Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Posts Tagged ‘Iraqis’

SIV Program for Iraqis set to expire end of September

Posted by Christopher Coen on July 13, 2013


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 »

Republicans and President Obama Playing Hot Potato with Iraqi Refugees and SIVs?

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 7, 2012

Trudy Rubin writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer speculates about the failure of the US government to issue the visas it promised to Iraqis who risked their lives to help us. She thinks that the Obama administration – and the Republicans – have decided not to bring more Iraqis into this country in an election year. The supposed reason for the near halt in security clearances is the two Iraqi refugees in Kentucky accused of having terrorist connections. Yet, these two never worked for Americans and those who did, and who are now stuck, went through many security checks before getting their jobs.

Last week, I spoke on the PBS “NewsHour” about Iraqis who worked for our civilians and military before we left the country – and who now face death threats because we betrayed them…

…How can we get the U.S. government to issue the visas it promised to Iraqis who risked their lives to help us?

I’m ashamed to admit that the U.S. government has abandoned these people. No one seems eager to bring more Iraqis into this country in an election year.

President Obama has failed to keep his 2007 campaign pledge to rescue these Iraqis. A group of concerned senators, mostly Democrats, including Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, has made inquiries, but gotten no answers from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta or Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Nor has a peep been heard on behalf of the [Iraqi interpreters] from Republican senators who backed our war in Iraq.

State Department officials say they’re working hard to expedite the visa process. Yet the number of visas for Iraqis who helped us slowed to a trickle just when they were most urgently needed, as U.S. troops quit Iraq…

Official figures show that 39,000 Iraqis (including family members) are in the pipeline in the Direct Access program for Iraqis who worked with us. Only 153 of these visas were issued in December. There are about 15,000 (not including family) in the pipeline for the Special Immigrant Visa program. Only 50 SIVs were issued last month.

The supposed reason for the freeze is new security regulations imposed after two Iraqi refugees in Kentucky were accused of having terrorist connections. But these bad apples never worked for Americans. Those who did went through numerous security checks before getting their jobs… Read more here

Posted in Bowling Green, Dept of Homeland Security, Iraqi, Kentucky, Obama administration, security/terrorism, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Senior administration officials say no airlift to Guam being considered for our Iraqi friends

Posted by Christopher Coen on October 24, 2011

A columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that Senior Obama administration officials have told her that no airlift to Guam being considered for our Iraqi friends waiting on US special immigrant visas. Instead they say that there are top-level meetings dedicated to getting the SIV backlog cleared “within months” – and that efforts to clear the backlog will become more intense as the end of the year approaches. Trudy Rubin’s article is found in the Charlotte Observer:

In September 2007, Barack Obama made a stump speech berating the Bush team for breaking faith with Iraqis who had helped Americans.

“One tragic outcome of this war,” said Obama, “is that the Iraqis who stood with America – the interpreters, embassy workers, and subcontractors – are being targeted for assassination. … And yet our doors are shut.

“That is not how we treat our friends. That is not who we are as Americans.”

…In 2008, Congress passed legislation calling for 25,000 special immigrant visas, or SIVs, to be issued over a five-year period – to Iraqis whose lives were endangered because they’d worked for U.S. soldiers or civilians. The law’s criteria were so arduous that only about 3,600 have been issued; at least 1,500 are pending a decision.

What’s worse, the numbers have slowed to a trickle just as we’re departing. Only 10 SIVs were issued in August. The preliminary figure for September is 46. At that rate, it will be years before the backlog is cleared…

…Senior administration officials tell me of top-level meetings dedicated to getting the SIV backlog cleared – “within months.” I believe they are sincere, but the numbers aren’t moving.

Too many agencies are involved, and no senior White House official seems seized with this issue. (Where, I wonder, is the push from the National Security Council’s Samantha Power, who once wrote so eloquently on Iraqi refugees?)…

…There is one obvious way to clear the logjam: an airlift to remove our Iraqi friends from danger.

There is plenty of precedent for such an airlift. In 1975, after initially abandoning massive numbers of our South Vietnamese allies, Gerald Ford finally authorized a massive airlift to evacuate them to Guam and, eventually, to the United States.

In 1996, Bill Clinton ordered Operation Pacific Haven, which flew 6,000 Iraqi Kurds and other opposition activists from Iraqi Kurdestan to Guam, after Saddam Hussein’s troops invaded the region. If Obama ordered a similar airlift, security checks could also be conducted in Guam.

There are more recent precedents, too. The Poles, Danes, and Australians airlifted their Iraqi staff out of the country; after the massacre in Basra, the British returned and flew out endangered staff.

Are we less honorable than the Poles, Danes, Australians, and Brits? I’ll hold off on an answer. Yet, senior administration officials tell me no airlift is being considered…

…Administration officials also tell me that efforts to clear the backlog will become more intense as the end of the year approaches. But if those efforts fail, it may be too late to organize an airlift.

In 2007, Obama said we had a “moral obligation” to those Iraqis who helped us. History will judge him on how he honors that pledge. Read more here

Posted in Iraqi, Obama administration, security/terrorism, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees vote for resettlement locations with their feet

Posted by Christopher Coen on August 18, 2011

While the State Department and their private resettlement agency partners continue to resettle refugees to large urban environments – many in dangerous neighborhoods with expensive, roachy apartments and poor schools – refugees continue to out-migrate. Lynn, Massachusetts and Chicago’s north and northwest suburbs are two areas seeing fairly heavy secondary migration (Lynn is also a primary refugee resettlement site). NPR’s WBUR has the details about Lynn.

LYNN, Mass. — With ts cheaper rentals and abundance of public housing, the city of Lynn has become a magnet for families displaced by an ailing economy. This includes a growing number of immigrants — many of whom are refugees seeking a better life…

…the population has grown by almost a third. The city has become a popular destination because of its access to public assistance programs and to public housing.

Lynn is also one of the few cities in Massachusetts where the United Nations High Commission for Refugees relocates people from all over the world. Families who have endured war and famine come from countries as far away as Sudan, Bhutan and Iraq… Read more here

Chicago Public Media WBEZ explains the situation in the Chicago area. Although Chicago’s suburbs are home to established Iraqi populations, resettlement agencies like Heartland Alliance and RefugeeONE continue to resettle Iraqis into the intercity away from their already established relatives:

The Uptown neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side is an established hub for refugee resettlement. There are many agencies there, and refugees opt to live nearby. But recently more refugees bypass Chicago altogether and head to the north and northwest suburbs instead. Those communities are discovering these new populations in their schools, and suburban educators are having to adjust to meet the unique needs of their newest arrivals…

WANGERIN: We were seeing fewer and fewer Iraqis actually come to our office and avail of our services.

Greg Wangerin is with RefugeeONE, in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. He started to notice the difference in 2007, when the number of Iraqi refugees spiked. Now, Iraqis are the largest group of refugees coming to the Chicago area.

WANGERIN: We began to examine why, and we noticed that this was the circumstance, again because they were coming to reunite with relatives up in that area.

Chicago’s suburbs are home to established Iraqi populations. They came as a result of the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s, and Operation Desert Storm in the 90s. Wangerin says there are other reasons Iraqi refugees are heading to suburbs… Read more here

Posted in Boston, Chicago, dangerous neighborhoods, Heartland Alliance, Iraqi, RefugeeONE (formerly, Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries), RefugeeONE (formerly, Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries), school for refugee children, schools, secondary migration, refugee, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Has the ORR let SIV immigrants down?

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 28, 2011

A video at the VJ Movement (International Video Journalists Movement) There is more than One Truth website asks if the ORR has let Special Immigrant Visa immigrants down — by making promises that the ORR has not delivered on.

What Do Americans Owe Iraqis?

Story by: Cathryn Ramin

  • United States


Special Immigration Visas, known as SIVs, were given to less than 1500 of the many Iraqis who risked their lives working as translators and interpreters for the U.S. Armed Forces. Does America have an obligation to support these people?

Posted in Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, employment/jobs for refugees, ORR, professionals, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

‘Any Job Offered’: Refugees with professional credentials denied appropriate employment services

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 28, 2010

Refugees with professional credentials continue to receive inappropriate employment services from many refugee resettlement agencies. Trained as doctors, engineers, and lawyers, most of these refugees are placed in no-skill or low-skill jobs — cleaning, assembly, landscaping labor, etc. — with almost no attempt made to place them in jobs where they could use their skills.

Iraqi SIV immigrants reported about these problems in Sacraemnto (here).

According to Michelle Karolak, director of the refugee resettlement program at Catholic Charities in Jacksonville, this isn’t her fault, it’s the refugees’ fault (here).


“A lot of our other clients – although not all of them – are willing to take whatever is offered,” said Michelle Karolak, director of the refugee resettlement program for the local operations of Catholic Charities. “Iraqis, not so much.”

“We have no choice,” Karolak said. “We have to get them up and running as fast as we can.”

Yet, do they have to get them, “up and running as soon as possible”, only in low-skill jobs? There is no such requirement. The refugee program stresses the need for early self-sufficiency, but does not require resettlement agencies to place refugees in low-pay, low-skill jobs. In fact, jobs for which refugees can use their professional skills are much more likely to allow them to become self-sufficient. Also, what does she mean, “as fast as we can”? Refugees, almost as a rule, report that they sit for months at a time with no one helping them to find jobs.

According to refugees in Jacksonville they’ve had to find professional jobs on their own because local resettlement agencies won’t help them.

Majid Abdulmajeed…was hired as an adjunct professor of chemical engineering based on his experience in Iraq. But he only got the job after an acquaintance passed his resume to the school.

“The main employment agent didn’t suggest jobs like this,” he said.

Well, why not? Have resettlement agencies begun to believe their own PR that Iraqi refugees are just too difficult, and refugees must accept any job offered? According to the Matching Grant Program requirements (only 30% of refugees are enrolled in it, but the resettlement agencies are doing everything they can to get the government to expand the program) refugees must accept the first job offered, but even in that case that doesn’t mean that resettlement agencies have to refer the refugees to inappropriate jobs.

Many resettlement agencies seem to have an extraordinarily difficult time thinking outside of the box, and of course refugees continue to pay the price for that.

Posted in California, Catholic Charities, employment services, Florida, Iraqi, Jacksonville, Matching Grant program, neglect, professionals, SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) immigrants, USCCB, World Relief | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Fredericksburg, Virginia refugees denied basic care

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 30, 2010

The bad news from Fredericksburg, Virginia just keeps coming in (here).  Our previous post on this case is here. Area churches are now saying that USCCB’s Catholic Diocese of Arlington left refugees in apartments without food or beds, and did not take refugees to the doctor’s office.

Meanwhile, many Fredericksburg-area refugees wonder whether they were better off in the camps. Some call relatives back home and tell them to stay where they are.

At least four families that resettled in the Fredericksburg area have returned to the Middle East.

Church leaders in the area said they were shocked to visit newly arriving refugees only to discover refrigerators containing just a carton of spoiled milk, houses without beds, and sick people who had not seen a doctor. Some area volunteers chronicled 36 instances of refugees lacking the basic services required by the State Department.

This is obviously nothing new. We have seen this at resettlement agencies around the country for the past decade, even far before the current recession. Why can’t the State Department make sure its refugee contract requirements are being fulfilled? Why don’t resettlement agencies stop taking new refugees when they are no longer able to help additional incoming refugees? (By the way, those refugees that returned to the Middle East must have been Iraqis).

Local churches asked government agencies for help, and government officials came in for visits, but the problems didn’t end. Why not? What’s the point of fancy visits by officials if they can’t get resettlement agencies to abide by basic contract requirements?  

“…clergy say the resettlement program, in some ways, ties their hands.

When area volunteers encountered problems with the resettlement office, they didn’t know where to turn.

The problems grew. Eventually, area clergy brought in officials from the State Department, Health and Human Services, the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops and political offices.

The churches asked for a halt in arrivals.

‘But at the end of the day, we have to help these people,’ said the Rev. Larry Haun, pastor of Fredericksburg Baptist Church. ‘If they’re still going to come, then we need to fix a broken system.’ “

The article also points out that the public cannot follow how much money is going into the program, especially from private sources. Neither the government oversight agencies nor the private refugee resettlement agencies show how much money, if any, the resettlement agencies are actually adding to all the government grants and contracts. So how are we to check whether they really need more government funding? Are we to take their word for it? Where is the transparency?

See State Department 2007 monitoring. Note that in spite of their inspection and their recommendations, with no penalties imposed, not much seems to have changed.

*Update — April 2, 2010 Editorial at Free Lance-Star (here)

Posted in arlington, beds, Catholic, Catholic Diocese of Arlington, churches, food, funding, Iraqi, neglect, NSC (National Security Council), reform, transportation, USCCB, Virginia, volunteers | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

George Rupp of the IRC claims that all problems in resettlement the result of economy & not enough government funding

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 19, 2010

Here is a comment (below) we submitted to the Huffington Post in response to an article by George Rupp (head of IRC) and Morton Abramowitz (of the International Crisis Group) that credited the crisis in the refugee resettlement program to too little government funding (here).

Rupp and Abramowitz claimed:

“There is one area of good news, though it emerges only from the very bad experience of Iraqi refugees. The small fraction of educated, skilled Iraqis allowed to come to America-some with help from Iraq War-era friends who served as soldiers, aid workers and journalists — tested our aging refugee-admissions system and found it wanting. Run as a partnership between the U.S. Government and aid resettlement agencies like the International Rescue Committee, it was originally designed to accept large numbers of Vietnamese, but the government’s share of support for the program had deteriorated over time. Overstretched charities tried to make ends meet, but the economic downturn brought the whole system to the breaking point. Iraq War veterans and other concerned Americans were outraged. As a result, the Obama Administration is reviewing the entire process of how refugees are admitted to the United States and has taken the first critical steps toward repairing it, including more support in the first weeks after they arrive.”

In response we wrote:

The claim that the economic downturn brought the refugee resettlement system to the breaking point does not explain why it was never brought to the breaking point during previous recessions. Certainly Iraqi refugees should not have put much pressure on the system since our government resettled so few of them. One of the biggest outstanding questions is how much private funding the resettlement agencies bring to the resettlement process. They are supposedly required to bring significant private funding to the program, in line with the spirit of the public-private partnership, yet seem increasingly to rely just on government funding.

What would have happened to the program if our government had acceded to the resettlement agencies’ demands two years ago, via their RCUSA lobbying group, that we resettle 105,000 Iraqis per year. Compare this to the 77,000 total refugees we resettled from all over the world in just one recent year alone. The resettlement agencies didn’t have the funds to resettle that many refugees, yet that didn’t stop them from pressuring the government. The fact that most of these refugees may have ended up homeless on our streets did not phase them. Instead they have been successful in pressuring the government to double public funding for initial resettlement services while not promising to offer anything more than the minimal services they have provided for the past few decades.

The resettlement agencies seem to have forgotten their missions as charitable organizations.

Christopher Coen
Friends of Refugees

Posted in Congress, Cooperative Agreement, funding, government, Iraqi, IRC | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »