Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Archive for the ‘SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants’ Category

What it’s like to be an SIV immigrant

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 26, 2016

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The U.S. Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, under which Iraqi and Afghan interpreters and others who worked for the United States during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are permitted to immigrate, has picked up speed somewhat after years of flowing at a trickle. Once SIV immigrants arrive, however, a number of problems in the program begin to become clear. An article in the Sacramento Bee has the story:

…the U.S. resettlement system [has] proved unprepared to handle [the] increased flow of Afghan refugees.

An extreme example of that lack of readiness is the story of what happened to Ajmal Faqiri, who translated for U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. “We actually found him homeless after he arrived in San Francisco airport on Dec. 13, 2013,” Zeller said. “He picked up his four bags, with his wife, 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter and found an airport policeman and asked, ‘What do I do now? The guy pointed north and said the homeless shelters are that way. So they walked up Highway 101.

“We found them homeless, wandering the streets of San Francisco after an Afghan guy noticed them and helped them contact my interpreter through Facebook”…

The State Department gives each resettlement agency $2,025 per person – $900 to spend on case management and $1,125 to cover rent, furniture, dishware, food and pocket money. But this $1,125 – dubbed “welcome money” by the refugee agencies – doesn’t go far. The agencies can reassign $200 of it to the needs of other refugees, meaning it doesn’t have to go to the family for which it was paid by the government.

Much of the remaining $925 per person is often spent on rent, used furnishings or housewares – without the knowledge or consent of the refugees themselves. One new arrival, former translator Yalda Kabiri, said she received just $45 in spending money when she arrived in 2013.

Many told The Sacramento Bee they would rather have all the cash to pay for phones, used cars, gas and their own furnishings…

Some common themes have emerged among special visa holders in Sacramento. Upon arrival, they are settled in one of a number of apartment complexes in Sacramento County. These units are often infested with roaches and bedbugs, and located in neighborhoods with relatively high crime rates. But the rent has been prepaid for several months, making it hard to move.

The furniture provided is often used and worn, and in their view not worth the money the refugee assistance agencies often spend on it… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, bed bugs, housing, substandard, Iraqi, late health screenings, meeting refugees at the airport, Muslim, rats and roaches, Sacramento, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lutheran Children & Family Service of Eastern Pennsylvania in the spotlight

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 25, 2016

report1State Department monitors visited Lutheran Children & Family Service of Eastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in April 2014. They evaluated the resettlement agency as only “partially compliant” with resettlement contract requirements. The agency, an affiliate of LIRS, had no structured training program for employees and the staff was unfamiliar with the updated requirements of the Cooperative Agreement. Many core services were not delivered within the required time frames. Monitors visited three refugee families and an SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) family. The agency had kept one family in transitional housing for two months. One family said the affiliate did not help them to enroll in an English language program. One family did not have adequate clothing storage or working smoking detectors. One family said they did not have or use a car seat for their infant child. This family also reported many problems with core service delivery which were documented differently in the case files or reported differently by the case manager. Monitors reviewed 16 case files which showed numerous deficiencies with required refugee services. The following are excerpts from the monitoring report (also see 2007 monitoring report):

“…the affiliate does not have a structured training plan. Many core services were not delivered within required time frames.

Monitors visited there refugee families and one SIV family who had all arrived in December, 2013 or January, 2014… One family was placed in transitional housing for two months… One family reported that it was not provided assistance with access to an English language program. One home did not have adequate clothing storage or working smoke detectors… One family reported that thy did not have or use a car seat for their infant child. The same family reported many issues related to core service delivery, which were documented differently in case files or reported differently by the case manager.

Monitors reviewed 16 case files…There was no documentation of refugee understanding of orientation topics… ..in many case files [the initial home visit as well as housing and personal safety orientation] did not occur the next calendar day after arrival as required. Seven files did not document the start date of public benefits and few files contained documentation of approval of benefits. In six files, assistance to access to employment services was beyond ten days after arrival and did not include a record of assistance. In five files case notes did not clearly document delivery of all core services. All four cases with school-aged children showed that school enrollment was delayed beyond thirty days after arrival. One child who arrive ten weeks prior to the monitor’s visit was still not enrolled in school. Four files did not contain service plans. Of the five files pertaining to males between the ages of 18 and 26, two did not document Selective Service enrollment. One 33-year-old male was registered for Selective Service, although he was ineligible due to his age… Two files did not document assistance with enrollment in English language programs. Two files failed to document acknowledgment by the refugee of receipt of all [State Department]…grant funds…” Read more here

Posted in children, community/cultural orientation, Congolese, Cooperative Agreement, employment services, employment/jobs for refugees, ESL & ELL, failure to enroll refugee children in school, furnishings, lack of, Iraqi, Lutheran, Lutheran Children and Family Service of Eastern PA, Nepali Bhutanese, Philadelphia, R&P, safety, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Leave a Comment »

Republicans just figured out they can’t defund USCIS

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 2, 2015

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The bill that passed in the House last week in an attempt to stymie resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees (many of the Iraqis who were friends to the US military) will be difficult to impossible to pass in the Senate. Undeterred, some conservatives want to use the upcoming omnibus spending bill to block funding for large parts of a refugee resettlement program, once again using the threat of a government shutdown. Key Republican leaders, however, are pushing back, calling the effort impractical because because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that oversees the refugee program, is funded through fees and is not covered by the appropriations legislation. An article in the Washington Post has the details:

Key Republicans are pushing back against a proposal from conservatives to use the upcoming omnibus spending bill to block funding for large parts of a refugee resettlement program, calling it impractical…

[Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee], who is part of a group of committee chairmen crafting the party’s response to the attacks, said that approach will not work because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that oversees the refugee program, is funded through fees and is not covered by the appropriations legislation.

“The problem is, you can’t defund USCIS,” McCaul said.
“We kind of fell into that false narrative before, that you could defund it,” he added, referring to an earlier attempt to prevent implementation of an executive order from Obama regarding immigration policy… Read more here

Posted in Congress, Iraqi, legislation, right-wing, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, Syrian | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

SIVs still being wrongfully denied SSI benefits

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 19, 2015

deniedAn issue we first reported on in 2011 continues — SIV immigrants improperly denied social security benefits. An Iraqi SIV visa (Special Immigrant Visa) holder in California named Danial who arrived in June 2012 contacted us to report that the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied him SSI (Supplemental Security Income benefits). Yet, US law entitles SIV holders to these benefits for up to seven years if the person proves disability and has not been able to work for at least a year. Danial reports his case was medically approved as disabled. The SSA office in question is in Victorville, CA.

Following the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2010, P.L.(111-118) enacted on December 19,2009 making Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants eligible for resettlement assistance, federal benefits and entitlements including SSI benefits to the same extent and for the same period as refugees (limited to 7 years if they do not become US citizens), some social Security offices around the US did not seem to understand the law though the SSA put out a letter to local offices to clarify that SIVs were eligible (SSA emergency message EM10023). Also, the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) published State letter #10-02 confirming Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants as eligible for those benefits.

In 2015 this problem of SSA offices denying SIVs their legally allowed benefits continues – some SSA offices apparently still don’t understand the rules and are not observing the SSA’s letter. Instead, they are denying the applicants, with the only recourse to the denied applicant being to apply for a hearing on the matter if they wish to contest the decision. This involves a waiting period until the hearing, that the SIV may have to hire an attorney, going without desperately needed benefits, etc. Danial reports that he applied for Supplemental Security Income in March 2014, his case denied in September 2014, and that he appealed that decision in November 2014. As of today the SSA has still not reported to him any date for an appeal hearing.

Posted in Afghan, California, Iraqi, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, Social Security Administration | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Time running out for Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Applications

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 20, 2014

Racing Against Deadline Clock Time CountdownDecember 31, 2014 is the deadline for Afghan SIVs (Special Immigrant Visas). That date is also the deadline by which the visa may be issued according to current law. Processing time can vary, with the US State Department claiming the current average processing time for an SIV in Afghanistan is about 13 months, but with most taking up to five years according to Ron Black, director of the resettlement agency College of Southern Idaho’s refugee program. An article in the Twin Falls Times-News has the details of the issue:

TWIN FALLS | Time might be running out for thousands of Afghans who risked their lives in the U.S.-led War on Terror.
As American forces continue to pull out of Afghanistan, some 5,000 Afghan translators under Taliban threat are competing for a few thousand Special Immigration Visas (SIVs), the New York Times reported in March.

On Aug. 8, President Barack Obama signed the Emergency Afghan Allies Extension Act of 2014, which authorized another 1,000 visas for Afghan principal applicants.

If the special visa program expires at the end of December, it will be nearly impossible for them to come to America through other visas, a State Department official told the Times-News.

“Although the deadline to apply… is December 31, 2014, the current law provides that no SIVs may be issued under this program after that date,” says a State Department online fact sheet. “We welcome action by Congress to extend this program.”

According to the fact sheet, processing time can vary depending on a number of factors. “The current average processing time for an SIV in Afghanistan is approximately 13 months.”

But most have taken much longer, said Ron Black, outgoing director of the College of Southern Idaho’s refugee program. “Up to five years.”…

The biggest difficulty in issuing a visa is establishing the applicant’s identity, Black said. “These SIV applicants use assumed names for their own safety.”

Many use the name “FNU” — which stands for “first name unknown,” he said. The refugees “need identification, and nothing matches.

“Once they get a visa, they must leave immediately,” Black said. “But they still need an exit permit, and that can be cancelled at the last minute. So the process can drag on and on.”… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

SIV Program for Iraqis set to expire end of September

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 13, 2013

expiration2

With the House rejecting the Senate’s immigration reform bill Wednesday the SIV Program for Iraqi nationals is set to expire at the end of September, while the program for Afghan nationals will expire at the end of September 2014. The program has run slowly since the start in 2008 with only 22 percent of the visas allotted to Iraqis and 15 percent to Afghans having been issued. An article in the Air Force Times has the story:

A law providing special visas to Iraqi and Afghan nationals in danger for helping the U.S. military suffered a blow when the House rejected the Senate’s immigration reform bill Wednesday.

Many of the refugees and their families face grave threats in their homelands as a result of their U.S. government affiliation, and thousands have been killed by their own countrymen, advocacy groups say.

In 2008, Congress passed legislation providing Iraqi and Afghan refugees who assisted the U.S. with special immigrant visas. This included contractors, translators and guides. The 5,000 visas allotted annually to Iraqis are set to expire at the end of September, while the 1,500 visas allotted annually to Afghans will expire in September 2014. The immigration bill would make the visas available until September 2018.

Only 50 special visas are allotted annually for Iraqi and Afghan translators. But in fiscal 2007 and 2008, an amendment to the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act allotted 500 visas for translators.

From fiscal year 2008 to March 2013, 11,647 visas have been allotted to Iraqi and Afghan refugees and 1,693 to translators, according to State Department data…

With the immigration reform bill stalled, advocacy efforts have focused on pushing through the visa provision by other means, Nystrom said.

The provision has also been attached to the Senate and House’s National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2014.

The versions differ slightly in eligibility and the number of visas allotted, but the major difference in the authorization bill is that visas for Iraqis are only extended to 2014…

Only 22 percent of the visas allotted to Iraqis and 15 percent to Afghans have been issued, according to State Department data… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, Congress, Iraqi, legislation, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

5,700 Afghans have applied for U.S. visas under Afghan Allies Protection Act, just 32 have been approved

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 27, 2012

 

Just under 5,700 Afghans who have applied for U.S. visas under the Afghan Allies Protection Act are waiting in indefinite limbo. Only 32 have been approved since 2009. Some interpreters say they have waited years with hardly a word from the State Department about their applications. Until late 2011, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul did not process a single visa under the program. An article in the Washington Post explains:

KABUL — Of the more than 5,700 Afghans who have applied for U.S. visas under a special program tailored for those who have supported the American war effort, just 32 have been approved, the State Department says, leaving the rest in limbo as foreign forces begin their withdrawal.

The growing, protracted backlog threatens to undermine congressionally approved legislation, as well as the longstanding guarantee that the United States will protect Afghans whose contribution to the American mission has left them hunted and vulnerable.

In 2009, the Afghan Allies Protection Act allocated 7,500 visas for Afghans employed by the U.S. government, mostly as military interpreters. The legislation was intended to respond to a prospect that the interpreters knew well: Without a swift escape route, they would be high-priority targets for the Taliban after the American war effort draws down.

But the channel established by Congress has been far from swift. Some interpreters say they have waited years with hardly a word from the State Department about their applications…Since 2007, at least 80 interpreters have been killed in combat.

Until late 2011, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul did not process a single visa under the Afghan Allies program, according to the State Department...

About 400 Afghan interpreters have received visas through other immigration programs. But those programs largely dried up by 2010, when the Afghan Allies legislation was originally supposed to be implemented…

U.S. military officials say they’re frustrated the visas have not come more quickly.

The visa process is a black hole,” said one U.S. military official in Afghanistan who has helped 30 interpreters apply for visas. “We haven’t heard a word about a single application. From what I’ve seen, they aren’t processing anything.”… Read more here

Posted in Afghan, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Comment submitted for today’s State Department hearing on size & scope of refugee program

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 1, 2012

Below is a comment that a regular reader of this blog submitted for today’s State Department public hearing on the size and scope of the refugee program for fiscal year 2013:

I am a private citizen refugee advocate who has been assisting refugees with resettlement issues for the past three years. My comments are based on my experience helping refugees after they arrive in the United States with two exceptions: (1) It shouldn’t be as hard as it appears to be logistically for refugees to go through the process to enter the U.S. . By that I mean, not that each individual shouldn’t be scrutinized in detail, but that the process should entail the least travel through dangerous areas in their home countries, the fewest return trips to an application center, the most feedback about application status, the fewest repeat requests for information, and the speediest answer about whether refugee status will be granted. (2) The travel loan program should be converted to a travel grant program. There seems to be some sort of philosophy that it is citizen-building to saddle a refugee with debt as his/her first exposure to life in the United States. I disagree…It is regularly and repeatedly emphasized to them that failure to repay the travel loan can jeopardize their ability to get U.S. citizenship because of an adverse credit report – yet they are all too often given no information about how to seek forgiveness of a loan many of them will likely never be able to repay in time because of their personal situations. Furthermore, I think having the resettlement agencies act as collection agents for these loans is a significant conflict of interest…

My remaining comments concern my experience during the course of my activities as a refugee advocate…Resettlement agency failures to meet contracted responsibilities are not isolated incidences but are regular, daily occurrences on a widespread basis. I believe these failures occur not because of lack of resources, although that is surely true in some cases, but primarily because of a lack of leadership. Leadership in the local affiliates, leadership in the national offices of resettlement agencies, and leadership in the Domestic Resettlement Section. The failure of leadership that talks to each other more than to refugees. Leadership that cares more about what Washington thinks than what refugees think…I have encountered exactly two offices serving refugees in which a human actually answered the telephone; my experience instead has been full of voice mail not returned and even voice mail boxes completely full – this by agencies who are serving people who may not even have used a telephone before coming to the U.S. Leadership, such as that at World Relief, who cares more about its employees’ religious qualifications than their actual competence. Leadership that does not put enough of its own cash into a resettlement program but instead phonies up the value of its match (the value of which, I believe, is rarely, if ever, audited…English language instruction, crucial, of course, for new arrivals, is regularly inadequate and irrelevant to what a new arrival needs. Referrals for mental health services are regularly inadequate or nonexistent. Housing placements are regularly in dangerous neighborhoods and/or too expensive for the refugee to sustain after financial support stops. Too often refugees are completely abandoned after the initial six months placement…Too often the minimum contractually-required services are not adequately provided or not provided at all. Too often refugees become homeless…There are few people in responsible positions who have the personal and professional competence to install effective programs, who care whether their subcontractors perform well, who care whether their employees serve their clients well, who blame themselves and not their clients when things are not working well…

Particularly disappointing is the leadership of the Domestic Resettlement Section who appears to be more apologist for and defender of resettlement agencies and their local affiliates no matter what rather than the overseers and refugee advocates they should be. Complaints go unanswered; or, if answered, are answered with the condescension of a parent who knows best and must be trusted to do the right thing. Investigation may be promised but one never knows whether it happens and what the result is because that would be a violation of confidentiality. All I know is that what I complained about did not appear to change…Program audits are too infrequent and do not appear to include audits of financial responsibility…Particularly disappointing is that the Domestic Resettlement Section seems to think all is well and nothing needs to change – at least nothing they care to share with the public…

Here is a link to a documentary about refugees in Buffalo, N.Y. I think you’ll find their indomitable spirits despite all that has happened to them is most inspiring. I also recommend the press kit that is posted on the web site for an insight as to how resettlement agencies in Buffalo inspired the making of this film. Read full letter here

Posted in capacity, dangerous neighborhoods, democracy, language interpretation/translation, lack of, Office of Admissions, openess and transparency in government, RPC (Refugee Processing Center), SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department, Travel Loan Program, volunteers, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Our bloated security bureaucracy – do overlapping layers, redundancies prevent us from helping our friends around the world?

