A reader knowledgeable about the State Department’s P-3 program speaks up

By now, regular readers of Refugee Resettlement Watch are familiar with the bombshell news a week ago about the suspension of the so-called P-3 family reunification program of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration in the US State Department.    DNA testing of prospective new immigrants revealed widespread fraud in certain parts of Africa.   You might wish to first return to our original post on the subject here before reading this response.

Subsequently, when the State Department modified its original statement (fact sheet) on the suspension, I raised several questions about what might be going on (here).

Now, in response to my questions, we have received the following letter of clarification from a person with firsthand knowledge of the P-3 program (posted here in its entirety).

To the editors at Refugee Resettlement Watch,

The suspension of the P3 program has generated some comments that I’d like to address. I should start by saying that I believe all of the comments, particularly those from Mars and Tennresident [Ed: those comments can be seen in the first link noted above], who clearly know what they’re talking about.

The problem is that the comments as a whole don’t seem to capture the big picture. I work for one of the overseas contractors implementing the program, and our view from over here is a little different.

For one thing, it’s not clear how anyone could have predicted the 80% fraud rate that shut down the program. To me, saying “we always knew” is incorrect, and is applying hindsight.

The resettlement agency workers who were submitting the AORs (e.g. the invitation letters) may have seen a high level of fraud, but that was never clear to those of us overseas. The State Department initially brought in the DNA testing as a formality, a test run, and an experiment. The managers of the programs welcomed it. The families that underwent it were all volunteers who were extensively counseled on what was going on, and who could have opted out. In other words, the process was supposed to be the end result, and the DNA tests were not supposed to be meaningful. Those of us implementing the program always suspect fraud in all refugee programs, but our surprise was genuine.

Two, it’s almost certain that LESS than 80% of those who are in the States already are fraudulent. The “80%” figure comes from a sample of undeparted cases that are still in East Africa. Cases currently in the U.S. almost certainly have a lower rate. The majority of them were either “P1” cases, individual referrals, or “P2” groups. No volags, AORs, or US anchor relatives were directly involved. Also, the fraud rate of refugee programs almost always begin at zero and creeps up with time. Nobody knows the fraud rate among those who have already arrived, but it’s almost certainly less than those who are at the tail end of the beneficiary chain.

I’ll admit that I might be giving too much benefit of the doubt to my co-workers. None of us are in the refugee business for the money, that’s for sure–we work with refugees because we think we’re doing good. And with this P3 scandal, we’ve actually done harm. The program is stuck with an enormous scandal that discredits everything, and an awful lot of people are looking at us suspiciously, wondering why nobody took action sooner, or if there’s more that we know about but aren’t telling. It’s devastating.

I’d also like to answer some of this blog’s earlier questions:

* Was the first [P3] fact sheet put out with a factual error (benign reason for the discrepancy)?

Yes. The P3 program was suspended worldwide several months before the recent announcement on the state.gov web site. The initial online announcement confused us when it mentioned that non-African programs were continuing as before. We knew that was not true.

* Has this problem become so thorny that some good people felt they had to do something before the waning days of the present administration?

No. The issues with the P3 program pre-date the election by about a year. DNA testing has been discussed for at least a year, if not more. The delay in getting the announcement might have been related to getting a political appointee’s signature approving the suspension, but it was implemented long before then. It’s pertinent to note that the actual decision was made by permanent civil servants, i.e. individuals who are not affected (in theory) by the politics of any given administration. The signature from the political appointee was truly a formality.

* And, why then halt the processing for refugees from countries that have not demonstrated fraud? Or, is this more of an equal rights issue? If we are going to cut off Muslims from Africa, we gotta be fair and cut off those Burmese Christians too? Did CAIR call the State Department? (politcally correct explanation)

It’s an equal rights issue, but it has nothing to do with political correctness. Other countries’ P3 beneficiaries were suspended for two reasons. One, there are very few of them. It’s not a big deal in a program of several thousand to put another hundred or two on hold. Two, DHS says the other countries haven’t demonstrated fraud, but they haven’t proved themselves as non-fraudulent either. It’s not a big deal, but both arguments seem to be spurious. Telling someone they’re irrelevant in numbers, and possible fraudulent because other groups are, is unfair . One of the underlying aspects of our work is that we work with people, and every person matters. Two, some countries document relationships well, and credible birth certificates should be available. Claiming the refugees haven’t proved themselves as non-fraudulent is ignoring the facts.

* Or, is this just such a can of worms that the remnants of the Bush Administration are simply washing their hands of it and leaving (the crisis!) for the Obama Administration to sort out? (sneaky explanation)

Incorrect. The high fraud rate took everyone by surprise, and the general course of action was pretty obvious.

* Has Homeland Security found a serious possible threat from the thousands of now unknown Somalis (they couldn’t have been screened, if they aren’t who they say they are) living in the US and decided it all should be shut down until more safeguards are in place? (serious security threat)

It’s correct to point to DHS, but the concern is different. The individual DHS staff do not want to be held responsible, so it’s easier to make no decision at all. DHS feels that mistakes should be prosecuted. In the few years after 9/11, that included prosecution of the individual staffer who made the decision; that “zero tolerance” memo was lifted a few years ago, but the paranoia among the staff persists, and it still has the power to paralyze the Department.

Let me thank this blog for making very valid points about the refugee program’s negative social effects, the costs, and the level of fraud. However I still believe in it, and I think it does good. I hope its problems will be resolved, thanks not least to this blog which points out the very real problems, but I also hope it will continue for a long time to come.

Thanks so much to Venus for being so open and forthright about this recent decision and the refugee program in general.    We can get a little one-sided around here from time to time, so it is good for us and our readers to get other perspectives!  Thanks again, Venus.

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