORTHAMPTON, MA (WGGB/WSHM) – The city and people of Northampton are preparing to become home for 51 Syrian refugees.  The city got State Department approval last month.

Now, refugee families are expected to arrive by the new year. 

The first families will begin arriving to their new home, Northampton, in January…

“I hope that the community is able to help them from their war-torn nation and I hope they flourish here in the United States of America, the greatest country in the world,” said Peter Knap of Northampton.

Tanner Efinger of Northampton added, “These are people who need homes.  Terrible things have happened to them and any neighbor should be able to open their door.”

These are the kinds of voices that Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, director of Catholic Charities, thinks of when she talks about the arrival of 51 Syrian refugees to Northampton.

“I think the people of Northampton are so welcoming because there is such a sense of the global.  You have a lot of people from different areas of the world, you’ve got diversity already,” said Buckley-Brawner…

Catholic Charities, based in Springfield, applied to the State Department to become a refugee resettlement agency… Read more here

Posted in Catholic Charities Springfield MA, Massachusetts, Syrian | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Conservative Congress Members Threaten Government Shutdown

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 9, 2016

Congressional District map for "Freedom" Caucus membership of the 114th Congress. Former members in light color.

Congressional District map for “Freedom” Caucus membership of the 114th Congress. Former members in light color.

When a budget bill failed to pass through Congress in 2013 before the start of the new fiscal year, it led to a 16-day federal government shutdown which cost the United States $24 billion and left 800,000 people without pay. After that disgraceful failure a group of 42 conservative Congress members, known as the “Freedom” Caucus, are promising to support temporary spending measures in a bill that has to be passed to keep the federal government open, but only if it includes a suspension on allowing Syrians into the county. This, while the Obama administration is trying to work with Congress to increase the number of Syrian refugees resettled next year to 20,000, from the paltry 10,000 resettled in fiscal year 2016 ending this month; far fewer refugees than some of our allies.  Last year Canada resettled 30,000 Syrians and Germany accepted approximately 100,000 asylum applications in total. In the meantime, five million Syrian refugees wait in need.  An article at the London based Independent has the story:

Republicans in the House of Representatives in the US are promising to support temporary spending measures in a bill that has to be passed to keep the federal government open, but only if it includes a suspension on allowing Syrians into the county…

President Barack Obama promised to resettle 10,000 refugees from the conflict in Syria before the end of fiscal year 2016, meeting the target a month early. His administration is now working with Congress to increase the target by another 10,000 during 2017.

The move by the Freedom Caucus could complicate congressional leaders’ efforts to pass the spending bill on time before the fiscal year ends on September 30. 

When a similar budget bill failed to pass through Congress in 2013 before the start of the new fiscal year, it led to a 16-day federal government shutdown which cost the country $24bn (£20bn) and left 800,000 people without pay… Read more here

 

Posted in Congress, Obama administration, right-wing, Syrian, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Arsonist gets 15-year sentence for Somali restaurant fire in Grand Forks

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 7, 2016

Matthew Gust

Matthew Gust

A federal judge imposed a 15-year sentence on a Minnesota man accused of starting a fire that heavily damaged a Somali restaurant in Grand Forks in North Dakota.  Matthew Gust, 26, of East Grand Forks, Minn., broke the front window of the Juba Cafe, owned and run by former refugees, and threw a Molotov cocktail into the building Dec. 8, 2015. He previously pleaded guilty to arson and a hate-crime charge. Gust ignited the fire, which caused over $150,000 in damage, days after a Nazi-like symbol was spray-painted on the restaurant’s exterior above the words “go home.” Other businesses in the building were also affected. In 2012 Gust plead guilty to charges of terrorizing, simple assault and preventing arrest, all Class C felonies, after he threatened staff at Romantix, an adult entertainment store in downtown Grand Forks (frequented by some men from the LGBT community). He also plead guilty to assaulting a police officer in 2011. An article at the Fargo Forum has the details:

FARGO — A man who set fire to a Somali restaurant in Grand Forks will spend 15 years in prison.