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 22, 2012

Is the reason that we’re not meeting our moral obligation to resettle Iraqis who risked their lives to help us that our security bureaucracy has so many overlapping layers and redundancies that it’s almost impossible to navigate the system? In the post-9/11 era, under the Department of Homeland Security, one government agency doesn’t necessarily recognize another’s security checks. One refugee security check will often expire before the next is completed. Trudy Rubin, an Opinion Columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, gives her take on what is going on:

…Consider this: In 2008, Congress mandated 25,000 special immigrant visas (known as SIVs) for Iraqis who helped us over a period of five years; fewer than 4,500 have been issued. According to State Department figures, 719 were granted in fiscal 2011 and 569 during the first six months of fiscal 2012…

…Many Iraqis who helped Americans have chosen to apply for U.S. visas through another…refugee program. As of last July, there were 39,000 Iraqis on that waiting list. In the first six months of fiscal 2012, only 2,500 were admitted.

And most applicants have been waiting one to three years.

So what’s gone wrong? Why can’t we meet our moral obligation to Iraqis who risked their lives to help us?

My answer: We have a security bureaucracy that’s gone bonkers. In the post-9/11 era, under the Department of Homeland Security, we’ve set up so many overlapping layers and redundancies that it’s almost impossible to navigate the system. “One agency doesn’t necessarily recognize another’s security checks,” says Carey. “Often one check will expire before the next is completed.”

Take the case of A.M., who worked for the U.S. Army from 2009-11. He’s been waiting more than a year for his security clearance. Because of the wait, his U.S. Embassy-required medical exam “expired” and he had to take it again, paying another $400. Meanwhile, he is living in hiding, under death threat, afraid even to visit his wife and year-old daughter…

Or take A.L., who has been waiting for more than three years, took his medical exam three times, and fingerprints twice. The embassy gave him a date of a year ago, on which he was supposed to travel, but on that day he was told more security checks were needed. He had sold his business and his car, and is running out of money.

We are threatened with death every moment,” he wrote me. “Is this what we deserve because we worked with U.S. forces. Please. Please. Help us.”

That will require the White House to tame the Kafkaesque Homeland Security bureaucracy, something that still hasn’t happened and probably needs presidential intervention. In the meantime, thousands of Iraqis suffer in limbo and America’s credibility takes a further beating.

If we don’t [move on this], it will have a chilling effect on the willingness of people around the world to work with our missions,” Blinken admitted… Read more here

Posted in Dept of Homeland Security, Iraqi, IRC, security/terrorism, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Stoppage In Security Clearances For Iraqi Refugees & SIVs Caused By New Homeland Security Software

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 23, 2012

It turns out that the year-long near stoppage in security clearances for Special Immigrant Visa applicants  (now beginning to wane) and Iraqi refugees was due in part to a software snafu at the US Department of Homeland Security. The other part of the problem that we knew about was the huge backlog of security clearance reviews caused when new requirements mandated older security clearances being redone, including those for the 58,000 Iraqi refugees already in the US. A newspaper column in the Greensboro News-Record by the founding director of the Center for New North Carolinians mentions the software issue:

Freedom.” “Security.” “Education.”

The first three volunteers wrote on the board. Our interpreter explained that they were listing the advantages of living in America. The list grew.

Then they listed the disadvantages. “Separated from family members,” “loss of culture,” “learning the language,” “loss of job skills certifications.” Then these Iraqi refugees who fled to Jordan discussed their answers.

The lesson was taught by a teacher working for the International Organization for Migration. IOM contracts with the U.S. State Department to provide cultural orientation for Iraqi refugees accepted for resettlement in America. The objective was to develop realistic expectations about America and develop analytical and networking skills in decision-making. The class was conducted in Arabic because the U.S. no longer pays for English language training.

I was leading a dozen U.S. refugee professionals and researchers from half a dozen states for the Association of Refugee Service Professionals. We were studying refugee issues. My daughter, who works with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, had arranged meetings for us. The refugees were stuck. Though approved for resettlement, they can’t get security clearances because new software designed for the Department of Homeland Security has problemsRead more here

Posted in Dept of Homeland Security, Greensboro, IOM, Iraqi, security/terrorism, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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