Readers, you have less than 4 days (by close of business on May 8th) to get testimony to the State Department on the “size and scope” of the Refugee Resettlement program for fiscal year 2014. Instructions are here! Don’t forget! Be sure you copy anything you send to the State Department to your elected Member of Congress and US Senators! (if you don’t do this, your testimony will go down a black hole at the State Department).
Below is our recent submission from Tennessee. Please don’t be deterred by the incredible detail in this testimony. If you can only send a couple of paragraphs, that will be enormously helpful.
By the way, I will basically be saying what I said last year, here. LOL!, so now we need testimony from 46 more states!
Now from Tennessee:
Asst. Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration
US State Department
Re. Federal Register Public Notice 8241
I have been researching the federal refugee resettlement program for several years and have also been a volunteer with a resettlement agency. I have been shocked to watch this program be divorced from its humanitarian and charitable roots and instead, be transformed into an industry for government contractors and government funded refugee entrepreneurs.
The refugee resettlement industry makes a mockery of “give me your tired, your hungry, your poor” when the refugee and immigrant rights groups that support the resettlement industry, oppose legitimate dialogue about the cost of programs. In Tennessee a lawyer lobbyist from a highbrow law firm represents groups like the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), a refugee group that boasts a 990 that tops the $1 million mark.
TN Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition and ORR
Formed in 2001, TIRRC was a result of a U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement grant awarded to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce for the “Building the New American Community” pilot program. The program was designed to “foster the successful integration of refugees and immigrants at a community level.” This goal was believed to be best achieved through “economic self-sufficiency and meaningful civic participation”, including the development of refugee and immigrant leadership. Former ORR Director Lavinia Limon was recognized for working collaboratively with Nashville locals on this project. This project was right up her alley because she advocated strongly for the need to support newcomer integration at the local level and to build the capacity of refugee organizations.
TIRRC has a highbrow firm lobbyist given that in 2011 (last 990 available), they reported $1,169,811 in total revenue. Lobbying expenditures since 2008 total $556,506 with $160,881 spent in 2011. Total gifts, grants and contributions since 2007 reported total $3,901,899.
These are now the very refugee organizations that have been positioned by the administration to shout down any objections or even legitimate fiscal inquiries into program costs. These are the same organizations that have joined with more radical groups such as the Rights Working Group and Black Unity whose website insists that members follow these rules:
NO SNITCHING– The Police, Capitalism, the State etc. are an enemy to the people and to work with them is criminal, Ancestral Treason! Loose lips sink ships, snitching is unforgivable.
WARRIOR CODE – Security first! Protect Women, Children, & Elders. Train; work out get your fighting skills up to par. Police your own community. We don’t need pigs overseeing us.
NO FALSE FLAGGIN’ – Red, white, and blue ain’t never did sh*t for you. Don’t be a star-spangled slave. Get on the right team; rally round the flag on some Red, Black, and Green.
BUILD SURVIVAL PROGRAMS – The people come first. You are your Brother/Sisters keeper. Capitalism teaches individualism, which is anti-African. We have to create programs that are for the best interest of the people (especially Food, Clothing and Shelter).
By TIRRC’s own description, their focus today is to “empower immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee to develop a unified voice…”. Sort of like a labor union model for immigrants and refugees except propped up with federal funds. A review of TIRRC’s policy positions and description of its accomplishments presumes that Tennesseans and Tennessee policymakers are anti-immigrants/refugees. However, there is nothing in TIRRC’s advocacy that acknowledges that what concerns Tennesseans and policymakers is the militant insistence that cultural and religious demands made by “new Americans” must be met, regardless of anything else– including cost or the encroachment on other’s legitimate and protected rights.
No amount of feature stories about the accomplishments of resettled refugees will make state and local taxpayers feel better about the militancy of groups like TIRRC and EEOC actions brought to demand more and more workplace accommodations. Or the fact that the Kurdish Pride Gang (KPG) some of whose members were recently prosecuted, is a direct product of Catholic Charities’ humanitarian efforts.
One local Kurdish activist who was formerly a state lobbyist for TIRRC says there are gangs more dangerous than the KPG in Nashville and that the local government should spend more of its resources mentoring the gang members “to get them on the right path” as opposed to punishing them for gang activities.
Federal contractors and refugee advocates don’t want state costs disclosed
As an example of what is going on around the country, groups like TIRRC in Tennessee, take great pride in asserting their participation in defeating state legislation which sought to determine the cost to the state for the federal refugee resettlement program. At the same time, TIRRC promoted legislation to increase state appropriations for English Language Learner (ELL) instruction. TIRRC’s lobbyist works alongside the lobbyist for Catholic Charities.
TIRRC works hand in glove with Tennessee’s resettlement agencies including its largest – Catholic Charities. They sit on each other’s boards and work in concert to deflect any public inquiries into their program operations and costs to the state, as was recently the case in Tennessee. It has been documented that the federal contractor who testified before a state legislative committee went so far as to misrepresent facts in her testimony.
Local citizens who pay the tab for increased school costs associated with ELL services, get called names such as “extremist”, “xenophobe”, “bigoted”, and “racist”, when they object to increases in taxes to fund the increase in state and local costs. Legislators who dare to pursue legitimate inquiries for cost data are met with opposition, public accusations of being inhumane, and name calling.
Public requests for resettlement proposals are refused and are instead directed to filing of Freedom of Information Act forms because the resettlement agencies and Catholic Charities’ TN Office for Refugees do not consider themselves accountable to state taxpayers or even donors for that matter. This is because they are federal contractors.
Claims of fleeing from persecution with little interest in economic advancement lose their credibility with the disclosure of the fact that Bhutanese refugees were victims of non-violent displacement.
Equally disingenuous to the plight of Somalis is the recent reciprocal visits by Rep. Ellison and the current President of Somalia who has declared his country safe for repatriation, an alleged stated goal of the U.S. resettlement program.
Wilson-Fish federal contractors and the pro forma consultation
State Department officials consistently ignore the obtuse and disenfranchising of the local native population once a Wilson-Fish project is put in place, as is the case in Tennessee. When the state of Tennessee elected to reduce its cost and size of state government by electing to get out of the refugee resettlement program, the Office of Refugee Resettlement approved Catholic Charities to become the state designee. Thereafter, ORR approved Catholic Charities to become a Wilson-Fish project.
With that, Catholic Charities opened a new department now named the Tennessee Office for Refugees (TOR) misleading the public into thinking that this is a state authorized agency. One of the key components of refugee resettlement – consultation, is now even more of an in-house exercise. Recall that the 2012 GAO report highlighted, consistent with the policy position of the National Governor’s Association, that meaningful consultation with state and local stakeholders is virtually non-existent. The GAO report likewise pointed out that assessment of “capacity” lacks uniform criteria and at best, is driven mostly by the per capita resettlement incentive.
In Tennessee, the state refugee coordinator (who previously ran the resettlement program for Catholic Charities), is employed and paid by the Wilson-Fish grant, unaccountable to the state taxpayer. Catholic Charities and the other VOLAG affiliate offices operating in Tennessee along with the Wilson-Fish grant director, have made it clear that they are not accountable to the state and do not have to provide information to the state.
The consultative process in a Wilson-Fish state is an in-house self-propagating process: the local affiliate office consults with the state refugee coordinator and the state refugee health coordinator (who also reports directly to the state refugee coordinator, both of whom are employed by Catholic Charities which also happens to be two of the local affiliate resettlement agencies) about “capacity” and how many refugees they think they can resettle. After this “objective” consultation, the local affiliate submits its “reception & placement” proposal to their national parent organization.
All this means is that in states operated under a Wilson-Fish project, “consultation” is a pro forma at best. How ironic that once Catholic Charities took over refugee resettlement in Tennessee, the numbers went up.
The refugee resettlement program is a double whammy for the state taxpayer. Federal dollars pay for the federal contractors to bring refugees to states (no consent required by those responsible for the state budget), to then enroll them into public assistance programs and public schools, which are in part paid for by state taxpayers. Then refugee service providers like CRIT, NICE and Catholic Charities, subsidized with government funds, aggressively scour and flood the job market all the while working to increase annually the number of refugees they resettle in order to “grow” their agencies.
The Center for Refugees and Immigrants of TN (CRIT) – one example of “refugee entrepreneurs”
The Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee (CRIT) is referred to as a “community self-help” created by a refugee to secure government grants to provide refugee resettlement support services. These entrepreneurial endeavors are highly praised by ORR and the TOR run by Catholic Charities. No amount of feel good stories can gloss over the fact that CRIT, the formerly named Somali Community Center continued to receive federal funds by subgrant from the Catholic Charities Wilson-Fish project even though the Somali Center’s then director pled guilty to grant fraud.
The story of the grant fraud was publicized in the local media and brought to the attention of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper’s local Nashville office. His office reportedly was going to look into the matter but apparently this never happened.
One can presume that Catholic Charities was merely following the example of ORR and the State Department that has continued the family reunification program despite acknowledged fraud in the program.
In short, the self-help (aka “mutual assistance associations”) spin off initially with funding from TOR, eventually secure other federal grant funding which create jobs for other refugees and then work to grow their agency by providing services to increasing numbers of refugees. Other groups like NICE (Nashville International Center for Empowerment) started out the same way but is now resettling refugees and like other federal contractors, is incentivized to resettle more and more refugees each year. In fact, a review of agency funding (attached here), available from their own website posted annual reports show that the majority of funding comes from government grants even though Cooperative Agreements make it clear that the government money is only supposed to supplement the “significant” funding the private contractors are supposed to raise from other sources.
CRIT and NICE both promote themselves to employers as being able to provide employees with job placement services without any placement fee – a FREE service to employers. CRIT’s website (which has now been moved and scrubbed), posted the following with regard to employment services:
You [the employer] could qualify for tax incentives by hiring refugees: Since many refugees receive public assistance, your company could qualify for tax credits and training incentives when you hire them.
Our job placement services are FREE: Rather than spend money placing job advertisements, contact the Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee. Let us help you find qualified workers FREE OF CHARGE.
Refugees are flexible about what shift they work and what days they work: Many refugees will work second or third shift or weekends and holidays. Many of our refugee workers can work on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve, New Years Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Independence Day.
Of course CRIT never mentions that the trade-off may be employees that demand prayer time, food and dress accommodations without which the company is most likely to be sued. Both CRIT and the resettlement agency NICE are funded mostly through government grants.
Sometime in 2002 Whirlpool in La Vergne, Tennessee, was sued by temporary Somali Muslim workers over the issue of prayer breaks. After two years of litigation, a jury ruled in favor of Whirlpool.
In 2005 30 resettlement-placed workers walked off the job at Dell for being denied a prayer break. The then director of CRIT who later pled guilty to grant fraud, was the spokesman for the workers.
In 2008 at the urging of the three Somali refugee workers on the union bargaining committee, Tysons agreed to substitute Id al-Fitr as a paid holiday for Labor Day, which was an unpaid holiday. Tysons management was reported to have welcomed the change since the high number of Muslim workers at the Shelbyville plant taking off for the Muslim holiday caused significant work slowdowns. Due to objections from Latino workers, Tysons retracted the holiday change replacing it with a paid personal holiday for any worker to use.
More recently in Minnesota, Somali workers walked off the job to protest the food company’s burqa ban. Any legitimate concerns about worker safety around the machinery following a documented accident were dismissed as irrelevant by the offended workers.
Despite these support networks, resettled refugees and their support agencies cite their frustration that lack of English language competency has kept many in low paying jobs. Given the plight of many Americans likewise struggling in the sluggish job market, complaints of this nature are untimely as are demands for more government spending on studying the need for expanded mental health services for resettled populations.
A recent article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press disclosed the resettlement services that Bridges apparently did not provide. It also detailed that what little service Bridges did provide, was substandard at best. As reported, the individuals that Bridges placed in the public housing site in Chattanooga still, five years later don’t have an ability to functionally get their basic needs met, calls into question how these agencies are monitored – or not, and whether they are simply overreaching capacity. Rather than whining to Congress about their need for more money to be able to provide needed services, why not consider scaling back operations to do a more adequate job with the funding they have.
TOR either knew about this situation because they were monitoring or they didn’t because they weren’t monitoring. Either way, the issues which the refugees still struggle with long after Bridges was paid and is gone, are now left to neighbors and others in the community to contend with.
Wrapping themselves in a banner of moral righteousness in the refugee cause of fleeing persecution, is the way VOLAGs and their advocates avoid any objective discourse of how these controversies affect businesses and communities and who pays the bill for the VOLAGs’ self-professed moral high ground.
Several years ago when budget cuts to the resettlement program were looming, one letter sent by a Catholic Charities resettlement worker to Tennessee senators was more concerned about retaining his job as opposed to the resettlement program. This was the same year that resettlement agencies were upset about the enhanced security screenings because of the slow down in their cash flow. As a result, Congress guaranteed a level of funding helping to shore up the evolving resettlement industry.
Should public money be used to institutionalize private charities?
The bureaucracy of refugee resettlement does not account for state or local government and stakeholder input, acquiescing instead to the demands of federal contractors like Catholic Charities and their agency’s funding needs. Prior resettlement patterns are used to justify upending local communities along with accusations of racism and xenophobia.
In fact, the recent trip by State Dept. director Larry Bartlett to Ft. Wayne, Indiana is very telling in this regard. “We really do see this as a partnership with the community,” which is why they meet with “stakeholders” who are identified resettlement agencies, service providers, advocates, the mayor, and refugees themselves.
It is time for the State Dept. and the rest of the refugee resettlement bureaucracy to recognize and publicly affirm that the state and local taxpayer is very much a stakeholder in this venture. When federal contractors like the Catholic Charities TN Office for Refugees claims that they would be violating federal law if they didn’t enroll the clients they voluntarily choose to sponsor and bring to the state of TN from another continent, into state-funded programs like TennCare (the state’s Medicaid program), I as a taxpayer and citizen of the state, have a right to be a stakeholder recognized and valued by the State Dept.
The 2013 ORR Voluntary Agencies Matching Grant Program Guidelines on page 9 states that: “ORR recognizes that weekly cash payments may make certain MG cases ineligible for the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid. Thus, local Matching Grant Program service providers may give some of the weekly allowance in the form of vouchers if such a form of payment is in the overall best interest of the client and he/she concurs.”
In other words, gaming the system to shift more cost to the state taxpayer for the federal program.
The bureaucracy of refugee resettlement and in particular, the private federal contractors that benefit monetarily from taxpayer largesse compounded by elected officials’ anxiety over being called the same derogatory names as taxpayers who ask legitimate questions, ignore the fact that Catholic World News reported in August 2012 that “Federal funds account for nearly 93% of USCCB’s migration/refugee budget…that over 92.5% of [their] $72.1 million budget came from federal grants and contracts while under $25,000 came from private donations.”
All in direct contravention of the letter and intent of the various Cooperative Agreements. Just like the individual resettlement agencies.
Despite Congress’ enumerated power over immigration, recognition must be given to the fact that even Congress’ spending power does not extend beyond a state’s borders into a state’s treasury. Every dollar of cost that the federal refugee resettlement program shifts to the state taxpayer, is unsupported by any permissible federal power and constitutes at best, an unfunded and impermissible federal mandate.
Absent meaningful, objective consultation with local residents and state legislators who approve the state’s budget, the State Department should not be allowed to approve one more Reception & Placement proposal for Tennessee. That is, at least until the state and its taxpayers get a full and honest disclosure of what the federal program is costing the state’s taxpayers. They should have a voice as to whether they consider this a funding priority. If not, cash flush refugee and immigrant advocacy groups like TIRRC are free to use their funds to privately sponsor refugees even if it has to reduce the money it spends on lobbying.
Above all, the name calling has to stop.
cc: Sen. Corker, Schumer, Leahy, Feinstein, Durbin, Klobuchar, Blumenthal, Hirono, Cornyn, Grassley, Hatch, Sessions, Flake, Cruz
Rep. Fleischman, Gowdy, Poe, Smith, King, Jordan, Amodei, Labrador, Holding, Lofgren, Jackson Lee, Gutierrez, Garcia, Pierluisi
Govt grants other contributions (not including foundations)
2008 $682,158 $47,031
2009 $641,801 $39,781
2010 $902,445 $30,562
Catholic Charities TN
2008 $7,341,878 $2,484,456
2009 $11,078,694 $2,568,733
2010 $9,396,445 $4,173,312
2011 $7,322,336 $6,915,397 ($1,349,909 from USCCB grant from federal grant funds passed through)
Catholic Charities West TN
2008 $2,000,916 $139,571
2009 $2,112,095 $833,845
2010 $2,025,895 $336,671
2012 dollar amounts unavailable but annual report lists 48% of revenue from federal grants
2005 $270,102 $3,925
2006 $388,259 $2,800
2007 $231,079 $7,550
2008 $434,710 $15,394
2009 $204,222 $60,109
2010 $213,105 $30,080
2011 $219,921 $36,749
2012 $197,304 $30,664
2009 $76,645 $7,056
2010 $175,233 $52,631
2011 $400,503 $46,331
Readers, this is our 7th post in our category for this year’s State Department meeting, here.