Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

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College Station community unites after Mosque shooting

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 22, 2016

unity

The College Station community in Texas has come out in strong support of a local mosque that was found with five bullet holes following gunfire last Friday — no doubt a gift from the political right-wing. The outpouring of support has lifted the spirits of many in the Islamic community. An article and news report at KBTX CBS-3 has the story:

COLLEGE STATION – The community came together Friday to show support for the Islamic Community of Bryan-College Station following gunfire at the mosque early Thursday.

Nimrah Riaz and Shumila Zaidi have grown up at their local mosque. The five bullet holes they found in the building Friday left them shaken.

“When I first heard that, I was in shock,” said Nimrah Riaz. “I’m going to cry it was really sad. My dad was here and he is the most peaceful man in the world. He has given me so much wisdom,” said Shumila Zaidi.

Dan De Leon is a local pastor who coordinated a rally at the mosque in response to the shooting.

“Hatred and violence in the form of gun violence on this mosque is to inflict violence on our entire neighborhood,” said De Leon.

More than a hundred people stood side by side surrounding the mosque during afternoon prayers. Many of the participants were not Muslim but rather supporting their neighbors.

“This won’t be tolerated by this community,” said De Leon.

The outpouring of support has lifted the spirits of many in the Islamic community… Read more here

Posted in crime, hate crimes, Muslim, right-wing, safety, security/terrorism, Texas, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tenn. top legal official won’t sue over refugee resettlement

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 7, 2016

"Scales of Justice" button (Gold)

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery has decided not to sue the federal government over its refugee resettlement program after being directed to do so by the state legislature.  Slatery points out that the issue has been dismissed in federal court. He also says the so-called “coerced spending issue” (that the federal government is “confiscating state resources” by “coercing” Tennessee to accept refugees) is an untested legal theory that is unlikely to succeed.  An AP article at WJHL has the details:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery won’t sue the federal government over its refugee resettlement program.

A General Assembly resolution passed earlier this year had demanded legal action. Gov. Bill Haslam allowed it to take effect without his signature in May.

“I have constitutional concerns about one branch of government telling another what to do,” Haslam wrote to lawmakers at the time.

In a Tuesday letter to the clerks of the state Senate and House of Representatives, Slatery outlined what he sees as lawmakers’ two concerns about refugee resettlement. One is that federal officials are not properly consulting with state and local officials, as required by law. The other is that the federal government is confiscating state resources by coercing Tennessee to accept refugees.

Slatery notes in the letter that the consulting issue already has been dismissed in federal court. He says the coerced spending issue is an untested legal theory that is unlikely to succeed… Read more here

Posted in court, legislation, right-wing, Tennessee | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Twin Falls police investigate threats over Fawnbrook assault

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 28, 2016

threats

After failing at their disinformation campaign about a child who was sexually abused in Twin Falls last week (there was no gang rape, not at knife point, and not by Syrian refugees) right-wing activists have now turned to making threats against city officials.  Police and the FBI are looking into violent threats left at city offices.  An article in the Times-News explains:

TWIN FALLS — Police and the FBI are looking into violent threats left at city offices and made against city officials over the handling of a sexual assault on a 5-year-old girl.

Twin Falls Mayor Shawn Barigar and Vice Mayor Suzanne Hawkins have both forwarded threatening messages they received about the incident to police.

Three boys from Middle Eastern families, ages 7, 10 and 14, were involved in the sexual assault against the girl at the Fawnbrook Apartments on June 2, authorities have said.

Two of the boys are Sudanese, one Iraqi. The two older boys are facing juvenile charges.

The story started to get national attention about a week ago after the two older boys were taken into custody. Several anti-Muslim and anti-refugee resettlement bloggers wrote about the case, with some incorrectly saying the boys were Syrian or containing details authorities have denied, including saying the assault was a gang-rape and that the boys held the girl at knife-point. Many of them accused law enforcement, city officials and local media of trying to cover up the incident.

“I’ve had my fair share of emails from folks this week sharing their concerns, and a fair amount of just outright lies and wrong information about this very tragic case that’s being handled,” Barigar said Friday.

Barigar said several of the emails and phone messages, “are what I would characterize as threatening personally to me and family”…

“I don’t believe it’s our local citizens doing it,” she said of the threats. Read more here

Posted in FBI, police, right-wing, Twin Falls, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What it’s like to be an SIV immigrant

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 26, 2016

siv

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 »

More deceptive attempts to incite anti-refugee sentiments

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 20, 2016

“There were no Syrians involved, there was no knife involved, there was no gang-rape,” Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs said Monday morning.

incitement

After two juvenile males were charged for an alleged incident involving a 5 year-old female in Twin Falls in Idaho, right wing blogs and websites manufactured a story supposedly involving a gang rape at knife-point by Syrian refugees. A 7-year-old juvenile male allegedly touched a 5-year-old girl.  A Twin Falls County Prosecutor said Monday morning that, “There were no Syrians involved, there was no knife involved, there was no gang-rape.”  In addition, the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center, which oversees refugee resettlement in the Magic Valley, did not resettle the boys involved, and no Syrian refugees have been resettled in Twin Falls. An article at has the story:

Authorities are denying claims that Syrians gang-raped a child at knife-point in a Twin Falls apartment complex earlier this month.