Matthew Gust, 26, of East Grand Forks, Minn., broke the front window of the Juba Cafe and through a Molotov cocktail into the building Dec. 8, 2015.

A federal judge imposed a 15-year sentence during a hearing Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2016, for Gust, who previously pleaded guilty to arson and a hate-crime charge.

According to federal prosecutors, Gust purchased gasoline, filled a 40-ounce beer bottle and through the Molotov cocktail into the restaurant. The Molotov cocktail exploded on impact, causing an explosion and fire inside Juba Cafe, which sustained more than $150,000 in damages… Read more here

Posted in crime, hate crimes, North Dakota, right-wing, security/terrorism, Somali, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

US government screening agencies approve less than half of applications received

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 5, 2016

application

Some politicians and pundits keep repeating that the United States has no way of properly vetting refugees.  Not only is that false, but US government security screening agencies reject over half of refugee applications to the US. An article at Human Rights First explains the issue:

…While many have rightly expressed the importance of maintaining a high level of scrutiny on those entering the United States, others have made the outrageous claim that the United States has no way of properly vetting refugees. It cannot be understated: this claim is completely and emphatically untrue.

Every refugee that steps foot on American soil has undergone a stringent multi-agency, multi-step screening process that typically takes 18-24 months. The State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counter-terrorism Center, and the FBI each utilize multiple information databases and biometric screening information when determining whether a refugee is destined for the United States—and not all are. Expert intelligence analysts in these screening agencies report that they approve less than half of applications they receive.

Before these screenings even take place, refugees must first receive an official designation from the United Nations to be referred to a resettlement country. They have no control over what country they are designated to. Being resettled at all is a statistical improbability for a refugee. Last year the world resettled less than one half of one percent of the 21 million refugees in need, according to UNHCR… Read more here

Posted in Dept of Homeland Security, FBI, right-wing, security/terrorism, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Where would Christianity be if Jesus had refused to participate “out of safety concerns”?

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 4, 2016

burningthebook

That is the question posed by pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  After a group of people in Gillette set fire to a Quran to publicize their goal to “ban Islam from Wyoming”, most of the more liberally minded churches in town did not respond to a concerned Gillette resident who organized a counter protest. Only three responded. They refused to take part “out of safety concerns.”  Though the counter protestors eventually outnumbered the holy book desecraters, a silence came from the governor, the state’s congressional delegation, members of the state Legislature and other elected officials.  An article at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle has the story:

…the website “Stop Islam in Gillette,” [boasts] 391 members. Their goal, though inelegantly expressed, is to “stop the islam invasion sponsored by mat meade and barrack obama. remove the mosque and islam school from gillette”…

Gillette members of something called “Americans For A Secure Wyoming” took it another step backward last weekend. They set fire to a Quran to publicize their goal to “ban Islam from Wyoming”…

…[others however] participated in a counter protest. Those who lit the fires of hate to burn the Islamic holy book were outnumbered more than 40 to 10 that day in Gillette. People of integrity from throughout Wyoming traveled to Gillette and held signs saying, “No room for hate” and “Don’t hate what you don’t understand.”

Even so, the silence coming from the governor, our congressional delegation, members of the Legislature and other elected officials, with a single exception, is as deafening as it is troubling. Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King was alone in her courage to speak against the haters.

The politicians weren’t the ones whose tongues were tied.

A concerned Gillette resident sought help from the “more liberally minded” churches in the northeast Wyoming town. Only three responded. They refused to participate “out of safety concerns.” Where would Christianity be if Jesus had refused to participate “out of safety concerns”?…

People seeking attention for their bigotry by desecrating the holy book of another faith should be met with loud, uniform public rejection.

Sadly, many Wyoming political, business, academic and faith leaders meet the bigotry with a wink and a nod… Read more here

 

Posted in Christian, churches, Muslim, Wyoming, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »