Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for March, 2010

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does NOT protect religious refugee organizations that accept government funding

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 31, 2010

It turns out that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only allows religious nonprofits to hire people ONLY of their own religion if they only accept PRIVATE contributions (here).  It does NOT protect religious organizations that take government finds.

The exemptions for religious charities began with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. That law allows such organizations to hire only members of their own faith when their programs are funded by private donations.

The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination is asking President Obama to repeal President George W. Bush’s two executive orders that allowed religious (faith-based) groups to discriminate based on religious-affiliation and sexual orientation (here and here).

Continuing repercussions from World Relief’s new hiring policy

World Relief’s new policy banning the hiring of non-Christians

Is praying at staff meetings a form of worship prohibited by government funding?

Catholic Charities of Washington, D.C. joins World Relief in discriminating based on religious affiliation

Faith-based control of refugee resettlement in some cities

Posted in Catholic, Christian, discrimination in hiring, evangelical, faith-based, religion, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

USCCB’s (Catholic Church’s) sexual abuse of Nicaraguan and Salvadoran refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 30, 2010

The Miami Herald is now reporting that the Vatican and the Archdiocese of Miami — for decades — were aware of the troubled past in Cuba of Rev. Ernesto Garcia-Rubio  (here).

“The Archdiocese of Miami, along with top Vatican authorities, knew as far back as 1968 that the Rev. Ernesto Garcia-Rubio, a priest later defrocked amid child sex-abuse allegations, had a troubled past in Cuba before transferring to South Florida…”

The Miami Herald previously reported in a serious of stories that the Rev. Ernesto Garcia-Rubio had sexually abused a number of male teenage Nicaraguan and Salvadoran refugees.

“The complaints against Garcia-Rubio — first lodged at the Sweetwater church — eventually surfaced in The Herald story, which highlighted four sex-abuse allegations by teenage Nicaraguan and Salvadoran refugees from 1983 to 1988.”

I suppose that the USCCB, the Catholic Church and VOLAG, thinks that we aren’t going to hold them accountable for this because the crimes happened several decades ago. Nothing could be further from the truth. The accountability has simply been successfully DELAYED.

Posted in Archdiocese of Miami, Catholic, Florida, Nicaraguan, safety, Salvadoran, sexual abuse, USCCB | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Fredericksburg, Virginia refugees denied basic care

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 30, 2010

The bad news from Fredericksburg, Virginia just keeps coming in (here).  Our previous post on this case is here. Area churches are now saying that USCCB’s Catholic Diocese of Arlington left refugees in apartments without food or beds, and did not take refugees to the doctor’s office.

Meanwhile, many Fredericksburg-area refugees wonder whether they were better off in the camps. Some call relatives back home and tell them to stay where they are.

At least four families that resettled in the Fredericksburg area have returned to the Middle East.

Church leaders in the area said they were shocked to visit newly arriving refugees only to discover refrigerators containing just a carton of spoiled milk, houses without beds, and sick people who had not seen a doctor. Some area volunteers chronicled 36 instances of refugees lacking the basic services required by the State Department.

This is obviously nothing new. We have seen this at resettlement agencies around the country for the past decade, even far before the current recession. Why can’t the State Department make sure its refugee contract requirements are being fulfilled? Why don’t resettlement agencies stop taking new refugees when they are no longer able to help additional incoming refugees? (By the way, those refugees that returned to the Middle East must have been Iraqis).

Local churches asked government agencies for help, and government officials came in for visits, but the problems didn’t end. Why not? What’s the point of fancy visits by officials if they can’t get resettlement agencies to abide by basic contract requirements?  

“…clergy say the resettlement program, in some ways, ties their hands.

When area volunteers encountered problems with the resettlement office, they didn’t know where to turn.

The problems grew. Eventually, area clergy brought in officials from the State Department, Health and Human Services, the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops and political offices.

The churches asked for a halt in arrivals.

‘But at the end of the day, we have to help these people,’ said the Rev. Larry Haun, pastor of Fredericksburg Baptist Church. ‘If they’re still going to come, then we need to fix a broken system.’ “

The article also points out that the public cannot follow how much money is going into the program, especially from private sources. Neither the government oversight agencies nor the private refugee resettlement agencies show how much money, if any, the resettlement agencies are actually adding to all the government grants and contracts. So how are we to check whether they really need more government funding? Are we to take their word for it? Where is the transparency?

