So what is going on in Lancaster, PA? More refugees than the city can handle?

Update May 20th:  Church World Service—thousands upon thousands resettled to Lancaster, here!

You know Lancaster—the home of the Amish.  Not!

I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite testimonies sent to the US State Department two weeks ago for the May 1 scoping meeting to hear from “stakeholders” (that is government talk for contractors) on how many refugees and which ones to bring to the US in FY 2013.  Obama will make a “determination” and send it to Congress in September where Congress will rubber stamp it just in time for the October 1st opening of fiscal year 2013.

But… before I tell you more about the testimony, a little background:  In 2007, we in Washington Country Maryland were just minding our own business when several incidents occurred with new immigrants that got the attention of the authorities and finally the newspaper.  We learned that the Virginia Council of Churches (Virginia! mind you) was resettling third worlders in Hagerstown (our county seat).  Some of us just wanted to better understand how this was happening—WHAT WAS THE GOVERNMENTAL PROCESS that allowed a supposed non-profit from Virginia to drop off people in Hagerstown.  Where would they work?  Who was paying for this?  Who was responsible for their health, their housing, their education?

To make a long story short, we had a public meeting for all those involved which included the primary federal contractor Church World Service (they subcontract to Virginia Council of Churches), our state refugee coordinator, and some representatives of the US State Department.  The public asked a lot of questions—many were answered in let’s just say a not straightforward fashion.  We were lectured about how we are a ‘nation of immigrants’ and probably not even two weeks later the program was closed in Hagerstown and we were labeled “unwelcoming” —I suppose because we asked too many questions.   This is how this blog was born—out of annoyance with government officials who keep information from the public!  (For anyone interested in more on what happened in Hagerstown we have a category, unused lately, here, in which we told our story in the early years.)

So how does Lancaster fit in?

We were told in 2007 that the majority of refugees we were getting were Meshketians (Russian Sunni Muslim Turks) who were originally destined for Lancaster, PA about 100 miles away.  However, somehow there was a glitch in the plan for Lancaster (we heard a crime problem had cropped up) and that Church World Service (one of nine federal contractors who monopolize the program) had to quickly find a place to take the next batch of Meshketians.  I think they just looked at a map and picked Hagerstown—fresh territory for refugee resettlement and close enough to Lancaster so the Meshketians could visit back and forth.

And, by the way, we heard that some Meshketians had homes to sell in Russia and were able to buy homes here—so were they even real refugees?  Or, were we using this program (again!) for some foreign policy political reason involving Russia and Turkey?

Here is what Church World Service (CWS) told the State Department on May 1 (Oh, and by the way, CWS is the “crop walk” group, some of you may know them from participating in their fundraising project.—ed):

In the United States, communities, schools, religious congregations, and employers welcome refugees and help them integrate in their new homes.  In turn, refugees bring their innovative skills, diverse cultures, dedicated work, and other positive contributions to their new communities, enhancing the quality of life for all parties. Refugee resettlement showcases the best virtues of the United States—community, opportunity, hard work, diversity, caring for one another, and courage to start a new life.

Now, here is what a citizen of Lancaster, PA says of Church World Service (I won’t publish the woman’s name, but apparently she has been trying to help refugees who are struggling in her community—in other words she is not a bigot and xenophobe like we are here at RRW!).  This is not the first time we have heard of refugee volunteers trying to do the best for refugees and running into problems with arrogant resettlement contractors.   For the record, I don’t know this woman.  [Emphasis below is mine—ed]

From a refugee volunteer in Lancaster, PA:

Why do organizations like Church World Service make unilateral decisions on how many refugees get settled into an area?

CWS and Lutheran Social Services have settled at least 2500 refugees (that’s probably a low guess as they refuse to give out totals, but only list how many of one nationality that they have settled in a past year) in Lancaster in the past 3 years without any approval process required from our mayor, our city council or without any consultation with our school board. The city of Lancaster population is approximately 56,000. In the past 2 1/2 years, these two organizations, who have no accountability to voters… have made the population approximately 4% refugee. I help refugees here in Lancaster and I am aware that in the short term, they are a very heavy financial burden on the city. Surely it is reasonable and right for our elected officials to have some say in how many refugees are settled into the city within a certain time period?

