Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Posts Tagged ‘federal contractors’

State Department Assistant Secretary of the PRM Bureau schmoozes with federal contractor friends

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 20, 2012

The Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Anne C. Richard, has just released her remarks from the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s 2012 National Consultation. Aside from referring to the federal contractors in attendance as “friends”, a moniker that demonstrates a lack of oversight authority that the refugees and taxpayers would benefit from (one doesn’t really criticize friends after all), Richard ticked off State Department achievements of recent years. The doubling of the amount of money the State Department provides to help with the initial reception and placement of refugees was cited as the first achievement. This increase in funds, in part to the federal refugee contractors, was accompanied with not a single increase in the contractor’s responsibilities. Also mentioned is that the State Department will now guarantee refugee contractors a minimum amount of funding (this shows the power of the federal refugee contractors since the State Department refugee office has ignored our every request for additional assistance to refugees, such as requiring contractors to provide refugees with such additional minimum items as umbrellas, hangers, phones, dictionaries, and stamps & envelopes). Richard also mentions that the State Department has championed more consultation at the local level to make sure that they listen to local communities. Except, it was the State of Tennessee that championed this issue by passing a state law to require this. Richard’s remarks are found at the State Department website:

Thank you and good morning. It is an honor to be here and a pleasure to be among so many friends…

In traveling around the United States, I’ve heard from city and municipal leaders, employers, school officials and most importantly, from refugees themselves about their successes and concerns for the program…

I do want to quickly tick off some of the recent improvements made in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration to the resettlement program.

· In 2010, under my predecessor Eric Schwartz, and I think most of you know this by now, we doubled the amount of money we provide to help with the initial reception and placement of refugees.

· We’ve given partner agencies a guaranteed minimum amount of funding – what we call it floor funding – so that resettlement agencies can manage their workforce and provide quality reception and placement services to arriving refugees – even if a lower than expected number of refugees are admitted or if there are unavoidable delays in arrivals…

· At the local level, we’ve championed more consultation. We want to make sure that we listen to local communities that welcome refugees and provide the services needed for successful resettlement… Read more here

Posted in Ann Richard, Assistant Secretary of the PRM, funding, local officials, failure to notify, ORR, PRM, public/private partnership | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

State Dept. refugee bureau head to visit Cleveland and Pittsburgh

Posted by Christopher Coen on June 26, 2012

Assistant Secretary Anne C. Richard of the US Department of State’s refugee bureau will visit Cleveland on Wednesday and Pittsburgh on Thursday. A last minute notice of the visits is at the State Department’s PRM bureau website:

Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne C. Richard will travel from June 26-29, 2012, to Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to meet with resettled refugees, local and state government officials, resettlement agencies and other community members involved in the resettlement of refugees… Read more here

***Visit details here***

Posted in Ann Richard, Cleveland, Pittsburgh | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

State Department Boosts Per-Refugee Stipend Again

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 22, 2012

In 2010, the US Department of State doubled the initial per-refugee resettlement stipend to $1800 (while allowing resettlement contractors to keep $700 of that for overhead). Today they announced (below) that they have raised it again this year. (It would be refreshing if they made some of these announcements before they make the decisions, and not after, to allow for public response). When they decide to give us the rest of the details perhaps they will tell us how much of that increase they will allow for the contractors’ overhead (all of it should go directly to the refugees). If the non-profit agencies – resettlement contractors – actually make real private contributions (once claimed as 25 cents for each dollar given by the State Department, or feds, although no proof offered) then I guess I don’t understand why, at the very least, they can’t pay their own overhead costs. 

…We understand that the current economic situation is challenging the ability of federal, state, and non-profit agencies to broadly assist refugees in need. In response, in 2010, the Department of State doubled the per-refugee stipend, and raised it again this year. The refugee admissions program is a public-private partnership. As such, non-profit agencies involved have also increased efforts to raise private resources to support refugees in need. And some businesses are stepping in to assist as well…

Kind regards,
David M. Robinson
Acting Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Read more here

Posted in Assistant Secretary of the PRM, funding, public/private partnership, R&P | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Parts Of Tennessee’s Refugee Act and State Dept’s Visit To State Stop Making Sense

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 12, 2012

David Robinson, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration apparently spent some time discussing the new refugee law implemented in Tennessee last year – the Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act. State Sen. Jim Tracy, who sponsored the Act, alleges that the State Department thinks the new bill [actually a law now], which allows for local refugee moratoriums and codifies the federal regulation requiring quarterly meetings between resettlement agencies and local officials, is “just fine”. (???) An article in the Shelbyville Times-Gazette gives a view of the meeting from Tracy’s perspective:

A top representative of the U.S. State Department was in Tennessee this week to discuss a law dealing with the state’s refugee resettlement program.

The Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act, which originated from the desk of State Sen. Jim Tracy, became law last July. It’s the first bill of its kind.

It requires the state’s refugee program agency, Catholic Charities, to meet four times a year with local governments to plan and coordinate “the appropriate placement of refugees in advance of the refugees’ arrival …”

The law also allows local communities to apply for a “moratorium” on refugee resettlement if those agencies overload local resources, and so far, Tennessee is the only state that has passed this type of legislation…

A number of refugees from a variety of countries, such as Somalia, Burma and Egypt, have moved to Shelbyville in recent years to be closer to jobs at the Tyson Foods facility.

Tyson Foods needs workers who will willingly accept relatively low pay for the repetitive motion, cold environment jobs, and new refugee immigrants need jobs to support their families. (Alternatively, Americans could pay higher meat prices and the government could require companies like Tyson Foods to pay a more livable wage.)

…On Wednesday, David Robinson, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, met with Tracy and other parties to discuss the law passed last year, the state senator told the T-G.

“That was the whole purpose of the visit, and they thought the bill was fine,” Tracy said, but he added that even though provisions in the new state refugee law passed last year was already codified in federal law, it had not been enforced…

Perhaps the State Department refugee office isn’t bothered by the new law’s quarterly meetings requirement, since it’s already an ORR regulation, but why would they think that the new law is just fine? Are moratoriums compatible with the constitutional provision that allows people freedom of movement? The government may not single out specific groups of people to restrict their freedom of movement (individuals get to decide for themselves where they want to live in this country).

…”If you are going to bring refugees into a community, you need to meet with community leaders, mayor, councilmen, commissioners, school superintendents, hospitals, anyone that an influx of a refugee group would affect,” Tracy said, explaining the reasons for the law being passed last year.

…Tracy said he “thought it was interesting that we had to codify something in state law to get [the State Department’s] attention.”…

Yes that is interesting. Also interesting is why other government refugee program-related regulations and contract requirements are also regularly ignored. World Relief feels free to worship on the public’s nickel, even though its prohibited by a federal regulation, and their ORR partner has ignored our complaint about that practice. Also, the quite minimal “minimum requirements” that the resettlement agencies agree to meet in the refugee program are regularly flouted, and the State Department refugee office does not enforce those requirements or penalize the resettlement contractors. In practice this does not seem to have been working well for decades — the resettlement contractors just continue to violate regulations and contract requirements year after year. (What does that say about the public/private partnership philosophy in which contractors are put on pedestals and government oversight agencies don’t exercise much authority?)

…Tracy explained he also had questions for Robinson, talking about the local unemployment rate and about refugees getting on state assisted benefits, while the State Department discussed “sustainability” of the refugees. Supposedly, the refugees have 90 days to become sustainable in this country, Tracy said.

“The question we had for them was ‘what’s the definition of sustainability,'” Tracy said. “We had a good discussion about it.”…

Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if they shared that discussion with the public? After all, this is a publicly run and funded humanitarian program. The State Department refugee office apparently gave advance notice to all so-called “stakeholders”, except for the last minute notice to the public and press.

…”It was a pretty high level meeting,” Tracy said. “They were very concerned who was going to be in the meeting, it was very interesting.”

Tracy said that the State Department wanted to clarify that they had no control over secondary migration, when refugees leave the city they were initially settled in and go elsewhere.

The senator said that’s why the law is “so important, because we’re bringing refugees into Tennessee, the majority of them settle in Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and Chattanooga,” but they eventually migrate to smaller towns…

So, what the state senator doesn’t seem to understand is that, under the Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act, Shelbyville and other localities will not be able to request any local moratoriums on refugee resettlement since no one is resettling refugees to those places. Refugees are moving to Shelbyville on their own for meatpacking industry jobs, in what is known as “secondary migration”.

…”It was interesting that they (the State Department) would travel to Tennessee to talk about the legislation that we passed last year and I really take it as a compliment,” Tracy said Friday. “I think they were already supposed to be doing that, and in Tennessee, they have to be doing that now.” Read more here

I guess I’d like to hear the State Department’s version of what was said at thispretty high level meeting”, but since they treat refugee resettlement as a secret program, which seems only to guard against accountability, I won’t hold my breath.

***UPDATE*** — While the public had to sit outside the meeting one of the so-called “stakeholders” invited to the meeting was the lobbyist Jennifer Murphy of the Catholic Public Policy Commission of Tennessee.