See State Department 2007 monitoring. Note that in spite of their inspection and their recommendations, with no penalties imposed, not much seems to have changed.

*Update — April 2, 2010 Editorial at Free Lance-Star (here)

Posted in arlington, beds, Catholic, Catholic Diocese of Arlington, churches, food, funding, Iraqi, neglect, NSC (National Security Council), reform, transportation, USCCB, Virginia, volunteers | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugee Clients of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio, Inc. in Desperation

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 30, 2010

Refugee clients of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio, Inc. who arrived a year ago are living in desperate circumstances, and a local aid leader is asking that they be cared for first before Catholic Charities brings in any more refugees (here).

Something wasn’t right with 5-year-old Taw Meh.

She threw up every morning, just before breakfast at the Head Start program she attended. It had become so frequent that her counselor, Abdul, a former interpreter for U.S. military forces in Iraq, would cover her with plastic to protect her clothes.

When he told his Family Services Association co-worker, Pam Espurvoa, about the child, she suspected her diet. She suggested they visit the Northwest Side apartment Taw Meh shared with her father, Baw Reh, 49, mother, Htwa Meh, 39, and two sisters, Pleh Meh, 15 and Mo Meh, 3.

When Espurvoa and Abdul arrived at Taw Meh’s apartment at the Auburn Creek complex off Wurzbach Road, the only food they found was rotting vegetables in the refrigerator. A chill hung through the apartment. Several wires dangled from a furnace blower that didn’t work. …parents about apartment maintenance and application deadlines. Many refugees are illiterate in their language, Espurvoa said, and the letters for phone appointments for Medicaid and food stamps are in English. They, like other refugees, do not have a phone.Meh’sreturned to the apartment in early March, with her supervisor, Susan Miller, to teach Taw EspurvoaFour beds for five people filled one of the two bedrooms. A father and his daughter lived in the other bedroom. Roaches scurried up the walls as Andrade showed the family how to use a space heater.

Why are other agencies in San Antonio having to come to the rescue of these refugees a year after their arrival? The State Department contracted with Catholic Charities to teach these refugees about apartment maintenance and application deadlines (e.g. for food stamps) during their first 30-90 days in the US.

Local aid agencies are advising that new refugees not be resettled to San Antonio until refugees already here are properly taken care of. Why didn’t Catholic Charities and the state refugee coordinator, Caitriona Lyons, think of that themselves?

Some aid workers said the best move would be to take care of those already here before bringing in more refugees.

Jann Fractor from Refugee Forum SA, a local network of organizations, churches and volunteers that helps refugees with transition needs, said several refugee families — without jobs and beyond services — faced eviction in the Wurzbach area in December, but humanitarian agencies came together to pay their rent.

Fractor, one of the forum founders, said several refugee families recently faced expulsion from their apartments, but groups scrambled to help them.

“People chipped in, but here we go again,” Fractor said.

“We can’t bring people here and have them homeless, that’s not the idea. The realistic view is not there because they’re expecting people who haven’t been educated in their own language to attain enough English in six months to get a job,” Factor said.

Notice that not only did the refugee resettlement agency apparently not continue to look out for these refugees, they also don’t seem to have at least referred the refugees to anyone who could help them fill out forms in English and turn them in on time. The refugees also don’t seem to have learned how to request help for apartment maintenance issues. Also, did Catholic Charities originally place the refugees in those roach-infested apartments at the Auburn Creek complex off Wurzbach Road? That’s against State Department contract rules, albeit rules that are not enforced.

Why do members of the community and local aid leaders have to come forward to the media and point out that refugees are not receiving the help they need from Catholic Charities rather than the state refugee coordinator dealing with these issues before they become a crisis?

We had to point the Texas state coordinator Caitriona Lyons to refugees being neglected in Houston, and she was fairly unresponsive (here, here and here). She refused to contact the refugees in question, and would not answer basic questions about what she was doing to investigate the situation. This, at a time when President Obama is calling for a new focus on open and accessible government. Are refugee program government oversight agencies determined to cover up their own failings with a culture of secrecy and unresponsiveness to the public?