I work with families, I see the neglect:

I work with three refugee families in an informal support system through the Unitarian Social Justice committee here in Lancaster. I work with refugees who are hard working, serious people. They will eventually be a great asset to the city. But in the short term, they are a great financial burden on the city.

Every member of these three refugee families arrived with health issues. Many continue to have serious health issues and use the free clinics for health care, for surgery, for extensive testing, for dental work.

Each family has one or more grandparents who are permanently disabled in some way and need financial aid and city services.   [Elderly refugees may receive SSI even if they never paid into the system—ed]

Because of language and educational difficulties, earning power is low. In spite of their very low income, there are cultural issues, which lead the young women to marry early and start families right away and stay home with their babies. They do not work outside the home. I know this because… within a year… my three families, including newly married older daughters and married cousins who share the same buildings… had four new babies… and another baby is due this month. They are good families and the Nepali refugees are wonderful parents. But, each low income family needs government services and financial aid to insure that there is good food and good medical care for the moms and babies. It’s a significant cost to the community.

There are other cultural difficulties that present challenges and sometimes dangers for the refugees and for the city, which are not addressed by the two Lancaster settlement agencies.

CWS officially works with the families for 3 months but their orientations are neglectfully inadequate.

I could quickly list 10 very serious incidences of neglect by CWS, but to save time here, I will tell only one story and a few bullet points. Please contact me if you would like more information. I could write many pages based on my notes of the past 2 years.

The testimony goes on to report problems with the orientation of refugees, safety issues and bed bugs.

“CWS is dumping refugees on to the city”

Many Lancaster people that I talk with…who also try to help refugees here… use the word “dumping”… CWS is dumping refugees on to the city… taking a payment to settle the refugees and moving on to the next group of refugees who will bring in more money to pay for CWS salaries, office space and fund raising events. This is the impression of many compassionate, frustrated people here in Lancaster, who are then accused of being part of a racist or anti-immigration backlash. We are not anti-immigration. We are expending our own personal time and money and pressuring our churches to spend time and money, picking up the pieces that CWS drops into our community. We now want a say in how many refugees can be settle here.

[New readers, see this 2010 story from Greensboro, NC and see the same problem—local church volunteers crying out to stop the flow of refugees at least for awhile!]

The commenter then goes on to make recommendations and mentions the State of Tennessee’s efforts to get some local control into the program.   How much do you want to bet the State Department won’t follow-up and ask her for her proposals.  Nor is the State Department making any of this testimony available to the public.   She needs to send her testimony to her Congressman and US Senators and ask that they publish it in the Congressional Record!  The buck stops with Congress!

Hagerstown Refugee article: a story I have been sitting on (Part 1)

This article has been sitting around in my list of potential posts since August 3rd.  I’ve started to post on it several times, but didn’t want to get into a big dissertation on how refugee resettlement in Hagerstown inspired the creation of this blog, but decided when I saw the article published at another site that I really needed to get my energy up to write about it.

The story in the Hagerstown Herald Mail is your standard, immigrants are struggling but doing well, people are nice to them, but Hagerstown is “unwelcoming” because citizens ran out of town the Virginia Council of Churches—that’s the agency that had been resettling refugees to the city two to three years ago.   The “unwelcoming” attitude came in the wake of an unfortunate incident, we are told.

When they came to Hagerstown, a Virginia Council of Churches office in Hagerstown helped refugees resettle. That office closed in 2007, its officials citing an “unwelcoming” community after an incident brought to light the presence of a group of refugees in Hagerstown.

In October 2006, some residents and government officials discovered that refugees were being resettled locally after a Burundian woman experienced a severe case of morning sickness on West Franklin Street, where the refugees were living.

Because the woman’s translator was unavailable, authorities thought she and other refugees possibly had a communicable disease. Hazmat units were sent to the area, and the 12 African refugees were quarantined briefly.

This is a very simplistic description of what happened.    This incident served only to force the Herald Mail to report to the public in a front page story that refugees were quietly being resettled by an agency from out of state.    Some of us initially just wanted to know how the program worked, who decided which cities would get refugees, did local government have any say in the matter, who would employ the refugees, what services would they receive etc.  Here is a post I wrote in September 2007 in which I tell readers the questions I asked the Herald Mail to research and report on and they refused.

So some of us asked for a public meeting and got it.   The US State Department sent a couple of top people, Maryland sent its refugee people, and Church World Service, the contractor of Virginia Council of Churches, and VCC all attended and spent the evening dodging questions and talking down to us.

I thought about this yesterday because the contentious Townhall meeting with Senator Cardin on health care reform was held in the same theater at Hagerstown Community College and it occurred to me that the source of many peoples’ anger yesterday and two years ago is that citizens have had it with being dictated to from elite ‘smart people’ from Washington.  It wasn’t the refugees people were angry at two years ago, it was the big-government bureaucrats and their religious left minions (cheered on by editors of the Herald Mail) shoving a federal program down our throats that was so maddening to many of the residents of Washington County.

When Washington comes to town, we just want good and open government, not sneaky government!

And, finally what the Herald Mail and Virginia Council of Churches don’t tell you is that somehow VCC was screwing up badly here (the woman in the hazmat incident above was located in the worst building in the worst neighborhood in town, why?).   VCC was shut down from the top and sent back to Virginia by the US State Department and their bosses at Church World Service!  Calling us “unwelcoming” as a parting shot was just to advance their political agenda.

You can read all about the lead-up to, and aftermath of, that September 2007 meeting in our category on the subject, here.

It was this refugee debacle in Hagerstown, MD that inspired the creation of Refugee Resettlement Watch.   We want to be sure other citizens know how this federal program works and why it needs to be reformed.

See Part II to see what prompted me to finally get around to mentioning this article.

Puff piece on Virginia Council of Churches refugee program needs some balance

Yesterday I told you what a great year we have had at Refugee Resettlement Watch—over 100,000 visitors to this site to learn more about the refugee program in the US.  You have the Virginia Council of Churches (VCC) to thank for that!    I have been meaning to write about them anyway because this time last year we were having a heated public discussion about VCC in Hagerstown, MD (all recorded in the category ‘September Forum’)  Now, I can use this article from Harrisonburg, VA to remind long-time readers and to tell new readers how we got here.

A year and a half ago Judy and I knew nothing about the Refugee Resettlement Program of the US State Department, until that is, we started reading about problems refugees were having in Hagerstown (MARYLAND), our county seat.   The case that got the public’s attention first involved a sick African woman who sent a child out on the street to find help which was followed by a series of miscommunications that could have been resolved quickly if someone knew how to reach the VIRGINIA Council of Churches.  To fire and rescue it was a mystery  how this African woman came to be in the worst neighborhood in the city.   As a result of the language barrier the incident blew up into a Hazmat situation because medical personel thought the woman (and others in the building) might have some dangerous communicable disease.

Shortly after the incident, Virginia Council of Churches asked our county government for $15,000 for their program—now people wanted to know how this Virginia “church” could be bringing what turned out to be hundreds of refugees to our county without any local say in the matter.

I asked a reporter at our local paper to find out and tell us all how the Refugee program worked.  The Hagerstown Herald mail refused and here we are telling you for over a year now how the refugee program works and attempting to balance the news coverage of the program—like this article from Harrisonburg.   We believe each community should know the whole story about how refugee resettlement will effect one’s community, we think the coverage has been way too one-sided (everything is just lovely everywhere).   I believe that if people are given all the facts, a government program can then be weighed fairly in a city or town.  It was very clear to us that facts were being withheld in order to sell the refugee program to Hagerstown. 

We also hope that by bringing the facts to you, this program will ultimately be reformed! 

To make what is now turning into a long story short, we ultimately had a public meeting (the September Forum) so that federal and state officials, Church World Service and VCC could tell the citizens the facts.  I had high hopes for a better understanding through this meeting.   The meeting was contentious with citizens once again feeling that they weren’t hearing the full story.  A week or so later it was announced that the Virginia Council of Churches was leaving town (State Department pulled the financial plug through its contractor, Church World Service), and we, and Hagerstown were labelled “unwelcoming”.  Really what happened is that the VCC had done such a lousy job caring for refugees and working with the general public that they were sent back to Virginia with their parting “unwelcoming” shot at Hagerstown.

Now to the Harrisonburg article:

Refugee Resettlement functions as an arm of the Virginia Council of Churches, a network of 37 churches spanning 22 denominations in Virginia. The Harrisonburg Refugee Resettlement office helps refugees get resettled in a geographical area from Winchester to Roanoke.

I guess this (above) means that their region has shrunk (no longer jumping across state lines), and note the implication is that the churches are doing the resettling.  As for Roanoke, no mention of the BIG problems there between the black American population and the Somalis that these government contractors have resettled in their midst.

According to its Web site, the Council formed the Refugee Resettlement Program in 1962 in response to a large number of Cuban exiles entering the United States. Nationally, the program admitted 70,000 refugees a year until 2001, Sokolyuk said, when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 resulted in tighter security measures for refugees.

After 2001, the State Department reduced the number of refugees allowed in the country annually to 29,000, Sokolyuk said.

Lately, said Sokolyuk, the State Department has relaxed such restrictions.

Doesn’t Mr. Sokolyuk know that the ceiling for FY 08 is 80,000 refugees to be admitted to the US and the number could go higher if special legislation mandating more Iraqis is successful?

After receiving 50 refugees a year from 2002 to 2007, the Harrisonburg Refugee Resettlement already has processed applications for 123 people this year, said Sokolyuk.

The Virginia Council of Churches budgets $1.3 million a year for its three Refugee Resettlement offices to process refugees, said Sokolyuk. Each office receives its share of the budget based on the number of refugees it processed the previous year.

Since VCC is now getting 123 refugees their ‘time out’ inflicted by the State Department must be over.  No mention here that almost all of VCC’s budget is from the coffers of the US taxpayer through the primary government contractor Church World Service.  Last year a representative of VCC said 90% of their budget comes from government.  Of course, one can’t confirm that because they have filed as a “church” with the IRS and are not required to file a Form 990 that other non-profits are required to file.

Sokolyuk is quick to point out that the general public often confuses the terms “refugee” and “immigrant.” There is a huge difference between the two: Refugees leave their native lands with more urgency than do immigrants, who have more time to plan.

“With refugees, the body goes first, and the mind follows,” said Sokolyuk. “With immigrants, the mind goes first, and the body follows.”

What the heck does that mean?   You see—this is why we started this blog.   Instead of complete straightforward information you get this B.S. —-“the body goes first and the mind follows.”    The major difference between other legal immigrants and refugees is that refugees (and asylees) must show that they are persecuted or have a reasonable fear of persecution because of such things as religion, race, nationality, a particular social group or political opinion.  Other immigrants seek visas for various reasons and bascially wait in line.

The other huge difference is that refugees receive travel loans (loans from the federal government) to get here, they get help(?) from groups like VCC, they get apartment subsidies, medical exams, ESL lessons, food stamps, SSI, etc. etc.   And of course that is why there are so many people in the world trying to figure out how to be refugees.

On the travel loans, go to the article and see the comment by Chris Coen of Friends of Refugees and see how that works.  VCC gets a cut of any loan it can collect from refugees.  We were told by sources that refugees in Hagerstown could barely speak English and were getting dunning letters from VCC and didn’t understand what that was all about and were frightened by the letters.

This next part, about finding individual church sponsors, is absolutely not true:

First, refugees contact the United Nations, which refers applicants to the State Department. Such volunteer groups as Church World Service and Episcopal Immigration Ministries review applications and contact localities throughout the U.S., seeking churches or other organizations willing to sponsor refugees.

Batches of sometimes hundreds of refugees are sent to a “welcoming” city where a volag (supposedly voluntary agency, but paid by you) is supposed to resettle the refugees.  Here in Hagerstown they had maybe 3 churches and a mosque and resettled over 200.  The reason so much went wrong is that they didn’t have individual churches taking individual families and the few churches and the mosque ultimately threw up their hands because volunteer church members were completely overwhelmed by the numbers.    In other cities, Waterbury, CT comes to mind, the volags actually discouraged individual church volunteers and screwed up so badly the program was halted there too.