“There were no Syrians involved, there was no knife involved, there was no gang-rape,” Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs said Monday morning.

His comments largely refute several differing accounts about the incident circulating on anti-refugee resettlement, anti-Muslim blogs and conspiracy websites. Most claim a group of Syrian refugees sexually assaulted a mentally disabled girl at knife-point June 2 in the laundry facilities of Fawnbrook Apartments, a low-income housing complex in Twin Falls…

According to prosecutors, three boys were involved, ages 7, 10 and 14, and the alleged victim was a 5-year-old girl..

“All those involved are juveniles, and the older one didn’t touch the victim in any way,” Loebs said. He said only one person is alleged to have touched the victim, but he declined to elaborate.

The prosecutor received a report Thursday from police. Further refuting claims made in the stories online that police bungled the investigation or tried to cover it up, Loebs said the police investigated the incident thoroughly, interviewed everyone who needed to be interviewed and followed proper protocols.

Refugee-resettlement officials called the online stories deceptive attempts to incite anti-refugee sentiments…

…no Syrians refugees have been resettled in Twin Falls… Read more here

Posted in College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center, Idaho, right-wing, Syrian, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Texas anti-refugee lawsuit tossed out

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 16, 2016

gavel

A federal district court rejected Texas’s attempt to bar the federal government from resettling Syrian refugees in the state and dismissed the lawsuit. The judge earlier declined to halt the imminent arrival in Texas of a Syrian refugee family.  An article at The Atlantic has the details:

A federal district court rejected Texas’s attempt to bar the federal government from resettling Syrian refugees in the state and dismissed the lawsuit on Wednesday.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission failed to “state a plausible claim for relief” or prove it could challenge the government’s actions under existing law, federal district judge David Godbey ruled…

Godbey…ruled that Congress hadn’t provided Texas or other states with the necessary legal means to challenge federal actions under the Act. Texas acknowledged Congress had provided no explicit mechanism, but argued the law implicitly included one. But this argument failed to convince Godbey, who cited the statute’s history and structure to disprove it.

His order also dismissed the commission’s allegation that the IRC violated its contract with Texas by resettling refugees without proper communication. Texas argued the Refugee Act required the IRC to provide “close cooperation and advance consultation.” But that language is best read as advisory, Godbey wrote, contrasting its vague urgings with more explicit commands elsewhere in the Act… Read more here

and in the San Antonio Express-News:

Representing the nonprofit International Rescue Committee, which has contracted with the state to settle refugees, the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Texas said they hoped that the ruling discourages other states from taking similar actions to oppose people fleeing Syria for their safety.

“Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Paxton didn’t have a legal leg to stand on here, and they knew it. The goal of this wasteful lawsuit had nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with scoring political points on the backs of desperate refugees. We trust Judge Godbey’s ruling will dissuade other states contemplating similar discriminatory measures,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas… Read more here

Posted in ACLU, court, IRC, Syrian, Texas | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Salt Lake City park becomes safer and more family friendly for local refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 9, 2016

park

In one of Salt Lake County’s most densely populated refugee and immigrant neighborhoods a park that was once a dreary, graffiti-ridden space has been renovated into a welcoming community gathering place. Sunnyvale Park is next to Millcreek, site to about 2,000 apartments where refugees have settled. The Salt Lake County Office of Township Services worked with community partners to put in new restrooms, a water fountain, and playground equipment. The Sunnyvale Farmers Market will also be opening at the park, which will help address the low access to healthy foods in the neighborhood. An article at the Deseret News has the details:

MILLCREEK — To some, a newly renovated playground is a simply a neighborhood perk.

To the Sunnyvale community, it’s much more than that.

That’s what Salt Lake County officials celebrated Wednesday with the grand reopening of Sunnyvale Park, 4013 S. 700 West, showing off the park’s shiny new swingset, a firetruck-red jungle gym and brand new drinking fountains.

“This is critical to the community,” said Theresa Drulard, Sunnyvale Neighborhood Center coordinator with the Asian Association of Utah, a refugee and immigrant group.

To the residents of about 2,000 apartments in west-side Millcreek — one of Salt Lake County’s most densely populated refugee and immigrant neighborhoods — the park turns what was once a dreary, graffiti-ridden space into a welcoming community gathering place, Drulard said.

“When I first came to this park, there was no running water, the bathrooms were locked and the playground equipment was broken,” she said. “It was really kind of sad.”