I think what we need even more than additional funding for this program is some new, real accountability. Certainly government checks sent directly to the refugees is the only sensible way to help these refugees. It’s clear that many refugee resettlement agencies cannot be counted on to deliver direct services to the refugees.

**UPDATE** November 22, 2010

**UPDATE** December 8, 2010

Posted in Burma/Myanmar, Catholic, Catholic Charities, Karenni, Obama administration, San Antonio, State Department, Texas, USCCB | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

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, Muslim, religion, volunteers, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

USCCB’s Catholic Diocese of Arlington Caught Neglecting Refugees, Area Churches Say Enough Is Enough

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 29, 2010

The media caught yet another refugee resettlement agency neglecting their refugee clients — USCCB’s Catholic Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Migration and Refugee Services. Area churches say enough is enough, that they will no longer allow USCCB to treat refugees inhumanely and ignore refugee program guidelines (see article).

…volunteers from Fredericksburg-area churches unrolled an elaborate welcome mat. But now, church staff and volunteers say enough is enough.

“This is a justice issue,” said the Rev. Larry Haun, pastor of Fredericksburg Baptist Church. “We don’t want to be understood as being against refugee resettlement. We just think that when they’re resettled, they should be treated according to the guidelines. They should be treated humanely.

“When people are invited here, and when they aren’t given food, when they aren’t given beds, when they aren’t given blankets, that’s injustice.”

It is also a legal issue. Resettlement agencies contract with the federal government and agree to provide beds, blankets, food or money for food, other furniture and linens.

At a meeting in late February, local church leaders asked the U.S. Department of State to stop sending refugees to the Fredericksburg area.

The refugees are invited by the State Department and resettled by the Catholic Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Migration and Refugee Services. The office’s Fredericksburg Refugee Service Center has a satellite location on Butler Road in Stafford County.

The Catholic resettlement agency, after taking an enormous amount of help from local churches and community members, apparently decided to exclude the churches and local volunteers after they started voicing concerns. Refugees said the Catholic agency workers then warned them not to talk to church volunteers about their situations or to take their help.

Newcomers arrived and volunteers did not know–until established refugees told stories of families with little furniture, food or transportation.

Volunteers from several area churches stepped in to help. But they say that they could rarely reach the resettlement office. Resettlement officials said they are protecting their clients’ privacy.

Refugees said they’ve been warned not to talk to church volunteers about their situations or to take their help.

“We tell them: ‘Don’t take free stuff. Work for what you get,'” said Derek Maxfield, associate director of the Arlington Diocese’s Migration and Refugee Services.

Don’t take free stuff?! That’s what the refugee resettlement program is all about — community members donating free stuff and time to help refugees so that the government doesn’t have to do it all alone, otherwise known as the “public/private partnership”. Hello! Apparently the Catholic agency is forgetting that is how they just convinced the State Department to double R&P funding, by claiming that they give too much free stuff and volunteer time, via churches, community groups and other volunteers, and that the government must do more (here).

The Catholic resettlement agency’s warnings to refugees not to speak to volunteers, something we have documented all over the country when we catch an agency neglecting their refugee clients (is it written in their playbook?), is nothing less than a form of intimidation and abuse of vulnerable clients.  Refugee clients should NEVER be used as pawns when refugee resettlement agencies attempt to avoid accountability. Not to mention the refugees’ constitutional right to freedom of association. They may speak to or befriend anyone they wish, despite refugee resettlement agencies treatment of them as second-class citizens.

Seyoum Berhe, director of the Archdiocese of Arlington Migration and Refugee Services, also claims that refugees only get four months of help. Not true. That’s only for refugees enrolled in ORR’s Matching Grant Program (and they can get up to six months help, if the resettlement agency will give it to them, not just four), and refugees enrolled in Matching Grant are able to apply for refugee cash assistance if they are still unemployed after four months (they can get help up to the end of their eighth month). Anyway, only 30% of refugees are in Matching Grant. Most refugees get at least eight months of help if they can’t find a job. Low income refugee families with children can get assistance even longer.

In fact, Berhe compares resettling refugees to raising teenagers. And in the resettlement program, refugees typically have four months to be self-supporting.

“We’re like tough parents,” Berhe said.

Resettlement contracts with the State Department require the basics: furnished homes, English classes and help finding jobs. Financial assistance–which comes through a few federal and state agencies–lasts only a few months.

But many volunteers say refugees require more than what the resettlement workers provide.

So then the question becomes, why did USCCB decide to resettle the particular refugees that they did in Fredericksburg? We know that the VOLAGs meet each month and decide which refugees they will take and where they will resettle them. They meet right there in Arlington at the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center (RPC). Why did USCCB decide to take Burundi and Iraqi refugees and resettle them to Fredericksburg? Is there any local torture center that can help rehabilitate the Iraqi refugees? The Burundian refugees started arriving in large numbers 4-5 years ago. We know they have greater needs than other refugees. Why did USCCB think that Fredericksburg was the right site for them?

When Arlington’s Migration and Refugee Services chose Fredericksburg for resettlement, starting-level jobs were plentiful.

Many refugees found jobs quickly and were able to afford the rents. But as the recession deepened, jobs grew scarce.

At the time, more refugees were coming, and they had greater needs.

For example, those from Burundi in central Africa had spent decades in refugee camps. They often came with little formal education and did not know how to use indoor plumbing, electricity or cars.

And some refugees from Iraq came with severe emotional scars. They needed mental health resources, something already scarce in the area.

….When the national resettlement agencies’ staff decide where to place refugees, they look at communities’ capacity.

Then there is the issue of the federal requirement that local government agencies MUST be consulted about refugee resettlement and placement issues. Is there enough local capacity? In this case the Catholic Church decided to just ignore that requirement, as we see all too often, and the State Department and the ORR apparently didn’t even care enough to enforce their own requirements — once again!

Capacity takes into account social services and nonprofits, schools, health departments and jobs.

School officials, social services directors and health department officials said they were never asked how many refugees they could handle.

Of course we just saw this problem in New Hampshire, where the state refugee coordinator claimed she couldn’t require the local resettlement agencies to coordinate with local government agencies — even though that is what the law requires! (here)

The law/regulations that govern the U.S. refugee resettlement program (45 C.F.R. PART 400—REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT PROGRAM, see 400.5:H) requires that local refugee resettlement agencies meet regularly with local government officials.

 “…the State will…assure that meetings are convened, not less often than quarterly, whereby representatives of local resettlement agencies, local community service agencies, and other agencies that serve refugees meet with representatives of State and local governments to plan and coordinate the appropriate placement of refugees in advance of the refugees’ arrival.”

Also, according to the State Department Cooperative Agreement contract that USCCB signed USCCB must:

“…colaborate with state and local officials, other agencies and services in the area in implementing a plan to rationalize the numbers of refugees to be resettled and to ensure quality services and a welcoming atmosphere are provided to refugees.”

So, where is Virginia’s state refugee coordinator, Kathy Cooper? She’s the director of the Virginia Office of Newcomer Services and supposedly coordinates all of this in Virginia. Now, after the resettlement agency neglected the refugees she says all sides involved in resettlement in Fredericksburg need to talk more. Yeah, but what about the required consultation with local government agencies before resettlement agencies bring refugees in and dump them off? That’s the advantage of following regulations. They tend to be there for a good reason.

The problem we have with government oversight agencies is the same problem we have with the private refugee resettlement agencies — there are no consequences for ignoring regulations and requirements. In the meantime the Congress just keeps rewarding them with more money. This is a recipe for more refugee neglect, more refugee abuse, and more negative articles in the media — something that will both damage more refugees’ lives, and damage the program even further.

See State Department 2007 monitoring. Note that in spite of their inspection and their recommendations, with no penalties imposed not much seems to have changed.

*Update — April 2, 2010 Editorial at Free Lance-Star (here)

Posted in arlington, Burundian, Catholic, Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Christian, Cooperative Agreement, faith-based, fredericksburg, funding, government, intimidation of refugees, Iraqi, local officials, failure to notify, mental health, New Hampshire, ORR, R&P, religion, RPC (Refugee Processing Center), State Department, USCCB, Virginia, volunteers | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

What its like to be an Iraqi SIV immigrant in Sacramento

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 27, 2010

Recently we received complaints from two Iraqi SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants in Sacramento, California about the resettlement services they received. Both of them registered with the State Department’s refugee admissions program and both received services via the ORR’s refugee services. One of the men was working as an interpreter/translator for U.S. armed forces in Iraq when terrorists killed his brother with a silent pistol four kilometers from the U.S. Army base he was working at, and with everything indicating that he would be the next victim. The other man worked for U.S.-led contractors. Both were civil engineers in Iraq.

In eight months in Sacramento neither one of them was able to find a job. One man has now been here over ten months and remains unemployed. The men say that their resettlement agency placed them in an apartment complex area contaminated with an industrial chemical, and with all sorts of tenants wearing ankle bracelets who had police checking up on them on a daily basis (refugee families there stayed no longer than a month before fleeing). They also say the refugee resettlement agency did not give them clothes, placed one of them in a dirty apartment that had not been cleaned after the previous tenant moved out, didn’t give one of the men any pocket-money or any kitchen supplies.

In addition, they claim that their refugee employment services agency asked them to sign a pile of papers that they would not let them take home and read first, and when one of the men hesitated, they threatened to not help him find a job if he didn’t sign the papers, sight unseen. He then reminded them that they hadn’t found him a job in 10 months so their threat didn’t have much weight, and he walked out. He no longer feels safe going back to such unscrupulous people, and now isn’t getting any employment services at all. The other guy took a quick scan through the papers he was asked to sign and noticed that they were full of blank spaces that could be filled-in later, as well as all sorts of lies about him refusing jobs — jobs he was never referred to! That’s your tax money at work.

After one of the men had been here three-month they took him to a job fair at a hotel. After five months the agency took him to a gas station. They made him wait outside while they let one of the agency employee’s relatives in for an interview first. He was then told, sorry, there would be no more interviews. Later he heard the relative got the job.

Then two months later the agency took him to a little food store stocking job with hours beginning at 6am (the first bus wouldn’t even get there until after 7:15am). What sense does it make to take an immigrant to such interviews? Does it help pad the case file and make it seem like they tried to help the SIV immigrants become employed?

So, are we getting our money’s worth for these employment services we are paying for? Does this really sound like the way to help professional SIV immigrants and refugees become economically self-sufficient? Government agencies are taking the VOLAG’s position that the solution to this type of thing is for the government to give the resettlement agencies more funds, so that they don’t have to concentrate on early employment. But do they HAVE to focus just on early employment without trying to help the refugees become economically self-sufficient?

Here is a statement from the March 2010 GAO report, Iraqi Refugees and Special Immigrant Visa Holders Face Challenges Resettling in the United States and Obtaining U.S. Government Employment (here), which tries to explain why so many resettlement agencies make so little effort to place professional Iraqi refugees and SIV immigrants in jobs that match their skill levels.

“According to an ORR official and resettlement agency officials, the U.S. resettlement program does not take into account refugees’ prior work experience and education in job placements. Rather, the focus of the program is on securing early employment for refugees.”

Yet, that isn’t really true. The federal regulations governing the refugee resettlement program focus both on early employment AND on achieving economic self-sufficiency. What sense would it make to try to place a highly skilled and experienced Iraqi civil engineer in a minimum wage job if there are civil engineering jobs that are going begging? Which position would offer a better chance for becoming self-sufficient, e.g. getting off of food stamps, section 8, etc.? Which type of job would allow the refugee or SIV immigrant to more quickly pay off their U.S. government-funded travel loan?

(See the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 45, Public Welfare, Chapter IV Office of Refugee Resettlement, Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services, Part 400 Refugee Resettlement Program, Sub-part F_Requirements for Employability Services and Employment, Sec. 400.79 Development of an employability plan, here).

Also in the GAO report they write:

“We interviewed three Iraqi refugees about their experience searching for employment in the United States. Two had worked for the U.S. government in Iraq, and one was unable to find an entry-level position requiring no formal education. This individual estimated that he had applied for more than 30 low-skill jobs, such as for a busboy and cleaner, before his former U.S. supervisor in Iraq helped him find a job.”

That’s because competition for low-level, entry positions is often greater than that for high-skill positions that fewer people qualify for. I don’t think that the professionals in our government oversight agencies seem to get that. After all, how many of them have ever applied for no-skill or low-skill, entry-level jobs? If you have skills or experience then why would anyone pursue hard-to-get, low-wage jobs unless there were no available job positions in their profession?