Posted in Assistant Secretary of the PRM, capacity, Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Cooperative Agreement, Joint Quarterly Placement Planning Meeting, Joint Quarterly Placement Planning Meeting, legislation, local officials, failure to notify, meatpacking industry, Murfreesboro/Shelbyville, openess and transparency in government, ORR, public/private partnership, secondary migration, refugee, Somali, State Department, Tennessee, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

State Dept. Gave One Day Notice Of PRM Acting Assistant Secretary Robinson’s Nashville Visit

Posted by Christopher Coen on February 9, 2012

The State Department’s refugee office is going about its usual way of doing business by having yet another local program visit, this time in Nashville, with local resettlement contractors and their hand-selected refugee clients (this ensures that no one utters any free-spirited or critical comments about the local resettlement contractors, or their government oversight friends). Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) David M. Robinson is in Nashville February 8-9 (reminds me of the former Assistant Secretary’s — Eric P. Schwartz’s — trips to Salt Lake City and Portland and Denver and Phoenix). Robinson answered a few questions two weeks ago during an online live chat. The PRM put out a press release with only 24 hours or less to go before this Nashville visit – apparently in an attempt to keep away all save for insiders.

Media Note

Office of the Spokesperson

Washington, DC

February 7, 2012

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) David M. Robinson will travel from February 8-9, 2012 to Nashville, Tennessee to meet with resettled refugees, refugee resettlement agencies, local and state government officials, and other community members involved in the resettlement of refugees…

If you wish to attend, please contact [the] PRM’s Public Affairs Advisor…by close of business on February 8. Read more here

Posted in Assistant Secretary of the PRM, democracy, Nashville, public/private partnership | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Bhutanese families coming to school without coats or good shoes in Lancaster

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 30, 2011

It turns out that resettlement agencies in Lancaster, Pennsylvania have not been giving coats or good shoes to refugees as early as the winter of 2009 (even though resettlement agencies sign a contract with the US State Department promising that they will give refugees Appropriate seasonal clothing required for work, school, and everyday use as required for all members of the family, including proper footwear for each member of the family, here). A school district official also visited refugee families and found instances where two or more Bhutanese families sharing an apartment. The two local resettlement agencies, Church World Service Lancaster and Lutheran Children and Family Service of Eastern PA, apparently had not even informed the School District of Lancaster – or at least the School District’s point person for homeless students – about the arrival of the Bhutanese families. An article in the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era covers this resettlement site:

In late 2009, with winter setting in, the children of some Bhutanese families were coming to school without coats or good shoes.

Ken Marzinko, School District of Lancaster’s point person for homeless students, started visiting the parents, and in some cases, found two or more Bhutanese families sharing an apartment.

“I was caught off guard,” Marzinko said of hearing about the refugees and their needs.

Like most Americans, Marzinko wasn’t aware the United States had in 2008 begun taking in 60,000 of the more than 100,000 Bhutanese crowding camps in Nepal. More than 800 now live in Lancaster County, and many more are in the pipeline... Read more here

The most recent State Department inspections of the two local resettlement agencies, from 2006, show other problems. The report for Church World Service Lancaster shows that only 53% of refugee clients were employed after 90 days, even though jobs at that time were quite plentiful in Lancaster, with an unemployment rate of only 3.4% in 2006. Agency staff had also used white out throughout the case logs. 

The Lutheran Children and Family Service inspection report also showed that refugees’ relatives who helped with their resettlement did not understand that the agency was ultimately responsible for all contract requirements. Apparently the agency had duped these relatives into believing that they were responsible for the requirements of the agency’s contract (a common occurence according to these State Department monitoring reports). In three of four refugee homes that monitors visited, batteries in smoke detectors were dead.

Although the two agencies, the Lutheran agency being a subcontractor of LIRS, were vested with the State Department contract requirement that each refugee receive a physical health screening within 30 days, refugees were not being screened within that time requirement. Case logs also did not make references to airport reception of refugees and employment referals — as supposedly equired — so that there was no documentation that these services were provided by the resettlement agencies.

Posted in children, clothes, Cooperative Agreement, CWS, employment services, faith-based, housing, housing, overcrowding, late health screenings, Lutheran, Lutheran Children and Family Service of Eastern PA, meeting refugees at the airport, Nepali Bhutanese, Operational Guidance, Pennsylvania, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops loses human trafficking grant

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 11, 2011

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lost its bid to continue providing services to victims of human trafficking for what it claims “may be the Obama Administration’s support for abortion rights.” Apparently it didn’t occur to them that abortion is legal. Why should human trafficking victims be denied access to the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care that everyone else gets? Simply to suit this federal contractor’s religious beliefs? Where would that end up if each contractor could have that freedom? Unfortunately, many victims of human trafficking are raped and need access to a wide range of services — which may or may not include abortions and birth control. An article at Bloomberg News has the story:

…The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was awarded a five- year contract that paid it $19 million to coordinate the services during the administration of President George W. Bush.

The contract was extended briefly in March, and the group said it was informed recently that its grant request to continue the work was turned down. Starting today, three other non-profit groups will provide case-management services for victims such as helping them obtain food, clothing and access to medical care…

Marrianne McMullen, spokeswoman for the U.S. Health and Human Services department’s Administration for Children and Families [said]

HHS’s primary focus in serving victims of human trafficking is ensuring that they have access to the high quality and comprehensive case management services they need,” she said in an e-mail. “These are individuals who have endured traumatic experiences in many cases and who face uniquely complex challenges.”

HHS’s written instructions for groups seeking grants through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act said that the agency would give “strong preference” to applicants willing to offer referrals for the “full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care,”
including family planning services.

The American Civil Liberties Union said in a 2009 lawsuit that the contract with the Catholic groups was unconstitutional because the bishops group won’t coordinate or refer people for medical services such as abortion that conflict with its religious teachings.

We applaud the federal government for recognizing that trafficking victims need reproductive-health [services] and making awards based on those needs,” Brigitte Amiri, an attorney for the ACLU, said in an interview. “This has little to do with religion and everything to do with what the trafficking victims need.”

The three groups received grants worth a total of about $5 million for the first year, with a possibility of two additional years. The three are Tapestri of Atlanta, Heartland Human Care Services of Chicago and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants of Washington… Read more here

Posted in Catholic, HHS, human trafficking, USCCB | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Nickel City Smiler documentary showing in Buffalo November 4th-6th

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 29, 2011

The pro-refugee documentary Nickel City Smiler, which refreshingly does not do the usual towing of the line of refugee resettlement contractors, is now set for an early November showing in Buffalo. The documentary film, produced in Buffalo, chronicles the life of a Karen refugee family (from Burma/Myanmar) after they have been resettled to a tough inner-city Buffalo neighborhood. The film documents the refugee family’s hardship and their incredible determination to one day live in peace and ensure a better future for their children.

Local refugee resettlement contractors were involved in having the
documentary removed from a neighborhood film festival last summer.

The film will be shown at:

  • Market ArcadeTheatre, in downtown Buffalo
  • November 4th-6th, at 7pm

Note: The Nickel City Smiler DVD is also available for purchase.

Posted in Buffalo, Burma/Myanmar, Catholic Charities of Buffalo, dangerous neighborhoods, furnishings, lack of, household items, missing or broken, housing, substandard, International Institute of Buffalo, Jewish Family Service of Buffalo & Erie County, Journey's End Refugee Services, Journey's End Refugee Services, Karen, population levels, using refugees as pawns to boost, safety | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Jewish Vocational Services, Kansas City

Posted by Melissa Sogard on January 25, 2010

We’ve been reading articles and posts around the internet regarding problems at this refugee resettlement agency – JVS (Jewish Vocational Services). There are two recent artcles in the Pitch, here and here. (Christopher wrote a comment for the first Jan. 7th article regarding how the U.S. Department of State conducts investigations of refugee resettlement agencies – see Comment #8; also see Comment #1).

There articles tell the story of what our group has seen at refugee resettlement agencies in other parts of the U.S.; refugees being placed in apartments that do not meet the requirements of the State Department’s guidelines, refugees not been given rides to crucial doctor appointments, refugees who have no idea who to call when their refugee resettlement agency is not there to assist them.

JVS is an affiliate of the USCRI (U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants). The USCRI’s affiliates have been in dozens of newspaper articles during the past several years that have documented neglect of refugees.

I guess my question is why hasn’t JVS responded to the reports of neglect? The silence almost reads as a confirmation of the reporter’s information and the stories told by JVS’ refugee clients. Does it really all come down to funding issues? If the private contributions added to the public money contributions were too little, why were the refugees accepted by JVS for resettlement? Did a grant or two fall through? How is the public to understand what has happened with so few details provided by JVS?

Posted in Burundian, housing, housing, substandard, insufficient assistance with daily tasks, Jewish, Jewish Vocational Services, Kansas City, State Department, USCRI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »