Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘USCIS’ Category

FTC in conjunction USCIS is holding a webinar on scams targeting immigrants on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. (Eastern)

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 19, 2014

fraudDear Colleagues,

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in conjunction with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is holding a webinar on scams targeting immigrants.

Please see below for information on participating.


Office of Refugee Resettlement

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USCIS invites you to participate in a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stakeholder engagement on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. (Eastern) to learn about the latest scams targeting immigrants, including but not limited to: notario fraud, imposter scams, education, healthcare, mortgage, and business opportunity scams. FTC and USCIS officials will be available to answer questions from participants.

To Join the Session:

Any interested parties may participate in this free webinar. Please join us up to 15 minutes early to make sure you can connect via phone and computer.

Toll-Free Call-In Number: (800) 762-7308

Confirmation Number: 315936 (if needed)

Webinar Title: Scams Against the Immigrant Community

Event link:

Event number: 996-088-549 (if needed)

Event password: M33ting (if needed)

If you are unable to join the webinar, slides will be available online. Please call in to find out how to access them.

FTC strongly recommends that you test your computer prior to joining the presentation. You can test your computer system at any time at

Due to the large audience, FTC is unable to troubleshoot WebEx connections. If you need help getting connected, please use the WebEx Online help at

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Although WebEx includes a feature that allows any documents and other materials exchanged or viewed during the session to be recorded, FTC will not be recording this session

Posted in crime, ORR, scams, stealing money from refugees, USCIS | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Having fun at work – the St. Louis office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 15, 2012

Inexplicably long delays in deciding applications. Questions about the status of cases going unanswered. Attempts to deprive applicants of legal counsel – some clients were told they didn’t need a lawyer, others were interviewed without their lawyer’s knowledge and still others were told they should appear at hearings without counsel. Interview techniques that are often aggressive, combative and abusive. Office employees often belittle applicants, ask inappropriate questions and refuse to shut their office doors during interviews when others are nearby, depriving applicants of confidentiality. If this description of the St. Louis office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is correct, a day’s work at the office for these apparently sadistic government employees must be fun, albeit, had at other people’s expense. An article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from October documents the allegations:

One person was asked if he was “a good Muslim” after he acknowledged having premarital sex with his wife.

Another was told it was “not very Catholic” for his wife to have had her fallopian tubes tied.

A third was told she was a poor mother because her children had severe food allergies.

Again and again, a complaint said, people seeking the services of federal immigration officers in St. Louis say they’ve confronted adversarial and unprofessional behavior.

More than 170 local lawyers who represent them are now demanding action.

“This is not a case of a few rogue officers. This is systemic management failure, and corrective action is needed,” Kenneth K. Schmitt, chairman of the Missouri/Kansas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, wrote in a recent letter that was hand delivered to the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The federal agency oversees lawful immigration and has 18,000 government employees and contractors working in 250 offices around the world, according to its website. That includes 17 employees and six contractors in the St. Louis field office in the Robert A. Young federal building downtown.

In his letter, Schmitt cited a 10-year period in which the local immigration office has become “isolated and hostile towards the public and those who appear before them.”

He said the office has gained a reputation outside St. Louis for its lack of communication with lawyers, adversarial stance, intolerably long and unexplained delays in deciding applications, and being out of line with national immigration policy.

The local office “operates in a culture of conflict and outright hostility that discourages any degree of professionalism or cooperation between the bar and the field office,” the letter said.

Immigrants who seek the help from the office are not those who are charged with a crime or facing deportation. Instead, they are seeking a legal benefit to which they believe they are entitled such as citizenship, family reunification or asylum… Read more here

Posted in immigration documents, immigration services, St. Louis, USCIS | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees Can Report Scams Anonymously

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 20, 2012

Con artists continue their evil ways with our refugee population, looking to victimize those who are the most vulnerable. Scams include selling immigration forms (these forms are free), and taking money for green cards, 1-94 cards and the immigrant lottery (and then disappearing with the money). Refugees may report scams anonymously, by using the website, or by calling 1-877-382-4357. An article in the Union Leader explains the various cons and how refugees can report them:

…Scams…are occurring daily across New Hampshire and other states, according to local Immigration officials…

“There are people out there that are victimizing members of [the refugee and immigrant] community because they think they won’t be a good witness,” said Alfred Rubega, assistant U.S. attorney for New Hampshire. “I think they are going to find out pretty quickly in New Hampshire that is not at all a good idea.”

On Wednesday, authorities held a news conference to explain the Unlawful Practice of Immigration Law Initiative, a program intended to help catch con artists. The initiative is a joint effort among the USCIS, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.

The initiative is built on three pillars: enforcement, education and collaboration. It is intended to stop scams and prosecute those responsible; educate immigrants about scams and how to avoid them; and inform immigrants about the proper, legal immigration process and where to find legitimate legal advice and representation…

Different cons

One of the more popular scams uses websites to advertise immigration services or pertinent forms for a fee. One clue a website is phony is when it ends in anything other than the “.gov” tag.

“We’ve heard reports that people have fallen victim to these bogus websites,” said Simon Abi Nader, field office director for USCIS’ Bedford branch. “The simple reason is that the general public does not know the difference between ‘.gov’ and ‘.com,’ which is a public domain. The government owns .gov, and no one can imitate that. All USCIS forms are free.”…

…Community groups helping to prevent scams say immigrants in New Hampshire have been fleeced out of thousands of dollars. Cathy Chesley, director of Catholic Charities Office of Immigration and Refugee Services, said she has seen many victims.

“I know one family that’s out $7,000,” said Chesley. “Just gone.”…

One example

One man accidentally let I-94 cards — temporary visas — for his entire family go through the laundry in his jeans, said Amy Marchildon, director of Services for Lutheran Social Services of New Hampshire. “He paid someone $2,000 to replace one card, and nothing happened,” she said. The legitimate cost of replacing an I-94 is $365.

One immigrant applied for the State Department’s lottery visa program, Nader said.

“This person worked with someone who said they would help her get the papers for the lottery. For months down the road, she received this email saying that she won the lottery and that the next step is you send me $2,500 money order and wire it this way,” Nader said…

…The person disappeared, and her $2,500 disappeared with them.”…

…Nader said individuals could report scams anonymously, by using the website, or by calling 1-877-382-4357… Read more here

Posted in Catholic Charities (Manchester), immigration documents, immigration services, Lutheran Social Services of New Hampshire, New Hampshire, safety, scams, USCIS, visa lottery | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

USCIS reminds eligible Haitians to file for TPS

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 16, 2011

The final day for TPS-Haiti beneficiaries to re-register is Aug. 22,
2011. TPS was originally designated for Haiti in January 2010 in
response to a catastrophic earthquake that devastated that country. The current 18-month extension of TPS for Haiti will remain in effect through Jan. 22, 2013. The following three groups are covered under the Haiti TPS extension and re-designation:

1) Individuals filing for the first time
2) Individuals with pending TPS application
3) Individuals re-registering for TPS (Individuals who were initially granted TPS for Haiti through July 22, 2011 and who plan to remain in the United States must re-register no later than Aug. 22, 2011)

Please see USCIS Update for more information.

Posted in Haitian, TPS (Temporary Protected Status), USCIS | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Houston resettlement agency uses refugee slowdown to give additional employment coaching

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 12, 2011


The slowdown in refugee arrivals since October 2010 has led to a situation where resettlement agencies are now refocusing efforts on doing needed employment coaching for refugees already here. Did the doubling of the State Department’s per capita grant funding to resettlement contractors last year do the same? Let’s hope so. The federal government increased the funding with no strings attached, which was not necessarily good for the refugees — especially due to the problems at Houston’s four resettlement agencies: The Alliance For Multicultural Community Services, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Houston, Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, and YMCA International Services.

Yani Rose Keo, interim executive director of Houston’s Alliance claims that her agency is now spending more time with refugees, according to an article in the Houston Chronicle.

The number of refugees resettling in the U.S. and Houston has dropped considerably this year because of new security measures, according to the U.S. State Department.

Nationwide, refugee arrivals have declined more than 30 percent, from nearly 54,000 in the first nine months of fiscal year 2010 to about 37,000 during the same period this year.

“We are committed to conducting the most rigorous screening in order to ensure that those being admitted through the refugee program are not seeking to harm the United States,” according to a statement from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Government officials attribute the slowdown to a new “pre-departure” check that went into effect in late 2010. The additional screening is intended to identify information that might have come to light since initial biographical and biometric checks were conducted...

Fewer arrivals means less funding for YMCA International and four other local refugee resettlement agencies, which receive per-capita grants from the State Department to help refugees transition into their new lives in the U.S.

The grants total about $1,800 per refugee, with $1,100 slated for direct assistance, and the balance paying for administrative costs, such as case managers...

The Alliance For Multicultural Community Services laid off four employees, but hired one back last month, as arrivals began to pick up again, said Yani Rose Keo, interim executive director.

“Normally we are super busy June, July, August, September,” Keo said.

She said Alliance is using the unexpected down time to help refugees who are already here.

“We do a lot of employment coaching right now,” Keo said. “That’s what’s the key. When they get here, we spend more time, closer with them, coaching them.”Read more here

Posted in Alliance for Multicultural Community Services, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, employment/jobs for refugees, funding, Houston, Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, Nepali Bhutanese, State Department, USCIS, YMCA International Services | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

US extends Temporary Protected Status to Haitians by 18-months, adds those who arrived after quake

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 22, 2011

The Boston Globe reports that the US federal government is giving an 18-month extension to Haitians who came to the US before the deadly earthquake and whom the government granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Further, a new policy will allow Haitians who fled that country after the earthquake to work and live in the United States through the beginning of 2013. Previously, only those who lived in the country before the earthquake had access to the TPS being extended under the new policy. Now, Haitians who arrived in the U.S. up to a year after the quake can use the status until Jan. 22, 2013.

Haitians who fled the earthquake-ravaged nation last year will be eligible to apply for special status that allows them to live and work legally in the United States for a fixed amount of time, US immigration officials announced today.

The move extending so-called temporary protected status to the Haitians marks a major shift for federal officials, who had resisted granting it to thousands of Haitians in part to discourage a life-threatening mass migration by sea.The announcement comes days after Haiti inaugurated a new president.

Under their new status, the Haitians who came after the quake will enjoy the protected status until Jan. 22, 2013. The government also gave the 18-month extension to Haitians who came to the US before the quake. It had been set to expire in July.

“Providing a temporary refuge for Haitian nationals who are currently in the United States and whose personal safety would be endangered by returning to Haiti is part of this administration’s continuing efforts to support Haiti’s recovery,” Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said in a statement.

The estimated 10,000 people who had fled after the quake on visitor visas, which they overstayed because they had no jobs or homes to return to, ended up crowded into relatives’ homes or homeless and living in motels, as the Globe reported in January… Read more here

Posted in Dept of Homeland Security, Haitian, TPS (Temporary Protected Status), USCIS | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Those who seek Asylum

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 1, 2010

There is a good, succinct article about asylum in Immigrant Connect Chicago. Asylum-seekers (asylees) are different from refugees only in that they arrive in the U.S. and ask for asylum, as opposed to being outside of the U.S. and applying for refugee status. Both asylees and refugees are people who claim a credible fear of persecution or torture in their home country based on race, religion, membership in a political or social group and political opinion.

…In 2009, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) revised procedures to allow asylum seekers to be released from detention after passing a credible fear interview if they “establish their identities, pose neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, have a credible fear of persecution or torture, and have no additional factors that weigh against their release.” According to UNHCR, which has published documents regarding the debate on detention, many of those who were detained among criminals were “not there by virtue of having committed a crime, but due to a breach of administrative procedures.”

An asylum-seeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated,” according to UNHCR. In the credible fear interview upon arrival, an asylum officer determines whether or not the individual can claim the need for asylum based on their “credible fear of persecution or torture” in their home country, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Between October 2009 and May 2010, a credible fear was established in 3,519 of the 4,504 interviews conducted, according to USCIS. Those who are determined not to have a credible fear may request review of the decision by an immigration judge. If no request for review is submitted or if the judge reaffirms the negative decision, applicants are sent back to their home countries. If the interviewer determines that there is a credible fear, the applicant continues the process in court where they may present a claim for asylum to an immigration judge.

The immigration judge’s decision depends upon a reasonable fear of persecution based on race, religion, membership in a political or social group and political opinion. The burden of proof is on the applicant to justify their fears. The success often depends upon whether or not the asylum seeker is represented by an attorney, according to Hughes. Eighty percent of applicants with attorneys are granted the status they seek while only 20 percent are granted asylum when not represented.

Many of the judges are former lawyers with “the other side,” according to Edget Betru, an immigration attorney at Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta. Because of their involvement with the Department of Homeland Security and similar agencies, “they’re coming with a certain perspective or bias already,” says Betru.

In certain cases, the judge’s personal knowledge about the issue at hand may play an important part… Read more here

Posted in asylees, Dept of Homeland Security, ICE, immigration courts, immigration services, Nigerian, Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta (RRISA), Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta (RRISA), UNHCR, USCIS | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

US extends Haitian TPS deadline to January 18, 2011

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 16, 2010

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is giving Haitians who were in the U.S. as of January 21, 2010 a six month extension to file for TPS (Temporary Protected Status), here. TPS will allow Haitians the legal status to stay here and work legally for at least 18 months. Previously the deadline was July 20, 2010, but is now extended until January 18, 2011. Haitians who cannot afford the registration fees may apply for a fee waiver. The U.S. will not immediately deport Haitians who apply for TPS and receive a rejection determination, as the US is not deporting Haitians at this time. The U.S. will allow Haitians granted TPS to stay in the U.S. until July 22, 2011. The U.S. government will also decide whether or not to extend TPS for Haitians. The U.S. has extended TPS for Hondurans and Nicaraguans for the past 11 years, and for El Salvadorans for nine years.

Posted in Haitian, TPS (Temporary Protected Status), USCIS | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Those pesky Iraqi refugees, willing to speak truth to power

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 26, 2010

The refugee resettlement public and private partners have set upon a new idea  — Iraqi refugees are difficult, troublesome, and hard to please.  This point of view of course stems from just one vantage point, that of refugee resettlement agency workers and officials, and government “partners” disinterested in taking an oversight viewpoint, having accepted this defamation whole and unquestioned.

According to an anonymous, unnamed government official in an article at, Iraqi refugees “have had a particularly difficult time adjusting to their new circumstances”  here.

As Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and State department officials begin consultations to make recommendations for the number of refugees allowed into the United States in 2011, the nation’s high unemployment is creating challenges for them.

“This is a new experience for the refugee admissions program,” said a State Department official with longtime experience in refugee and asylum programs. “Incoming refugees are facing a much harder time in achieving self sufficiency, which is the goal.”

…Program officials have begun providing information to would-be refugees before they enter the application process. “We want people to be aware — before they become committed to the U.S. as a resettlement country — of the current [unemployment] situation,” so they can pursue alternative countries for resettlement if they want, the State official said.

…A key problem for program officials is refugees often have inflated expectations of what life in the United States will be like.

“It’s hard to counter a lifetime of expectation,” said a senior official with the DHS’ Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau. Both DHS and State officials spoke on the condition they would not be named, during a briefing for reporters on the refugee and asylum programs.

…Iraqis, several thousand of whom have been resettled in the United States because their support for U.S. operations in Iraq placed them in danger, have had a particularly difficult time adjusting to their new circumstances, the State official said. The Iraqis, who are largely middle class, “are very surprised at the standard of living that the refugee resettlement program presents to someone,” she said.

(Notice that government officials no longer comment on the record. What sort of accountability, with openness and transparency — ordered for the federal agencies by President Obama — is offered by officials that always speak anonymously?)

Yet, are Iraqi refugees, particularly the SIV’s referred to in the article (“resettled in the United States because their support for U.S. operations in Iraq placed them in danger”) really so difficult, and have so-called unrealistic expectations? In fact, it seems as if these refugees are merely frustrated by the lack of assistance and extremely low-quality services offered to them by private agencies receiving public money to help refugees.

For example, in Sacramento refugee agencies took two SIV refugee men to fake interviews that not only wasted their time but did nothing to increase their chances to find any job, let alone the civil engineering jobs for which they were qualified (here). But the difference in this case was that these men dared to speak up about what the agencies did to them — they dared to speak truth to power. This troublesome tendency has also been found in other refugees labeled “difficult”, such as the Lost Boys of Sudan. Bear in mind that south Sudanese Dinka culture treasures freedom of speech as much as American culture does.

According to a reporter who recently wrote a series of articles about a resettlement agency that was severely neglecting its refugee clients, one of the first things an official offered to her as an excuse was that the Iraqi refugees are difficult. The statement astounded her because it was a refugee of a different nationality who was in crisis and left on his own that had started the inquiry. She thought to herself, “why were they trying to blame Iraqi refugees?” It was completely out of place.

Refugees who are troublesome are refugees who know too little and need too much help, or they are too educated and/or too outspoken. Resettlement agencies don’t like either group.

Posted in California, Dept of Homeland Security, employment/jobs for refugees, HHS, Iraqi, Obama administration, openess and transparency in government, Sacramento, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department, USCIS | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »