Portland, ME: Isn’t diversity a beautiful thing!

You know your city has become fully multicultural and diversified when the Department of Justice has to send in its team of mediators to settle ethnic disputes and address discrimination complaints.  It is certainly one of the joys of having established your city as one that “welcomes the stranger.”

We’ve been telling you about problems (murders, riots, etc.) in Portland, ME for some time (just use our search function and you’ll see what I mean).   This week we learned, thanks to reader Susan, that the Justice Department’s community relations division has set up shop in Portland.

From the Portland Press Herald:

The Department of Justice is again working with the Portland Police Department, but this time it’s the community relations division trying to help improve ties between police and the Sudanese community.

A mediator with the federal agency has made contact with members of the Sudanese Community Association and with police officials. The goal is to create an environment where both sides are able to discuss the conflict with the goal of resolving tensions.

“Our basic work is to come into a community to bring conciliation and restoration of peace, where there have been issues based on race, color or national origin,” said George Henderson, legal counsel for the agency’s Community Relations Service.

He said department rules prevent him from confirming the department’s presence in Portland or any specifics about who contacted the department and what issues it has identified.

However, representatives from the Sudanese community and police confirmed the agency’s involvement.

The last time the Department of Justice sent someone to work with the Portland Police Department it was far less amicable.

In 2002, the agency’s civil rights division was assigned to Portland to investigate whether the police force had a pattern or practice of violating civil rights. The agency was asked to investigate in hopes of restoring trust in the police following a series of high-profile excessive force cases.

The exhaustive investigation spanned two years and concluded that there was no institutional pattern or practice of civil rights violations. It did, however, propose a number of improvements and “best practices” that the department adopted.

The community relations division of the Department of Justice — formed in 1964 as part of the Civil Rights Act — has no investigative or prosecutorial powers. It is called upon to heal rifts within communities, but works behind the scenes to recommend practices and bring community leaders together, Henderson said.

There is more.  Read on.

Here is what the Justice Department’s community relations division does, and it seems that anyone can call them in.

The Community Relations Service is the Department’s “peacemaker” for community conflicts and tensions arising from differences of race, color, and national origin. Created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, CRS is the only Federal agency dedicated to assist State and local units of government, private and public organizations, and community groups with preventing and resolving racial and ethnic tensions, incidents, and civil disorders, and in restoring racial stability and harmony. CRS facilitates the development of viable, mutual understandings and agreements as alternatives to coercion, violence, or litigation. It also assists communities in developing local mechanisms, conducting training, and other proactive measures to prevent or reduce racial/ethnic tension. CRS does not take sides among disputing parties and, in promoting the principles and ideals of non-discrimination, applies skills that allow parties to come to their own agreement. In performing this mission, CRS deploys highly skilled professional conciliators, who are able to assist people of diverse racial and cultural backgrounds.

I could give them a few suggestions of cities that need their services.

Endnote:    I was just trying to figure out if there was one Sudanese community group in Portland and came across this handy Maine government site for Multicultural Affairs.   Some of our Maine readers should look into each of these groups and see who funds them, etc.  Also, if they are 501(c)3s, you might want to see how much involvement they have in electoral politics or lobbying for legislation—they shouldn’t have much of a role if they are legit non-profits.

Also, you know your city is experiencing the strengthening power of diversity when you have an organization called the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence established in your city.  Note that this Portland group reaped a federal grant ($184,719) from the Ethnic Community Based Organizations funding initiative of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, here.

Some Gitmo prisoners might go to Georgia, the country not the state

It’s getting closer every day—the deadline for Obama to clear out Guantanamo Bay that he promised last January.   Now, here is a story that says Georgia is willing to take some prisoners in what they refer to as a “prisoner resettlement” initiative.   At least they aren’t referring to the detainees as “refugees” as some previous news accounts have done.

A senior Georgian official tells EurasiaNet that Tbilisi and Washington are discussing the possibility of Georgia accepting suspected terrorists currently being held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba.

Georgian National Security Council Secretary Eka Tkeshelashvili stated that negotiations about a prisoner transfer are “ongoing.” She would not specify the nature of the talks, or discuss any potential timetable for a transfer.

President Mikheil Saakashvili has made it clear that Georgia is ready to take Guantanamo prisoners. In a television interview with Fox News in late September, Saakashvili said that the country is “absolutely” willing to host Guantanamo detainees. “You know, whatever we can do to help America on its war on terror, we will do,” he said.

The Obama administration faces a January 2010 deadline to close the Guantanamo facility, which still houses over 200 inmates. An estimated 60 detainees have been cleared for release, according to human rights groups.

But finding homes for the prisoners has not been easy. Georgia is one of just a handful of countries that have offered to take Guantanamo prisoners this year, according to the London-based prisoner rights organization Reprieve.

Meanwhile at the White House speculation continues to swirl about the fate of Greg Craig, the White House Counsel who has been responsible for the now screwed-up Gitmo closure plan.

Stimulus money goes to research on ethnic old people

Your tax dollars:

What happened to repairs on roads and bridges?  What happened to shovel-ready projects to put people to work?   It seems to me that the only people put to work here are government-funded scientists who shouldn’t have much trouble finding work.   Now, if this were a nurses training program for nurses who are going to take care of millions of old people (including the minority elders), that would make some sense, but researchers?

