Amarillo, TX: Unbelievably frank description of a refugee overloaded city, and how it got that way

In this opinion piece by Nancy Koons, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle, we learn some very important truths about the Refugee Resettlement Program of the US State Department/the UN and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

We have reported previously here, here and here about Amarillo, TX as a “pocket of resistance.”

Here is what I learned (re-learned!):

1) Meatpackers have indeed driven the program.

2) The contractors are in competition with each other for warm bodies to resettle (no matter what problems a city government might be having). Is it because they are paid by the head?

3) The US State Department is ignoring the city’s concerns and even as Catholic Charities asked for a reduction in number, the State Dept. sent more refugees to the same city.  Is this arrogance or incompetence?

4) A community’s educational system is one of the first to suffer when refugee overload occurs.

5) Once yours has become a “welcoming” city more contractors will come.

And finally, I learned that there are some people inside the system willing to be brave and speak the truth!  Nancy Koons is one of them.

From the Amarillo Globe News (emphasis below is mine):

Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle, formerly Catholic Family Service Inc., has provided social services in the Texas Panhandle since 1932, including a refugee resettlement program that began in the mid-1970s, following the fall of Saigon.

The refugee program was in response to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which, with other national organizations, assisted the U.S. State Department with resettlement nationwide.  With the goal of helping refugees achieve self-sufficiency, one consideration for establishment of a resettlement site was availability of employment. The meat-packing industry became a primary source.   [Not ‘assisted’ as in out of the goodness of their hearts, they are paid contractors.—ed]

Presently, USCCB is one of nine volunteer agencies (volags) at the national level that facilitates refugee resettlement. Until 2007-2008, USCCB was the only volunteer agency (volag) that facilitated resettlement in Amarillo, doing so through CFS.

In 2007-08, two more national volags began facilitating resettlement in Amarillo — Lutheran Immigration Services and Church World Services (membership includes Methodist, First Christian Church, Presbyterian, Church of Christ and Episcopalian churches). These two additional volags facilitate refugee resettlement through Refugee Services of Texas, Amarillo office.

Resettlement peaked in 2010 when CFS resettled 448 individuals and RST-Amarillo resettled 251 individuals. In total, 699 refugees were resettled in Amarillo in 2010. Refugees also came to Amarillo from other areas of the country, having already resettled through agencies in other cities. This is referred to as secondary migration, and is largely employment motivated. Not all secondary cases check in with a local resettlement agency. In 2010, however, 276 secondary case refugees came to CFS for assistance.

In August 2011, I began in my role as executive eirector at CFS. Residing out of the Amarillo area for six years, I was unaware of the dramatic increase in refugee resettlement, languages and cultures, and consequently the impact on the community — particularly the schools.

It wasn’t long before I heard from numerous concerned residents and staff from the Amarillo Independent School District. It was clear that the increasing rate of resettlement needed to slow down significantly to allow the community to catch up with challenges brought about by dramatic demographic changes. I invited officials from USCCB in Washington D.C., and the state refugee coordinator from Austin to meet with representatives from AISD to hear their challenges. At this meeting, AISD representatives graciously articulated extraordinary challenges in the schools. They begged USCCB and the state refugee coordinator to slow down the rate of resettlement to give AISD and the community the opportunity to “catch up,” and enable them to better serve all of the student population.

At CFS, I immediately reduced our projected arrivals for fiscal year 2012 by 50 percent, the projection of 400 was reduced to 200. RST-Amarillo had projected 200 arrivals for fiscal year 2012.

I learned soon after that our agency’s reduction was picked up by RST-Amarillo — they increased their projected 2012 arrivals to 400. Unfortunately, the community did not experience the reduction we had intended. In the following months, the local director of RST-Amarillo said he was unaware of problems at the schools. To his defense, complaints came to CFS because the community was, and still is, largely unaware of a second resettlement agency in Amarillo.

In July 2012, I shared this information with Mayor Paul Harpole. Dialogue continues on the local and national levels to address critical refugee issues in our community. Compared to fiscal year 2010, Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle anticipates 160 arrivals, a 64 percent reduction from 2010. RST-Amarillo anticipates 282 arrivals, a 12 percent increase from 2010.

There is a bit more where Koons talks about her faith and ‘welcoming the stranger,’ but in all honesty she and others can do that without taking money from the US Treasury—from their fellow citizens’ wallets to be precise!   The Bible never directed Christians to steal from others to make themselves feel better and more charitable.

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