One of the reforms we advocate is that we should go back to the old system where individual churches would use their own private charity to sponsor a family and acclimate them to America—the present system of paying groups to resettle masses of people is not working!  This blog is filled with stories of waste and abuse by volags.

Sorry this post got way long, congratulations to readers who got this far!

What is the truth about HIV and refugees?

Yesterday the Washington Post published an opinion piece by Andrew Sullivan who says that all immigrants with HIV aids are barred from the US.     He begins “Phobia at the Gates”:

Twelve countries ban HIV-positive visitors, nonimmigrants and immigrants from their territory: Armenia, Brunei, Iraq, Libya, Moldova, Oman, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Sudan and . . . the United States. China recently acted to remove its ban on HIV-positive visitors because it feared embarrassment ahead of the Olympics. But America’s ban remains.

It seems unthinkable that the country that has been the most generous in helping people with HIV should legally ban all non-Americans who are HIV-positive. But it’s true: The leading center of public and private HIV research discriminates against those with HIV.

HIV is the only medical condition permanently designated in law — in the Immigration and Nationality Act — as grounds for inadmissibility to the United States. Even leprosy and tuberculosis are left to the discretion of the secretary of health and human services. 

I am sure that last fall when we had our September Forum (see our whole category) in Hagerstown, MD about refugee resettlement that the State Department representatives told us the ban on refugees with HIV had been lifted by the Clinton administration.    Here is a post in which I mentioned the supposed lifting of the ban.   Now I’m wondering if it isn’t really lifted but just ignored by those admitting refugees to the US.

By the way, one of the flaws in Sullivan’s argument involves who pays for HIV treatment of immigrants.  He says they should be required to carry private health insurance.  That is not going to happen with refugees who get medical care gratus from local governments.

Take a look at the problems some county health departments are having with the cost of health treatment for refugees.  Ft. Wayne, IN (Allen County) comes immediately to mind.

Would treating HIV like any other medical condition cost the United States if such visitors or immigrants at some point became public dependents? It’s possible — but all legal immigrants and their sponsors are required to prove that they can provide their own health insurance for at least 10 years after being admitted. Making private health insurance a condition of visiting or immigrating with HIV prevents any serious government costs, and the tax dollars that would be contributed by many of the otherwise qualified immigrants would be a net gain for the government — by some estimates, in the tens of millions of dollars.

Sullivan does mention that immigrants with all other diseases including leprosy and tuberculosis are not legally banned.   A Somali refugee died of TB in a Tyson’s meatpacking plant in Emporia, KS last year—funny you never heard that reported in the mainstream media.

I would really like to know what is the truth about refugees with HIV.

Haitian Immigrant brought AIDS to US

This report, originally from Reuters, was published all over the world yesterday.

The strain of HIV that touched off the US AIDS epidemic and fueled the global scourge of the disease came to the continent from Africa via Haiti, according to a study released Monday.


“Haiti was the stepping stone the virus took when it left central Africa and started its sweep around the world,” said Michael Worobey, an assistant professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and senior author of the paper.


The deadly virus probably arrived on US shores in about 1969, more than a decade before the full-blown US AIDS crisis of the 1980s, and may have been carried there by a single Haitian immigrant, according to the study.

What relevance to refugees?   During the Clinton Administration the ban on immigrants with HIV AIDS was lifted and refugees with AIDS are permitted entry into the US.   We pay for their treatment upon arrival.  This was confirmed by State Dept. representatives at the September Forum in Hagerstown.

From 1983 to 2005 we admitted 28,625 Haitians with the lions share resettled in Florida.  Just a reminder that the 2005 ORR Annual report to Congress is a handy source of information.   See Appendix A for country of origin and resettlement state.

Note:  We may soon make available DVD copies of the Public Forum on Refugee Resettlement held in Hagerstown, MD on September 19, 2007.    If you are new to RRW you might want to review the September Forum category here.