Here is a story from New America Media (an ethnic news outfit)* entitled “Stimulus Boosts Research on Minority Elders” that caught my eye.   Some interesting bits of information in this article:

Green is part of a community-health pipeline at six major universities across the United States that just received a boost from stimulus grants. The National Institutes on Aging (NIA) created the program in 1997 to fill the void in health research needed to bring better care to ethnic elders – and the supply of scientists to do it.

The program — called the Resource Centers for Minority Elders Research (RCMAR) — recently received a $179,000 federal stimulus grant that will help revive a national effort placed on hold because of stagnant federal funding in recent years.


“Stimulus money will help fund more research projects that can potentially improve the health of older ethnic populations, while at the same time creating more jobs in health research,” said Wallace, who also co-directs UCLA’s Center for Health Improvement for Minority Elders, one of the six RCMARs.


Concern about meeting the unique needs of multicultural seniors grew as NIA scientists realized that the populations of ethnic elders will grow by more than 180 percent in the next two decades, more than double the rate of whites 65-plus.


According to a 2008 NIA evaluation, RCMAR trained nearly 200 new researchers in aging, in its first decade, and 95 percent of the new gerontologists were from ethnic groups…

* It always amuses me when a publication (or any organization) brags about how it is geared to this or that ethnic group.  Imagine the outcry if a major on-line publication billed itself as a publication for news about white people.  Or how about an organization that applied for a federal grant as a minority white group in certain cities in the US!

How refugees get stuff: houses, businesses, education and cars

Your tax dollars:

Yesterday a reader asked about special deals for refugees and I was reminded of the Individual Development Accounts—a special savings plan for refugees that provides matching taxpayer money—which I haven’t mentioned for a long time.  I see now there is new information at the site—a list of the 22 organizations and agencies in the country where this sweet deal is available to refugees this past fiscal year.

Here are the objectives right from the ORR website:

The objectives of the IDA Program are to increase the ability of low-income refugees to save; promote their participation in the financial institutions of this country; assist refugees in advancing their education; increase home ownership; and assist refugees in gaining access to capital.

Program description:

Individual development accounts are matched savings accounts available for the purchase of specific assets. Under the IDA program, the matching funds, together with the refugee’s own savings from their employment, are available for purchasing one (or more) of four savings goals: home purchase; microenterprise capitalization; post secondary education or training; and in some cases, purchase of an automobile if necessary to maintain or upgrade employment.

IDA grantees provide matched savings accounts to refugees whose annual income is less than 200 percent of the poverty level and whose assets, exclusive of a personal residence and one vehicle, are less than $10,000. Grantees provide matches [using your tax dollars] of up to $1 for every $1 deposited by a refugee in a savings account. The total match amount provided may not exceed $2,000 for individuals or $4,000 for households. Upon enrolling in an IDA program, a refugee signs a savings plan agreement which specifies the savings goal, the match rate, and the amount the refugee will save each month.

In addition, the IDA grantees provide basic financial training which is intended to assist refugees in understanding the American financial system, budgeting, saving, and credit. The IDA grantees also provide training focused on the specific savings goals. The specialized training ensures that refugees receive appropriate information on purchasing and managing their asset purchases.

Here are the 22 organizations and agencies that received money in FY09 (we have already begun FY10):

1 Alliance for Multicultural Community Service Inc. Houston TX

2 Cambodian Mutual Assistance Assoc of Greater Lowell Lowell MA

3 Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County San Jose CA

4 Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden Camden NJ

5 Catholic Charities, Diocese of St. Petersburg, Inc. St. Petersburg FL

6 Diocese of Olympia Seattle WA

7 ECDC Enterprise Development Group Arlington VA

8 Economic & Community Development Institute Columbus OH

9 International Rescue Committee New York NY

10 Maine Department of Health & Human Services Augusta ME

11 Mountain States Group, Inc. Boise ID

12 Neighborhood Assets Spokane WA

13 United Way, Inc. Los Angeles CA

14 Western Kentucky Refugee Mutual Assistance Society Bowling Green KY

15 Lao Family Community Development, Inc. Oakland CA

16 World Relief DuPage Wheaton IL

17 Women’s Opportunities Resource Center Philadelphia PA

18 ISED Ventures Des Moines IA

19 Business Center for New Americans New York NY

20 International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis St. Louis MO

21 Jewish Family & Vocational Services, Inc. Louisville KY

22 Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Inc. Nashville TN

I wonder how much of the money went for administering the program.

By the way, note near the end of the ORR web page there is a link to a document that summarizes how much of your money has been redistributed with the help of 54 grantees since 1999.

Reforms needed:   I can’t tell you the number of times I hear from annoyed citizens about how refugees get stuff that other Americans don’t get and it is creating tension in some “welcoming” cities—-mostly because the citizens don’t know how the refugees are getting the stuff.

This program is a prime example of the point I have made from the beginning of writing this blog.  If the government, through our elected officials, thinks this is such an important initiative it should be discussed in public forums (in the local paper, etc.)  in those cities and states where the program is available.    All the facts about refugee resettlement must be made public, it shouldn’t be left to citizens to dig around on obscure websites for information.    

I suspect that a large part of the reason for the secrecy is that government officials know that there will be anger, if the program were thoroughly discussed.

If I’m wrong and the program is well-publicized, I welcome anyone sending me links to news clippings where this program has been made public and I will post those links.