Comment worth noting: “don’t overthrow the system”

We recently set up this category “comments worth noting” to highlight reader comments that are posted not to our most recent posts but to older posts and thus might be lost.   Here is one from reader Karin posted to our “Fact sheets” link above.

I appreciate this comment because it gives me an opportunity to tell new readers why we do what we do at Refugee Resettlement Watch.  Here is what Karin said:

There’s always two sides to every story. Though Lewiston had a lot of adjustment issues when many Somali people started to move there, it seems like the situation has turned around:

In response in general to your blog…you have your points, but I’d watch your approach. I wouldn’t attack volags as much as you do because the problems involve a lot of things that are outside almost anyone’s control.

Also, you talk about people going back to their countries…most people think that life in America will be great, but having no experience with high costs of living and no job experience the realities are tough. I work in a resettlement office and what everyone is up against is staggering. Many people do just want to go back. But with time they adjust. Many of our Iraqi clients wanted to go back when they were faced with certain realities. Having lived a fairly prosperous life in Baghdad only years before and living as urban refugees before coming to the United States, the situation brings different dynamics than affording the opportunity for a good life to a Somali Bantu family whose people have been discriminated against for hundreds of years.

Remember too that we are providing opportunity to some extraordinary people that have already lived through a lot. They are given the freedom to live, work and access social services just like any other American. I say, why not? Get some reform going, but don’t overthrow the system.

First, Karin said,  “There’s always two sides to every story” and links the puff piece from Lewiston, ME on the Somalis.   I’m not faulting Karin here when I point out that the piece in Newsweek caused a firestorm of criticism and was thoroughly debunked by the leaders in that town.  How could she have known that?   She couldn’t have unless she was a regular reader here.  (See posts here, here and here)  Because both sides are rarely reported when refugee stories are written by the mainstream media, we see our role as helping to balance all of those stories I call ‘refugees see first snow stories.’

I don’t want to make this post too long and boring, but if our local newspaper, the Hagerstown Herald Mail, had done its duty to the citizens of Washington County, MD there wouldn’t be a Refugee Resettlement WatchHere is what I wrote on September 14th, 2007:

As a matter of fact, I credit the Herald-Mail with helping give birth to Refugee Resettlement Watch. I was not particularly concerned with the Virginia Council of Church’s screw-ups. And, I am sure many of the refugees are fine people. My driving force is my interest in good government. I hate it when government teams up with anyone—developer, preservationist, church group— on the taxpayer’s dime, all the while keeping residents in the dark. It is patronizing and elitist.

I would not have embarked on this if the Herald-Mail had done its job in the first place and researched this issue so citizens knew how refugees came to be in Hagerstown. But, obviously the Herald Mail editors must have assumed their position in support of more refugees would not have stood up to public scrutiny if the facts were known. Since they can’t win in the arena of ideas, leftwing publications, like the Herald Mail, turn to their weapon of choice—manipulation.

If the refugee resettlement program is good for refugees and good for the citizens of communities where refugees are resettled then all those involved should be ready and willing to tell everyone how the program works—the good, the bad, the ugly.  When that starts to happen we will stop trying to “overthrow the system.”   LOL! If only that were possible.

Note to those in the refugee resettlement business:  You know this program needs to be reformed, you are going to have to stop being so chicken and start speaking up.   The way its going now, it will implode.

7 thoughts on “Comment worth noting: “don’t overthrow the system”

  1. Karin thanks for commenting so quickly. I didn’t mean to sound critical of you, I’m very glad you are open and willing to talk about these issues because the silence from people in the refugee resettlement profession is deafening. (Excepting ‘transitionland’ and a few others!).

    As for your comment that “long stories aren’t read” being the reason that one-sided views are standard procedure, it has nothing to do with long stories. Newsweek could very well have written a short follow-up to correct the bias in its first story. But, the first story is what the reporter wanted to see even if it was not the reality of the story.

    I was planning on returning to this post later and make a point I forgot. We are starting to see publications report the good and bad of refugee resettlement. I’m thinking of the good reporting we have seen from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Republican American (Waterbury CT) in the last year. But, all too often a reporter calls me, is planning to write something critical (even balanced) of the program and the report is nixed by the editors.

    Also, we have been careful to point out that volag staffers are most often very well-intentioned and caring people. It is not the people on the local level who are responsible for reforming the program. It must be done at the Washington level.

    As for your question about travel loan collection, here is an article I found quickly just by googling.

    You mentioned, people are surprised when they hear the facts. Well that is all we asked for in the first place, when we asked our local paper to report the facts on the program. Instead local people were attacked as stingy and racist.

    I don’t want this to turn into a book, but one thing we observed firsthand that needs to be considered is that local citizens have rights too. Let them open their mouths about refugees coming to their communities and they are immediately denigrated and made to feel guilty. Our experience told us that the volag staffers in some communities are as meanspirited as they claimed the long-time citizens are. Reform is needed all around.


  2. Oh jeez…sorry for my many typos…you know what I mean.

    I meant volunteers help refugees resettle.

    I meant it’s not the reality.


    From reading more now I kinda like this blog.

    And when I meant don’t overthrow the system, I meant not to shut it down because then we’d really leave thousands of people high and dry. I’d hate to see offices close and there being no assistance for resettled refugees after that. But maybe you didn’t really mean it that way.


  3. And when I say that staff knows clients names we can bring up anyone who arrived in the past year and people know who they are talking about. Believe it or not, but that’s the reality for many other places.


  4. Well, thanks for the response…kind of. Thank you for inadvertently saying that I’m ignorant and give you purpose. But I do appreciate the information on Lewiston, it’s an interesting story and with publications cutting back on long stories because they don’t think people read them anymore, it causes one-sided views. Blah blah blah…

    I am intrigued by your blog in general. It brings up some good points, however I don’t believe everything you say either. I’ll need another point of view too on some topics. But we’ll agree to disagree.

    From my experience working at my office, we do a pretty good job. We’re not perfect, but we care about out clients. I’ve heard input from people who have worked at other offices that leave people high and dry and don’t really care. I’d say we do provide a holistic approach. All the staff know clients names and actively help clients out (I find that amazing since we are a busy office with arrivals). We have an active community that generally cares about the refugee community (of course there are those that don’t understand the whole picture and will make their comments). We have volunteers that commit to helping volunteers resettle.

    The realities of the assistance programs are harsh though and I explain this to all prospective volunteers who spread it to the community. Many people are surprised when they hear the facts. They think the public housing units in town are strictly for refugees, which is entirely not the case. We do share the unfortunate realities. I’m new in this job, so now that I know some important facts I’ll make moves to help in some reform.

    I am really curious about volags collecting on travel loans…I need more information on that. Could you send that to me?


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