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!