Somalis, other immigrants, increasingly control the taxicab business

This is a story from San Diego, one of the hot Somali cities in the US, about the growing control of the taxi business by Somalis and other immigrants.  Note that the International Rescue Committee is responsible for most of the more than 15,000 Somalis in that city.

Getting their friends into the business.  From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

A few days after about 300 San Diego taxi drivers went on strike to protest the amount of money they pay to lease cabs, organizers gathered the drivers in a City Heights meeting hall to rally them. The impassioned speeches were in Somali.

In San Diego, Somali immigrants are nearly synonymous with the taxicab industry. Since Somalis began settling here in large numbers as refugees in the early 1990s, fleeing a civil war at home, they have come to dominate the business as drivers. While there is no official figure, it is estimated by groups who work with African immigrants and by drivers themselves that at least three-fourths of San Diego cabbies are East African, the vast majority from Somalia. Others are from Ethiopia and Eritrea, and a few are from other African countries.

“It is the easiest thing to do when you come from another country, and you know how to drive,” said Hakeem Kalif, 40, who arrived from Somalia in 1992 and began driving a taxi four years later. “You only need a Thomas Guide.”

The cabbies follow in a long-established tradition, the immigrant social hiring network, an informal system of referrals and recruiting that has existed for as long as immigrants have been landing on these shores.

Just as social networks help determine where new arrivals to the United States settle, they also help determine the jobs they get, with established immigrants helping arriving family members and friends find work.

Bringing their religion to their jobs!  Readers may recall the controversy in Minnesota when Somali cab drivers refused to take passengers with dogs or liquor (mentioned here in this post on the quiet jihad).

Driving a taxi has become a common occupation for Somali immigrants and other East Africans, not only in San Diego but also in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Washington, D.C. In San Diego, with an East African population that includes an estimated 15,000 or more Somalis, it is not unusual to see a Muslim cabbie pull over to observe a call to prayer by taking a moment to pull a small prayer rug onto the sidewalk and kneel toward Mecca.

I wonder do they stop to pray if a fare is late for a flight or other appointment?

When the climate controls the work day?  Or, more like they work when they feel like it?

Bob Montgomery, director of the International Rescue Committee in San Diego, said Somali immigrants entered the taxi industry soon after refugees began arriving in San Diego, following in the footsteps of earlier Ethiopian immigrants, who had also taken to driving cabs. The freedom of driving a cab works for immigrants from these largely agricultural economies, where the climate determines the workday, he said.

“Especially with East Africans, the 9-to-5 work schedule is something new to them — not to all of them, but to a lot of them,” said Montgomery, whose office helped settle the bulk of Somali refugees in the area.

We wrote about San Diego Somalis recently when one Somali guy set up a ponzi scheme and ripped-off his co-religionists, here.

For new readers :

The US State Department has admitted over 80,000 Somali refugees to the US in the last 25 years and then last year had to suspend family reunification because widespread immigration fraud was revealed through DNA testing.  That specific program has not yet been reopened (that we know of), but will be soon.  Nevertheless, thousands of Somali Muslims continue to be resettled as I write this.

Iraqis with SIVs get same welfare perks as regular refugees

Once again using a favored method of putting something through the Senate (and House), we have the Defense Authorization legislation that passed in the Senate on December 19th (during the great Washington snowstorm of 2009) with an amendment that puts Iraqis entering the US with Special Immigrant Visas on par with impoverished refugees from all over the world to receive taxpayer funded benefits.

You might want to visit the State Department website that explains the SIVs for Iraqis that was passed into law last year on the Defense authorization bill in the dark of night thanks to Ted Kennedy.

This is from The List Project’s blog about the most recent sneakiness (among other sneaky moves) of the Senate.

Before dawn this morning, the U.S. Senate convened in a snowstorm and passed by a vote of 88-10 a bill authorizing money for next year’s defense spending.

When the President signs this year’s Defense Appropriations bill into law, thousands of Iraqi SIVs will have cause to celebrate. That’s because the bill eliminates the disparity between federal public benefits available to SIVs and those available refugees.

Until now, SIVs have been eligible for roughly the same assistance as refugees during their first 6-8 months in the United States. Under current law, however, most SIVs become ineligible for federal public benefits at the end of their eighth month in the United States. This ineligibility continues for five years.*  By contrast, refugees, asylees, immigrants who are spared deportation under the Convention Against Torture, and Cuban or Haitian entrants are not subject to the so-called “five-year bar.”

This morning’s bill eliminates the 5-year bar for our Iraqi and Afghan SIV allies. Specifically, it makes Iraqi and Afghan SIVs eligible for federal public benefits “to the same extent, and for the same periods of time, as refugees.” (.pdf p.119)

Special thanks are in order to Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), who apparently got this change added on July 30, 2009, (see “Congress Expands…”), and to all other elected officials, staff, and advocates who helped make this vital change a reality.

* This five-year bar from getting on welfare (aka public assistence) is why it is so popular to be a refugee or asylee.  Other legal immigrants are not allowed to access welfare for five years.

Ft. Wayne, IN and Detroit, MI: refugee resettlement no-go cities

Well, they have not exactly completely stopped refugee resettlement, but apparently as we have just learned, here, the US State Department has slowed the flow of refugees to Ft. Wayne, IN, a city that is in turmoil from a refugee population overload combined with no employment and an apparent unwillingness of refugees to assimilate.  Previously the State Dept. attempted to slow the flow to Detroit, but refugees resettled elsewhere in the US go there on their own.

Before you read the latest news and blame all of  the problems on the federal government, consider that the US State Department cannot send refugees to cities and states against the will of the local and state governments.   The Refugee Act of 1980 gives an out for states, but to my knowledge only Wyoming so far has opted out.  Also, if the local government had the political will to say NO, and screamed bloody murder, the State Department would respond.  They don’t want any negative publicity for the program which, in my opinion, is on the verge of imploding!

Ft. Wayne needs a public meeting to discuss the problems out in the open, here.

Also, the timing of this story is interesting as we had a resident of Ft. Wayne write to us here just the other day to voice her anger at the mess in that city with refugee overload.

Here is this morning’s story from the Journal-Gazette:

The federal government placed fewer Burmese refugees in the Fort Wayne area this year than anticipated, conceding to a local economy increasingly unable to meet residents’ needs.

The State Department says about 300 Burmese refugees were resettled in the Fort Wayne area between October 2008 and October 2009, about half the number aid agencies had been expecting, a result of lobbying by agencies tasked with placing refugees in their new homes.

Although that’s the third-highest number of refugees welcomed in a year, it pales in comparison with the more than 800 refugees resettled here the year before.

Once the word gets out that a city is “welcoming” additional resettlement agencies (like World Relief in the case of Ft. Wayne) move in to take advantage of the lucrative federal contracts to resettle the relatives.   However, now, even if the State Department slows the flow, secondary migrants arrive on their own maybe from other miserable resettlement experiences such as those in Bowling Green, KY or Waterbury, CT.

After refugees are in the U.S., they’re able to move freely, so many take it upon themselves to reunite their own families, “secondary migrants,” Schlachter (State Department spokewoman) said. Buoyed by secondary migration, the city is believed to now have the largest concentration of Burmese refugees in the U.S., estimated at more than 5,000, according to Catholic Charities and other human-services agencies.

I assume readers have been seeing all the stories about a destroyed Detroit.  

Since April, at the request of local refugee resettlement agencies, the State Department has limited “family reunification” to parents, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren. Each city’s resources available to refugees are evaluated independently, and Detroit and Fort Wayne are the only two cities with the current restrictions, Schlacter said.

Health Department overload too.

Several years of high refugee numbers stretched the resources of schools and agencies such as the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health, which struggled to provide basic services such as immunizations. Even the reduced number of refugees this year was a challenge, Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said.

We first learned about the problems the Ft. Wayne health department was having, here, in the fall of 2007.  State Department representatives brushed that news off  in a public meeting held in our city, Hagerstown, MD, in September of 2007.   It looks like the Allen County health department is still struggling, although they received a small grant from the federal government awhile back.  Incidentally this flow of federal money is likely why local governments don’t just say NO (see some grants to Ft. Wayne, here).


Now, check out this next section of the Journal Gazette story!   Consider that World Relief only recently moved into Ft. Wayne and consider that they are paid by the head for the new refugees they resettle and consider they told the public back in January of this year here , in the News-Sentinel, that they were only there to help with the overload, and not to resettle new refugees.   From the News-Sentinel:

At the outset, World Relief is going to work with refugees already here. Whether the agency will sponsor more refugees to the area – and how many – is undetermined.

But there is little money in being kind and working with existing refugees, the bucks are in bringing new ones!   I can only guess that that comment was to keep the public calm about more new refugees.   So, back to today’s story:

Although World Relief’s representatives agreed to the restrictions, secondary migration brings its own challenges because refugees come without the support system of a local resettlement agency, said Julie Navrotsky, church and volunteer coordinator for World Relief.

“In some ways, the restrictions have perpetuated that problem,” she said. “I think we understand both sides.”

World Relief resettled 65 refugees in Fort Wayne between January and September, about 35 fewer than it had hoped, a disappointment to the local agency, Navrotsky said.

“The purpose of World Relief coming to town was to help with the influx,” Navrotsky said.

World Relief has resettled refugees only from Myanmar this year, but it might start resettling refugees from elsewhere or begin programs to help secondary migrants, she said. Even when local refugees struggle to find work, most are grateful to be out of refugee camps, reunited with family members and in a place where their children will receive an education.

“Hopefully, the numbers will come up,” Navrotsky said.  [Edit:  that is code for needing more money to keep their office open!]

Good luck Ft. Wayne!   Soon World Relief, looking for customers, will be bringing in Somalis and Iraqis to add to your ‘diversity.’

For new readers we just two days ago discussed World Relief in Ft. Wayne, here.  Also, we have written many many posts on Ft. Wayne, so just type ‘Ft. Wayne’ into our search function to learn more.