It seems like we have a certain percentage of refugee resettlement agencies that are simply determined not to help refugee and SIV professionals find jobs that would allow for true economic self-sufficiency (I know there are some good agencies that do). Maybe they think it’s too much work or they don’t want to just Google the process and see how to do it. Certainly they face no government oversight pressure to get these people into the right jobs, jobs that not enough people in our society have the skills for.

As long as they can find them jobs flipping burgers (shouldn’t we leave those jobs to teenagers who need part-time jobs?) then they can claim they have fulfilled their contractual obligations for employment services. Is this a program we can be proud of?

Posted in California, CWS, employment services, HHS, Iraqi, Opening Doors, ORR, Sacramento, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Is praying at staff meetings a form of worship prohibited by government funding?

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 22, 2010

According to a recent story from Seattle, World Relief recently rejected a muslim refugee for a paying job as an interpreter because he is not an evangelical Christian, and World Relief thought he might feel uncomfortable at their staff meetings when they pray (see here). He worked as a volunteer Arabic interpreter with World Relief for six months before applying for a paid position doing the same thing.

But why are they praying at staff meetings? Isn’t that a form of worship? Federal agencies that provide funds for refugee resettlement do not allow the use of their funds for religious activities. According to HHR regulations 45 CFR 87.1 using these federal funds for inherently religious activities is prohibited (here):

“…a participating organization may not use direct financial assistance from the Department, as well as from State and local governments or intermediate organizations administering funds under Department programs, to support inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization. If the organization engages in such activities, it must offer them separately, in time or location, from the programs or services funded with direct Department assistance, and participation must be voluntary for the beneficiaries of the Department-funded programs or services. This requirement ensures that direct financial assistance from the Department to participating organizations is not used to support inherently religious activities. Such assistance may not be used, for example, to conduct worship services, prayer meetings, or any other activity that is inherently religious. The rule clarifies that this restriction does not mean that an organization that receives Department grant funds may not engage in inherently religious activities, but only that such an organization may not fund these activities with direct financial assistance from the Department.”

It seems to me that praying is an inherently religious activity.  Resettlement agencies such as World Relief pay their staff members with federal funds to attend these meetings, so praying at staff meetings by staff members would seem to be the use of federal funds for worship, an inherently religious activity.

Posted in Christian, discrimination in hiring, evangelical, HHS, Iraqi, Muslim, religion, Washington, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Colorado refugee contractors and government officials meet with PRM Assistant Secretary Eric Schwartz

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 20, 2010

Colorado refugee contractors and government officials met with PRM Assistant Secretary Eric Schwartz. Refugee resettlement agencies will resettle about 2,600 refugees in Colorado in 2010, which will be a sizable increase over recent years (here).

Strangely, the recurring theme of complaints about not enough federal funding for refugee resettlement came up again, even though the State Department just doubled the per capita (per refugee) grant funding to resettlement agencies. The resettlement contractors don’t raise the issue of private funding, and why they aren’t raising enough private funds, and reporters don’t ask.

Colorado’s state refugee health coordinator Brenda Hummel said that refugees are arriving with medical problems and with no warning given to state officials, even though refugees supposedly get medical screening before arriving here.

“Hummel..said it’s particularly frustrating not to know when someone coming to Colorado needs medical attention.

Refugees are supposed to be medically evaluated before they get here. But, she said, those evaluations commonly miss serious problems. That leaves the state health department scrambling to find them care, she said.

Individuals are hurt, and the whole resettlement program suffers when workers don’t have accurate information about the refugees arriving, [Colorado state refugee coordinator Paul Stein] said.”

Medical screening for refugees abroad is generally coordinated by the Intergovernmental Organization on Migration (IOM) in cooperation with voluntary agencies (see p. 10 here). There is a requirement that they screen for tuberculosis, HIV, and certain venereal diseases — although they would presumably notice at these screenings if refugees have other serious medical issues. So, why aren’t the IOM and voluntary agencies abroad notifying state officials about refugees’ medical problems before they arrive here? Notice that the state official just blames the US federal government.

The issue of secondary migration also came up at the meeting, with a county government official complaining that it has an impact on Colorado counties’ finances.

“A recurring theme of the downtown meeting was a lack of attention to what those who work with refugees call ‘secondary migration’ — groups of refugees who leave the areas where they first settle in search of jobs.

That happened in Greeley, said Judy Griego, director of Weld County’s human services department.

