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U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops

Tennessee Governor No Longer Opposes Resettlement In State

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 15, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 11, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helping refugees connect using tech gadgets

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 1, 2016



Refugees increasingly need internet and smart phone apps to connect, pay bills, and even to make an appointment to get a drivers license in some states. An article at CNET has the details:

…Many will get help with internet access through a three-decade-old telephone subsidy program known as Lifeline. Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission expanded the program to cover wireless and broadband services.

“Universal service has historically been about making sure people have basic access for survival — connecting to friends and family, access to 911 emergency services,” Bronfman said. “With the rise of high-speed internet, we see that idea being extended to broadband.”

Buying computers and smartphones, which can cost anywhere between $200 and $800, may be a hardship for many immigrants.

That’s why Alex Benenson, a retired Intel executive living in Salem, Oregon, organizes phone and computer donations for arriving refugees in his community.

Benenson got involved after learning that the state’s Catholic Charities chapter this year would welcome at least a dozen refugees in Salem, a city of 160,000 people. Catholic Charities, one of the largest organizations the US government contracts to relocate refugees, asked the community to donate household items for arriving families. But Benenson wondered if they could also use tech gadgets.

For the past few months, he has worked with the charity to buy inexpensive Android phones and Google Chromebooks. His first purchases were devices he could get on clearance at retailers including Best Buy, where he snagged Motorola Moto E series smartphones. He also struck a group discount with the local T-Mobile store to give arriving refugees lower-priced wireless service for a few months… Read more here

Posted in Catholic Charities, Oregon | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Syrian refugee family scattered across world

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 20, 2016


A Syrian refugee family in upstate in New York who settled a year ago have found their family scattered across the world. Adult brothers and two older children are in Germany. A sick daughter is in Denmark.  Catholic Family Center apparently initially resettled the family into an apartment infested with roaches. Now that they have a new, infestation-free apartment, however, they find themselves far away from services.  An article at the Democrat & Chronicle has the family’s story:

They came here in July 2015, the very first Syrian refugees to settle in Monroe County…

they learned, they had been accepted into the United States. Their escape from Syria, then, would mean a continued lengthy separation from the rest of the family.

“Of course, I thank America for this humanitarian decision,” Bahzat said. “But I hesitated, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to see my children again. It was a very difficult decision. … But for the safety of my children who were with me — so they could be safe and study and be away from the war — we decided to come here.”

It was several months before they learned where in the United States they would be going. When they discovered it would be Rochester…

The family first moved into a rental house on Smith Street in northwest Rochester, but relocated to an apartment complex in Greece after a month.

Their Greece apartment has no cockroaches, a significant improvement. On the other hand, getting around with public transportation can be an hours-long affair. To go to the market or their English classes requires multiple buses.

“We were hoping to go to school for English as quickly as possible,” Bahzat said. “(But) we learn about 10 words, then because it’s so tiring with the buses, we just forget”…

Despite their infirmity and lack of English, Bahzat and Atie are expected to seek work or take more classes in exchange for the housing assistance, food stamps and small cash supplement they receive. Those benefits have been interrupted more than once, fraying their nerves. Dilan and their older son, Zana, have both found jobs.

The two younger boys, Zana and Delshad, enrolled in high school in Greece and made the honor roll. The state tests, though, were a disaster. The interpreter that the school provided spoke a dialect of Arabic they did not understand, so they failed in science and math.

They can retake the tests later this summer, but neither boy is prepared because; they have not been attending summer school because the district does not provide universal busing for it and they had no other way to get there…

Generally, the family says they have been welcomed warmly by people they meet. But Dilan, who keeps her head covered, said she has received curses and dirty looks.

“People here shouldn’t judge me regarding my scarf or my clothes; it’s just a part of my religion, and it shouldn’t bother anyone,” she said. “I have heard some people saying bad words (and) staring at me like a stranger. I’m like, ‘What did I do?'”…

Bahzat and Atie’s eldest daughter in Denmark has multiple sclerosis and recurring brain inflammation that sometimes paralyzes her left side, another worry that keeps them awake at night.

“My daughter is sick and I can’t even see her,” Bahzat said. “For a parent, that’s really difficult”… Read more here

Posted in Catholic Family Center (Rochester), rats and roaches, Rochester, Syrian, transportation, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Editorial asks Tenn. Attorney General Herbert Slatery to not participate in anti-refugee scheme

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 26, 2016


The Tennessee legislature measure to force the state attorney general to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement is based on two erroneous contentions: 1) that forcing states to provide Medicaid services to refugees amounts to unconstitutional coercion, and 2) that the federal government has violated the law by not consulting with the state on refugee resettlement. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the Affordable Care Act’s original requirement that states expand Medicaid to cover new categories of recipients or risk losing existing Medicaid funding amounted to a new program that states had no choice but to accept. In addition, the Tennessee Office for Refugees essentially acts as a stand-in for the state in working with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) since Tennessee opted out of the federal refugee program in 2007 and designated Catholic Charities to run the Tennessee Office for Refugees. An article in the Knoxville News Sentinel explains:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was wise to wash his hands of the Legislature’s misguided quest to sue the federal government over its refugee resettlement program. Attorney General Herbert Slatery III needs to be next in line at the sink.

Last week Haslam allowed a joint resolution clamoring for a lawsuit to go into effect without his signature, a signal of the governor’s disdain for the effort.

Inspired by the Obama administration’s plan to accept up to 10,000 refugees from war-torn Syria, the resolution calls on Slatery to take some sort of legal action against the federal government. Slatery already has explained to lawmakers in an advisory opinion that the federal government has exclusive authority over the acceptance and resettlement of refugees.

If Slatery opts not to file a lawsuit, the resolution authorizes the House and Senate speakers to hire outside counsel. According to supporters of the measure, a Michigan-based nonprofit public interest law firm is willing to provide free legal services to the state… Read more here

Posted in Catholic Charities of Tennessee, legislation, ORR, Syrian, Tennessee | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

LDS women volunteer in mass to help refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 11, 2016

Mormon church

After the Relief Society general president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged LDS women worldwide to serve refugees, phones starting ringing off the hook at Salt lake City resettlement agencies and other nonprofits that aid refugees.  Volunteers are welcome for a variety of needs, including financial support, collection drives, foster parents of unaccompanied refugee children, and in-kind contributions, which can range from home furnishings, to clothing and school supplies.  An article at the Deseret News explains:

SALT LAKE CITY — No sooner had the Relief Society general president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged LDS women worldwide to serve refugees, phones starting ringing off the hook at local nonprofit agencies that assist refugees.

“It was pretty much to the minute,” Catherine Barnhart, executive director of the English Skills Learning Center, said Friday…

The nonprofit agencies that help resettle some 1,200 refugees that come to Utah each year reported similar levels of interest.

“We’ve received a ton of inquiries into the work we do, for volunteers and how people can get involved… Read more here


Posted in Catholic Community Services of Utah, churches, IRC, Mormons, Utah | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees in slumlord housing in Syracuse

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 27, 2016


This is an odd story not because it involves refugees in slumlord housing, which is not unusual, but because a journalist tries instead to play it up as a “taxpayers” issue. It’s not that landlords are under-regulated (“regulation” being a word that he right-wing hates) and can get away with murder; it’s that “taxpayers” are paying you see (maybe section-8, although the article doesn’t give any details). A class-action lawsuit filed in February in Syracuse for more than 40 Somali refugees living at a north-side apartment complex due to a multitude of housing violations. There is no indication if Catholic Charities refugee resettlement agency placed the refugees in the housing or if the refugees moved there on their own. Living conditions include: a hole in a staircase, cockroaches scurrying across kitchens and bathrooms, leaky tubs, broken windows, bed bugs, boarded up, vacant apartments, and trespassers that hang out in the common area doing drugs, leaving behind drug paraphernalia on the ground. Refugees describe helplessness at getting problems fixed. The property management company that handles the apartment building is owned by a well-connected Syracuse man, John St. Denis, who is a donor to Catholic Charities. St. Denis made headlines last year for running a collection agency so bad he’s barred by the state attorney general from ever opening another debt collection business. The apartment complex isn’t St. Denis’ only problem property. There are a reported 21 cases of alleged substandard living conditions at St. Denis’s other properties, ranging from rats to sewage backups. Although obviously refugees are better here in horrible housing than being killed back where they came from, its inexcusable that resettlement agencies don’t monitor these problems and deal with them before they get out of control. (Syracuse is also where refugees have been frequent targets of street crime for six years now.) An article at has the story:

Syracuse, NY — There’s no heat or water in the dead of winter. Urine and feces dirty the hallways. Children go to school scarred by bedbug bites. Drug dealers take refuge inside busted doors.

This is what America looks like for dozens of refugees, who fled war and persecution to find a North Side [Syracuse] apartment complex that is no refuge.

…[the] owners…haven’t consistently paid water bills, maintained the property or provided adequate security… Read more here

Posted in Catholic, Catholic Charities Diocese of Syracuse, housing, housing, substandard, Slumlords, Somali, Syracuse | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees and supporters rally at Kentucky state capitol

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 17, 2016


Refugees and their supporters met on Kentucky state capitol steps in a third annual show of support for refugee resettlement. An article at MSPR has more:

The Kentucky Capitol took on an international air Wednesday as refugees and their advocates gathered in the Rotunda. With tensions over immigration on the rise, the annual celebration and meet-and-greet with lawmakers has grown into a political statement.

“…everyone [who] helped me to be here in Kentucky, thank you,” a smiling young man says as applause echoes from the well of the statehouse.

Expressing his gratitude to the state he now calls home is Mohamad Al Shamdin, a Syrian refugee who underwent a two-year resettlement process before landing in Lexington in 2015. He later takes a moment to chat with WUKY before heading off to a job interview… Read more here


Posted in Catholic Charities' Kentucky Office of Refugees, Kentucky, World Refugee Day | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Resettlement agencies do not respond to repeated requests for comment

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 3, 2016


Audits, financial filings and internal government reports show that a significant number of government-funded charities contracted to help refugees are misspending money.  Promised services are delayed or never delivered.  Little-examined audits show that one out of five charities has financial red flags, including questionable spending and significant operational problems.  The Government Accounting Office also found more than a year ago that the State Department did a poor job tracking spending – including grants given to nonprofits for resettling refugees – and reported that problems have not yet been fixed.  Independent auditors found the Department could have spent its funding better agency wide – including $209 million in “questioned costs”[Lawrence Bartlett], the director of the State Department’s Office of Refugee Admissions, when asked for comment about these issues, said he does not see any major problems with the U.S. resettlement programAn article at NYCity News Services has all the details (I was also quoted in the article):

The federal government oversees a complex program to help refugees come to this country. But the effort does not always live up to all its promises, potentially making the path more difficult for refugees striving to adapt to their new homeland.

Audits, financial filings and internal government reports indicate that a significant number of government-funded charities contracted to help the newcomers are misspending money, an NYCity News Service examination of hundreds of documents found. Promised services are delayed or never delivered, medical care is often postponed beyond guidelines and program oversight can lag, the documents show…

…little-examined audits reveal that one out of five charities has financial red flags, including questionable spending and significant operational problems…

Auditors uncovered financial problems at the State Department as well as the nonprofits that receive federal dollars for working with refugees.

The Government Accounting Office, for instance, found more than a year ago that the State Department did a poor job tracking spending – including grants given to nonprofits for resettling refugees – and reported that problems have not yet been fixed.

Government grants were deemed “at risk” – meaning the GAO found signs of financial mismanagement, poor performance and insufficient monitoring. Even when the State Department’s grant officials spotted troubled nonprofits, they did little to ensure money was spent properly, according to the GAO, which found the “State [Department] cannot be certain that its oversight is adequate.” The State Department says it has improved its oversight of refugee grants, according to the GAO.

The State Department’s own inspector general found in 2013 that the agency did a poor job closing out its grants – including those tied to its refugee operations – leaving more than $21 million unused.

Still, in its most recent audit, independent auditors found the Department could have spent its funding better agency wide – including $209 million in “questioned costs”…

[Catholic Charities in San Antonio, Texas] …declined a request for comment….

[Catholic Charities of Rockford, Ill.] …did not respond to repeated requests for comment…

USCCB could not be reached for comment by time of publication… Read more here

Posted in Catholic, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of San Antonio Inc., Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rockford, funding, Government Accountibility Office (GAO), housing, substandard, late health screenings, local officials, failure to notify, neglect, rats and roaches, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »