Pennsylvania Refugee Conference was informative on so many levels

Update June 15th:  Pockets of resistance have developed, here is Part II of my report on Lancaster.

As I mentioned a couple of times yesterday, on Tuesday I traveled to Lancaster, PA (a “welcoming” resettlement city) for the 2013 Pennsylvania Consultation, a joint meeting between the “Commonwealth’s” refugee program and its workers, the national refugee contractors and the federal government.

The Atrium dining area at the lavish Doubletree/Hilton Hotel in Lancaster, PA where “stakeholders” met (at taxpayers’ expense) to learn more about how to help refugees sign up for social services. What is wrong with this picture?

Representatives from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (Health and Human Services) and the State Department’s Office of Population, Refugees and Migration were there to fill in the Pennsylvania “stakeholders” about the latest trends in nationalities they would be resettling, refugee and asylee rights including rights to welfare goodies, the shortage of money for the contractors and the program generally (they had money to give attendees promotional ink pens!) and how to push-back against what they called “pockets of resistance against new arrivals.”   (That last is so good it will require a second post!).

Readers, I know this type of meeting can be boring and so might my reports on it, or at least this one might be boring, but it’s very important to see the kinds of people involved in refugee resettlement, listen to them and to basically become informed about the minutia of this or any government program you might have concerns about.

Your state (except Wyoming) has a Refugee Office (or an assigned state employee/private contractor) somewhere and I recommend that you visit them or their website often or get on a mailing list to receive information about upcoming meetings like this one.  We were told from the podium that Pennsylvania had no pockets of resistance, perhaps no organized pockets, but I learned of a couple of people who have problems with refugee resettlement in Lancaster who didn’t know this meeting was occurring at their grand Doubletree/Hilton Hotel.

By the way, I had several occasions to help put on conferences (not taxpayer funded) at a Doubletree Hotel in Maryland, not as grand a hotel as this one, and I know that use of their facility/meeting rooms and food couldn’t be done for less than $50 a head for a boxed lunch.  Based on the amenities at the Lancaster “consultation” where attendance was ‘free,’ this spread must have cost (state and/or federal taxpayers) about $100 a person.  Fortunately there was no line dancing that I saw.

Here are some nuggets I learned (in no particular order):

* PA resettled 3,022 in 2011-2012.  1,194 have arrived in 2013 so far.

* The largest percentage of PA’s refugees are the Bhutanese (Nepalese), Iraqis and a smattering of Somalis.  There will be Congolese coming to PA to add to their diversity.

* The refugee hot spots in PA are Pittsburgh, Lancaster/Harrisburg, Allentown, Philadelphia (the largest right now) and Erie.

* Major PA contractors are Catholic Charities, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and Church World Service.

* ORR was represented at the meeting by former Ethiopian refugee, Mitiku Ashebir.  That is interesting because the present Director of ORR is Eskinder Negash, also from Ethiopia, who revolved into his government job from his perch as VP at one of the top  nine major federal contractors—USCRI.  Ashebir entered the government door through his former positions with contractors US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Ethiopian Community Development Council.  There really should be a law against the cozy contractor/government employee revolving door.

* There were lots of little nuggets about welfare that I noted.  One statistic of interest was that 2,550 refugees in PA are receiving SSI (Supplemental Security Income).  After all, the US State Department is admitting elderly and disabled refugees who have to live on something—right!

* There was discussion on possible reductions in TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) on the horizon.  And, eeek! drug testing too.

* There was this bit of good employment news (NOT!)—refugee employment increased by 3% over 2011!  It went from 50% to 53%.

* Also considered good news is that 67% of refugees in PA are self-sufficient at 120 days, and 75% at 180 days.  That does not mean they don’t get any welfare benefits—they still get food stamps for sure and likely Section 8 housing.  And, so 25% are in need of all services after 180 days—doesn’t sound so good to me!

* The anticipated national caseload for FY2013 breaks down like this:  70,000 refugees, 28,800 asylees, 21,000 Cubans and Haitians, 600 human trafficking cases, and 4,000 Special Immigrant Visa holders (those are the Iraqis and Afghanis who we are admitting for “helping” America).  The total is 124,400 and as we were told ALL of them are entitled to all the benefits—welfare, housing, food stamps, education, health care etc.

* On top of the 124,400 is an expected jump in unaccompanied minors that ORR is responsible for.  In 2012, 14,700 kids arrived in the US without parents and in 2013 the number is expected to be 20,000. Prior to 2012 the numbers were dramatically lower.  Sounds like an incredible scam on America as probably parents from south of the border are abandoning their children to the government in advance of the amnesty legislation.

* Then here is something I found very interesting and helps answer a question I get often from readers.  How do they decide to resettle refugees to a given town? The contractors and federal government have to continually look for fresh territory in which to resettle refugees and apparently in light of failed attempts to get new seed communities established, the feds are having ORR-PRM joint quarterly placement meetings.  The next one will be in July.     Before any new site is opened (usually because some contractor thinks it would be a good place), ORR-PRM will visit the site together and decide if it will be “welcoming.”

A note of caution:  they will bring in a small number of refugees and see if there is going to be some resistance.  If there is none, then they will proceed with the assumption that yours is a “welcoming” community.  I call this the squawk factor.  I think this is one of several reasons why the contractors resettle refugees in city slums—there will be no organized community resistance from people who don’t know their neighbors anyway and are just trying to survive day to day.

One final thing.  I bet if attendees at the conference were asked to raise their hands if they were there simply as volunteers and not receiving a salary or travel expenses, the number of hands raised would be less than ten, maybe less than five of the approximately 130-150 attendees.  (I’m guessing on the number in attendance).

Lancaster gave birth to RRW!

To learn the role Lancaster played in the birth of this blog, visit this post from 2012So what is going on in Lancaster, PA?

More later…..”Welcoming America” combating pockets of resistance!

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