Albany, NY: USCRI office “maxed out”

There is nothing really new to this story, we are hearing it everywhere—refugee office receiving more refugees then they can handle.   From the Albany Times Union:

The majority of the 350 refugees who will be resettled in the Capital Region this year will come from Burma, Bhutan and Iraq. They have fled war, famine, sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing.

The Albany field office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants took over for the International Center of the Capital Region in 2005 and resettled 50 refugees that year, primarily from Afghanistan, Congo, Liberia, Uzbekistan and Burma.

In 2009, the not-for-profit agency has maxed out its capacity and is in dire need of volunteers and donations to provide furniture, cooking supplies and other essentials that government subsidies don’t cover for the steady wave of new arrivals.

I’m sure the director of the office has all the best intentions in the world, but she is a 27-year-old photographer in charge here of hundreds of lives.   The assumption is always made that the work these agencies do is in the best interests of the human beings in their care. Is it possible that maybe that is not so, that the policies of the quasi-government agencies, like USCRI might even be cruel?

“We could really use more help,” said director Zoeann Murphy, 27, who took over last summer after spending a year with Tibetan and Karen refugees in refugee camps. She offered photography training and passed out digital cameras as part of a storytelling project.

More background on USCRI to make my point.

We have written on many previous occasions about the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and their affiliates (or subcontractors) to point out that some in their care may not be faring so well.  I am not saying that is so in Albany, a preferred community for refugee resettlement, only that we have seen it elsewhere.

In Waterbury, CT, the USCRI subcontractor, the International Institute of CT, was shuttered last year by the US State Department when they were found to be in violation of contractual requirements involving the resettlement of Burmese refugees.  The refugees were housed in slum apartments until local church groups stepped in to rescue them.  Go to this post I wrote in August about Waterbury, CT and follow links to our extensive coverage there.

The International Institute of Akron, also an USCRI subcontractor,  had similar problems last year, here.  I don’t know if the State Department stepped in in that case.

Missing money problems seemed to plague the International Institute of Erie, also last year, here.

Is USCRI really a not-for-profit agency or is it a quasi-government agency?

Here is a breakdown of the funds USCRI operated on in 2006.    Note that in its income category it reported in 2006 that almost $17 million of its $19 million dollar income was from government grants.   It’s actually higher than 90% funded by taxpayer support if you include funds from the United Nations (also taxpayer funded).

Although technically called a non-profit, it is really a government agency but without the safeguards we normally have with a government agency where citizens can complain to their elected officials. 

The 2006 report also tells us that USCRI’s CEO, Lavinia Limon, makes $195,678.  This Albany office received $321,687 that year.

A 2007 report here, informs us that Ms. Limon has been in and out the revolving door to government and that she was in charge of most of the funding for refugee resettlement agencies (the volags) through the Clinton Administration.

Lavinia Limon has more than 25 years of experience working on behalf of refugees and immigrants. Prior to joining USCRI in August of 2001, Ms. Limon was Director of the Center for the New American Community, a project of the National Immigration Forum. Ms. Limon served as the Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton Administration, designing and implementing programs to assist newly arriving refugees in achieving economic and social self-sufficiency. She served simultaneously as the Director of the Office of Family Assistance for four years, helping to devise policies and strategies for implementing national welfare reform. Ms. Limon was previously the Executive Director of the International Institute of Los Angeles.

Note in this report that USCRI has changed its name several times over recent years, I wonder why.

formerly known as: U.S. Committee for Refugees
formerly known as: Immigration and Refugees Services of America

So, if you are wondering what’s the point I am trying to make:   Well, a bunch of points. 

* The public shouldn’t assume that because an organization says it is helping the poor refugee, it actually is. Look more closely, it may not be.

* The public should know there is loads of taxpayer money flowing through these groups and so therefore the public has a right to demand that their money is used wisely and humanely.   Groups like USCRI have signed contracts to provide certain needs to refugees and that is what they should be doing.

* And, finally, maybe this Albany office should tell its bosses that they need to slow the number of refugees coming to a “maxed out” office.  Maybe 350 is too many?  Regular readers will remember the words of a wise Iraqi refugee boy who said of the refugees flooding Tucson, AZ:

It is better to have 10 Iraqi refugees who are satisfied with their lives than having 100 angry ones with no life at all.