Salt Lake County Mayor McAdams said neglected spaces can attract criminal activity, but once parks are improved and utilized more, the area can become safer and more family friendly… Read more here

Posted in safety, Utah | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Minnesotans oppose anti-Muslim sentiment with message of support

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 6, 2016

Ramadan

The Minnesota Council of Churches is leading an effort to oppose anti-Muslim sentiment with a message campaign using yard signs. The lawn signs read, “To our Muslim neighbors: Blessed Ramadan.” An article at KMSP-TV-FOX-9 has the story:

(KMSP) – In the midst of a presidential election filled with talk of discriminating against Muslims, there is a Minnesota-made campaign to fight Islamophobia.

The Minnesota Council of Churches is distributing yard signs… to assure Muslims as they begin Ramadan that Islamophobia is far from a universal feeling. The lawn signs read, “To our Muslim neighbors:  Blessed Ramadan.”

“We have extremely radical Christians who sometimes get violent and Jews who sometimes get violent, Hindus, Buddhists, all over the world. In every religion there are those who go to the extreme, [but] the vast majorities do not and we want to signal to our Muslim friends and neighbors that we know that,” Pastor Tim Hart-Anderson of Westminster Presbyterian Church said. 

One of ISIS’s stated goals is to create, through their violence, Islamophobia in the western world and inflame a divide to push the vast majority of Muslims who do not agree with them to eventually join them anyway… Read more here

Posted in discrimination, Minnesota, Minnesota Council of Churches, Minnesota Council of Churches, Muslim, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Public alarm in Twin Falls quelled with facts despite efforts to foment “pocket of resistance”

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 4, 2016

facts

Just the facts

In the present political climate a void free of facts is a perilous thing, especially when it comes to refugees. Extremist opponents have tried hard to foment “pockets of resistance” around the country. In Twin Falls in Idaho, despite a handful of very vocal opponents shouting at city council meetings about speculative “al-Qaeda plots”, the public listened to the facts and decided to support local refugee resettlement efforts, and an anti-refugee initiative failed miserably. An article at The Economist has the details:

THIS has not been a great election season for cool appeals to reason. Few public debates have strayed as far from Socratic ideals of truth-seeking as those involving refugees…Strikingly, some of the loudest calls to bar new refugee arrivals have come from communities that are rarely, if ever, sent refugees from Syria or other high-risk countries…

A distinctively different sort of refugee debate has gripped the small rural city of Twin Falls, Idaho for the past several months…

National alarm over Syrian arrivals found an echo in Twin Falls late last year. A group of locals launched a petition drive to put a formal ballot initiative before county voters, asking them whether they wanted the refugee centre closed. Rick Martin, the owner of a small repair service for medical devices, was the prime mover behind the petition…he [asserted], and there is a “very, very high potential that [Islamic State] sympathisers are in our community right now.”

…His ballot initiative [however] failed woefully…

City elders and defenders of the refugee centre have a different take. They say that they quelled public alarm with the least fashionable of tools: facts. In particular, supporters of the refugee programme point to the impact of a public forum attended by more than 700 people, organised by the Times-News, and addressed by Twin Falls school, public safety and medical officials…

Patiently, the panellists set out the costs and benefits of receiving a few hundred refugees in Twin Falls each year. Refugees are not a burden on the public purse: they are helped to find work fast, and typically the newcomers pay more in federal taxes in a single year than they receive in their one-off resettlement grants…

Refugees are screened for health problems and commit crimes at an exceedingly low rate, panellists added…

…terror groups trying to infiltrate America would find it much easier to send militants who hold European passports, who can visit without visas.

Wiley Dobbs, superintendent of the Twin Falls school district, told the forum how special services for refugees and immigrant children, including two centres that prepare newcomers to learn in American schools, account for 0.42% of his budget. “There was a lot of false information out there,” Mr Dobbs recalls. “The neat thing is, we were just sharing the facts”… Read more here

Posted in College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center, legislation, right-wing, Syrian, Twin Falls, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

South Carolina anti-refugee bill dies with end of legislative session

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 3, 2016

throw

The South Carolina republican bill that would have required all refugees to register with the state and made religious organizations and other groups that sponsor refugees liable for the refugees if they were ever to commit any crimes has died with the end of the legislative session. The writer of the anti-refugee bill said that the intent of the bill was to make it more difficult for refugees to live in South Carolina. An article at The Herald has the details:

Legislators started this session earlier this year in the midst of an international refugee crisis, as people fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa fled to Europe in ever increasing numbers and President Barack Obama’s announcement that 10,000 additional refugees from the Syrian civil war would be resettled in the United States this year.

But in the aftermath of terror attacks in Paris, France, and San Bernardino, Calif., opposition to admitting more refugees to the United States grew. York County and several other local governments approved resolutions opposing the resettlement plans…

But the bill was never taken up by the House Judiciary Committee, and it officially died when the session ended.

The idea of a refugee registry earned vocal opposition… Read more here

Posted in discrimination, legislation, right-wing, South Carolina, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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