After immigration officials raided the Swift meatpacking plant in 2006, dozens of Somalis arrived, hoping to fill jobs vacated by the raid, Griego said.

‘It ends up being on the counties to take care of these individuals,’ she said.”

This is an interesting issue because we’ve documented groups of refugees moving to other states after being neglected by their resettlement agencies. About 10 Burmese Karenni refugees recently ran from USCRI affiliate International Center in Bowling Green, and moved to Minnesota after complaining that the International Center had placed them in filthy apartments without basic furnishings or food. They also complained of not being able to get to the doctor’s office (no rides) and not being able to enroll their children in school because they couldn’t get them vaccinated.

Now, we have refugee contractors and state refugee coordinators blaming the federal government about lack of funding for secondary migration to other states, yet in the case of the Karenni refugees in Bowling Green we warned government officials about the problems hoping they would help the refugees. Instead, Kentucky’s state refugee coordinator Becky Jordan got our email and three weeks later still had not responded to us.

Becky Jordan, it turns out, works for another private refugee contractor in Kentucky, Catholic Charities (she actually has her office there and receives a paycheck from them, while supposedly acting as their oversight agent!), and told us she was accountable to them and not to us. She also said that she wasn’t going to communicate with us because we asked her if she was concerned about the refugees! (This would almost be a joke if refugees weren’t being so abused by such a broken system, and with such incompetent people at the helm.)

So obviously one of the best ways to solve the problem of secondary migration is to make sure refugee resettlement agencies are assisting the refugees they’re being paid to help, and not just throwing more money to the states and the resettlement agencies. Refugees will run to other states much less often if they find themselves in tolerable circumstances where they are. Isn’t that just obvious?

Posted in Assistant Secretary of the PRM, Bowling Green, Catholic Charities, Colorado, government, health, International Center in Bowling Green (Western Kentucky Refugee Mutual Assistance Association), IOM, Karenni, Kentucky, Minnesota, PRM, R&P, State Department, USCRI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

George Rupp of the IRC claims that all problems in resettlement the result of economy & not enough government funding

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 19, 2010

Here is a comment (below) we submitted to the Huffington Post in response to an article by George Rupp (head of IRC) and Morton Abramowitz (of the International Crisis Group) that credited the crisis in the refugee resettlement program to too little government funding (here).

Rupp and Abramowitz claimed:

“There is one area of good news, though it emerges only from the very bad experience of Iraqi refugees. The small fraction of educated, skilled Iraqis allowed to come to America-some with help from Iraq War-era friends who served as soldiers, aid workers and journalists — tested our aging refugee-admissions system and found it wanting. Run as a partnership between the U.S. Government and aid resettlement agencies like the International Rescue Committee, it was originally designed to accept large numbers of Vietnamese, but the government’s share of support for the program had deteriorated over time. Overstretched charities tried to make ends meet, but the economic downturn brought the whole system to the breaking point. Iraq War veterans and other concerned Americans were outraged. As a result, the Obama Administration is reviewing the entire process of how refugees are admitted to the United States and has taken the first critical steps toward repairing it, including more support in the first weeks after they arrive.”

In response we wrote:

The claim that the economic downturn brought the refugee resettlement system to the breaking point does not explain why it was never brought to the breaking point during previous recessions. Certainly Iraqi refugees should not have put much pressure on the system since our government resettled so few of them. One of the biggest outstanding questions is how much private funding the resettlement agencies bring to the resettlement process. They are supposedly required to bring significant private funding to the program, in line with the spirit of the public-private partnership, yet seem increasingly to rely just on government funding.

What would have happened to the program if our government had acceded to the resettlement agencies’ demands two years ago, via their RCUSA lobbying group, that we resettle 105,000 Iraqis per year. Compare this to the 77,000 total refugees we resettled from all over the world in just one recent year alone. The resettlement agencies didn’t have the funds to resettle that many refugees, yet that didn’t stop them from pressuring the government. The fact that most of these refugees may have ended up homeless on our streets did not phase them. Instead they have been successful in pressuring the government to double public funding for initial resettlement services while not promising to offer anything more than the minimal services they have provided for the past few decades.

The resettlement agencies seem to have forgotten their missions as charitable organizations.

Christopher Coen
Friends of Refugees

Posted in Congress, Cooperative Agreement, funding, government, Iraqi, IRC | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »