Springfield MA Mayor stands by moratorium demand, says agencies “dumping” refugees

This is an update of our post from Tuesday about the meeting that was held in Springfield, Massachusetts last evening where Mayor Domenic Sarno invited representatives of the refugee contractors to a gathering to discuss the city’s complaints about refugee overload.

08/28/13-Springfield-Republican Staff Photo by Dave Roback-Archbishop Timothy Paul, left, president and CEO of the Council of Churches of Western Massachusetts listens to Katheryn Buckley-Brawner during a press conference after meeting with Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno on the refugee matter in the city of Springfield.

Let me say at the outset—Springfield is not an isolated case.

RRW is filled with stories of resettlement contractors “dumping” refugees on communities.  I am here to tell you, the agencies are paid to get refugees into their first apartments, try to find them some menial job (even if it is short-lived so their records show they did find them employment), arrange for the refugee’s legal social services and health care and then basically let the refugees sink or swim—sometimes as soon as three months, but rarely does any agency hang around over 8 months.

From The Republican:

SPRINGFIELD – Mayor Domenic J. Sarno did not budge from his request for a moratorium on new refugees in Springfield on Wednesday, but agreed to have the city take part in a joint task force to evaluate the current resettlement program and consider improvements to reduce any hardships on the refugees and the community.

Sarno and numerous city officials met for 90 minutes with approximately 30 representatives of agencies and advocacy groups involved in the refugee resettlement program.

During the meeting, and thereafter, Sarno continued to say the influx of refugees in recent years has strained city services, including the schools, police and code enforcement officials. He said he has serious concerns about refugees living in poverty and substandard housing, and not getting enough help and follow-up services from the service agencies.

He described the situation as “dumping” them on the city’s doorstep with language gaps, and lack of knowledge to get help and basic services.

“This is not an attack on refugees,” Sarno said. “It is about accountability of the agencies following through. What we are saying now is we are at a tipping point.”

Catholic Charity’s spokeswoman, Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, says they (the resettlement agencies) will investigate themselves about the “alleged” failure to follow-up on refugees (seems more and more lately, Catholic Charities is involved somewhere!):

Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, a spokeswoman for the coalition of refugee service groups, said there were “healthy disagreements” during the meeting, but it was “certainly very encouraging,”

“It’s our position that we want to maintain open communication with the mayor’s office,” Buckley-Brawner said. “What we want is to create a pipeline, so decisions are made in collaboration and communication with each other so that small problems don’t become huge problems, and to ensure resourses are there.”

The agencies will research the alleged lack of sufficient follow-up services “to determine to what extent the service agencies can do a better job with the city in meeting the needs of the refugees,” she said.

In your face Mayor!

The mayor cannot legally block refugee resettlement in the region, advocates said.

Frankly, I don’t think this is true!  No one has ever tried it!  I think there is a 10th Amendment (state’s rights) case to be made here. The problem is that the side that wants to bring the decision about refugees back to the state level hasn’t the resources to take this through the legal system, or politicians like Sarno don’t have the political will to do it.

But, short of a long drawn-out legal battle, citizens in the city can make such a political (media!) fuss that sometimes the State Department will step in and close a program so as to avoid bad publicity that might go national and damage the whole effort. 

Maybe some of you remember that the State Department yanked the contract of another resettlement agency in nearby Waterbury, CT in 2008.  The agency had come under fire in the newspaper for refugees living in sub-standard conditions.  They may be up and running again by now, I don’t know, but they were at least stopped at that point in time.

The State Department and its contractors have been doing this, quietly resettling refugees to target cities for over three decades, and they have done so because the program is under the public’s radar screen, and heretofore the word “refugee” has invoked only warm, fuzzy feelings in the general public.  I think all that is changing and I hope we have helped just a little to elevate the issue.

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