Comment worth noting: Reader is critical of USCRI Vermont affiliate

This is a comment from a reader named John.   It was sent to us a week ago in response to this post in which I said the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) had been having various problems with its subcontractors.  This is what I said:

We have reported problems USCRI has had with other subcontractors in Albany, NY, Erie, PA, Waterbury, CT, Manchester, NH and Akron, OH.    These were problems related to those subcontractors either having too many refugees and some not adequately caring for them, or in the case of Erie there was some funny-money business going on.

John commented with the following.  I was hoping to hear more from John to get further clarification and substantiation of these serious charges.   I haven’t heard from him.   However, I have heard similar allegations elsewhere in the US for each of John’s complaints, so they do ring true. 

“Please add another USCRI site to the list of incompetent and corrupt agency offices. The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Agency – VRRP – is a USCRI satellite office. They have totally failed to engage volunteers and volunteer groups such as local, independent, non-profit, service agencies like churches, housing advocacy organizations, child care and school programs, job training opportunities, health care providers, technical and professional skills training institutes, serious English language training academies, etc. etc….

The VRRP has provided almost NO support to refugees who need and are seeking jobs. The staff at VRRP are untrained, unskilled and lack any serious professional knowledge themselves! The VRRP tries to operate in a vacumn in the community and tries to remain invisible! What are they afraid of?

One thing the VRRP is good at: They are quick and efficient at reporting and demanding bills from the refugees. They demand immediate payment from refugees that have don’t even have jobs or any English skills! How about this? >> They want payment from a family of 8 – for the $13,000 airfare it supposedly took the USCRI to fly them from Nepal to the USA! Mind you, this was in the winter when the round-trip price was only $800/each. Since the USCRI ships thousands each year from Nepal, what was their actual price for these off-season one-way tickets? Did you every refugee pays about $1600 each to the USCRI – after 6 months? USCRI gets reimbursed by the refugee for spending US tax dollars, however USCRI doesn’t return the money to the US treasury! They use these millions to fund their “slush” fund.

The VRRP has no one on staff who understands the Bhutanese culture or language. They have one Nepali speaking staff person (from northern Nepal)that is in business with the same slumlord that VRRP uses to house many refugees! This same staff person also receives loan and grant money from the VRRP to fund her family’s food and catering company! This staff person was never a refugee!!

Please either John or other of our readers help us figure out what is going on in Vermont.  We did previously post on unhappy Iraqis who had been resettled by this same agency, hereReaders we are looking for help confirming OR denying the claims presented by John.

Reminder!  We think there should be an open and vigorous debate about how many refugees come to America and from where, but once they are here those agencies contracted to care for them are responsible to the taxpayer (and one would think their own conscience) for the refugees’ (quality!) care and assimilation into American society.

16 thoughts on “Comment worth noting: Reader is critical of USCRI Vermont affiliate

  1. I am appalled by this slander of VRRP. I have been a volunteer with them since 2004, intimately involved. Hundreds of volunteers support refugees, teach English, mentor kids, etc. VRRP helps people for years past the 8 months the government funding supports. No one expects a new refugee to pay back their full airfare, but once they are working full time they pay $35.00 monthly on that fare, which was always known to be a government loan. Being a refugee is difficult and painful. You start out poor, lonely, and vulnerable, and it takes years to master English and a new culture. But VRRP, which has many staff members (case managers, employment counselors, volunteer coordinator, etc.), tries hard to help in every way possible, with inadequate funding and staff. Is everyone happy with the help they get? No. When you were a well-to-do or middle class person in your home culture it is really hard to come here, live in a not very nice apartment, do work that is not what you dd before. Every refugee starts at the bottom of the economic ladder, but they get to live and have a chance to make a decent life here. And just so you know, many churches are closely involved with supporting refugees, as is the mosque. Before going on a rant like that one you should do a little more investigation.

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  2. The commenters who wrote supporting VRRC probably work for this outfit and need to protect their cash cow. Refugee resettlement is apparently a Big Buisness.

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  3. Burlington ran into the same problem as Winooski at the formerly known as HO Wheeler school, where too many kids did not speak English and they didn’t have the resources to help them. As a result the school fell behind in the No Child Left Behind testing.

    The situation in Burlington is different in that Burlington had and used the option of busing kids into different schools in their community to spread out the saturation level to a more manageable amount.

    Winooski only has one elementary, one middle and one high school. That solution just isn’t available.

    As far as working and not creating a burden; I live in the public housing in Winooski. Of the 50+ homes on Elm St, more than 75% are used by refugees. Of those roughly 75-80% of the refugees in my neighborhood are home all day everyday. These refugees sit out under the trees and send their children to break into the homes of the people who go to work. I had a 9 year old refugee boy break into my home while I was home, having taken the day off from work to take care of my son who had come down with pneumonia. This child had detached and bagged the video game consoles and bagged all of our games before I made it downstairs and stopped him. When I called the police they weren’t surprised because it happens so often. Worse, they did nothing about it.

    It seems to me that some refugees are good hard-working people who deserve the opportunity of a new life. But it also seems to me that to make generalizations based on where a person comes from either positively or negatively is inaccurate.

    Just my opinion.

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  4. I am also a Burlington, Vermont resident who formally worked in Nepal, speaks the Nepali language (i’m American) and has actively volunteered with several of the Nepali families. Your comments re the refugees are way off base, and we would welcome your coming here to meet some of the many of us who do volunteer with these lovely people and who can take you to meet them. yes, there are always those who complain. That’s life. But for the most part, they are settling in well in their new home> The students are hard working and quickly learn English. They get jobs, albeit generally jobs in menial labor like housekeeping or factory work at minimum wage, but considering they speak little or no english, this is not surprising. They tend to live in large family groups by choice, and save a lot of money that way. some of them are already saving to buy a home. They are an asset to this community, and most people in Burlington welcome them with open arms, with the exception of a few who write and have a huge grudge on their backs without knowing all the facts.

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  5. I live in Winooski, which is technically the Burlington Area. I have lived here off and on for 20 years. When I attended high school at Winooski High, back before there was a cafeteria and you ate in the classroom, there were 2 refugees in the entire high school, perhaps 15 in the entire school system.

    Today our refugee saturation is at 40%. Because of this our schools have fallen behind academically in the efforts of leaving no child behind to the point that the High School must now either close or fire the principal and half the teaching staff because for the last few years we have failed national levels of comprehension. This isn’t news. Kids who want to go to college have been forced to bus out to neighboring high schools instead of attending our local high school, because the education level has been so poor for the last few years.

    My 8 year old son is in 3rd grade and has attended school at JFK Elemntary in Winooski since 1st grade. About a 1/3 of the kids in his class don’t speak or understand english. Because of that he learned addition by counting in dots, lines and squares to represent numbers, which was done because one is not the word for one in other languages.

    In 3rd grade he is still being taught single digit addition and subtraction. They haven’t even started cursive handwriting.

    I’m 34 years old, but I still remember that in 3rd grade I had all ready learned triple/quadruple addition and subtraction as well as multiplication and division at the same school and with the same teacher my son has now.

    What I’m saying is my child is being penalized because the town in which we live has too many refugees settling here. The penalty is his education. Neighboring towns don’t have nearly this much refugee saturation and although I’m all for tolerance and helping our fellow man, it shouldn’t be at this cost.

    Here’s what I don’t understand: Why aren’t some of the refugees being settled in Burlington or Colchester or Essex, S. Burlington or Williston? All are on the same busline, all have the same access to programs… I just don’t get it. There is public housing in all of these towns as well.

    I’m sure this will be taken the wrong way and that I’ll be construed as some close-minded idiot, but I’m not just saying this about my child. Winooski schools just don’t have the resources to help the incoming refugees learn english at this point either, which hurts them as well.

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  6. As a volunteer for five years with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program (VRRP) I feel compelled to respond to this letter. VRRP has over 250 active volunteers working with refugees. During the past five years I have gone to doctor’s appointments, ER visits, and sat by the side of persons from my families as they wake up from surgery. I have enrolled children in pre-school, helped fill out hundreds of forms and applications, helped families find furniture and clothing and computers, signed kids up for summer camps and applied for scholarships, and taken (last year it was 21 kids and seven volunteers) children trick-or-treating.

    In my visits to my families I frequently encounter other volunteers entering or leaving other homes nearby, people who are helping as I do or teaching English. I and other volunteers I know get phone calls from refugees telling us about someone who needs help. They have confidence that we will make the right connections for them and facilitate help for whoever needs it.

    Many community agencies work closely with VRRP and refugees. VRRP always needs new volunteers and it isn’t easy to keep up the flow of new volunteers. Some of the recently arrived refugees have come at a time when the new volunteer pool is low and VRRP staff are carrying the load alone. I am puzzled by the hostility expressed toward VRRP in this letter. After years of working closely with the VRRP staff, I know them to be dedicated, caring, incredibly hard-working, underpaid persons who do their best to help newcomers get settled and functional in their new lives. I hate to think that the misinformation in this letter will be taken as truth.I hate to think that the misinformation in this letter will be taken as truth.

    Lauren Berrizbeitia, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor
    Volunteer with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program

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  7. Well, it’s nice that so many commenters are coming to the defense of this USCRI affiliate, but then why have it’s own refugee clients had so many bad things to say?

    http://www.7dvt.com/2008exiles-north-street

    These USCRI refugee clients report being placed in dirty, disgusting, cockroach laden apartments, being given filthy and broken furniture, not being given checks they signed for, the agency not having anyone who could speak Arabic, no one explaining to the refugees what documents they were signing, caseworkers that never return phone calls, on and on ad nauseam.

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  8. Like Alex and JJS, I live in the Burlington area and for the last 9 years have known the Nepali family with the catering business of which John speaks . This is one of the hardest working families I have known. They established their catering business before I met them and have been very successful in the community because of their wonderful food and their generosity. The family, and I am including the case worker of which John speaks, has been very active in helping others as they have been helped themselves. The caseworker has on her own time and initiative organized several fundraisers to help refugees get established in the community, the very same people John claims she is doing a disservice to. Obviously John is misrepresenting the facts because of some ulterior motives and doesn’t have the courage to come forward in person and make his case.

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  9. I haven’t had much of any contact with the few Iraqi refugees in Vermont, so I can’t offer anything new on that one… but looking back at your original post on the story it looks like a case of unrealistic expectations. From what I gather, this is not entirely uncommon and much more needs to be done by way of orientation overseas. As I said in my previous post, I come to this as an interested community member with a long background in South Asia–not as an expert on all matters pertaining to refugees–so don’t feel qualified to comment on things I know very little about.

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  10. Thanks for all the additional information. I hope John comes back to explain his criticism further. However, in the meantime, since you guys Alex and JJS live there too, what is the story about the unhappy Iraqis we reported on in March? That story made the newspaper, was that story wrong? It was the same agency, VRRP, right? Or, do you have more than one volag in VT?

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  11. John,
    I live in Burlington and I have known this “one staff person” and her family for 14+ years. This “one staff person” you blatantly refer to, has had her family catering business going on for past 13+ years. Wait a minute, I see some discrepancy in mathematics and here is the discrepancy:

    In order to hit “catering business” off the ground, she must have been involved with “Slumlords” for 12+ years, but again the non-Nepali (referring to your research) speaking Bhutanese refugees started arriving in Vermont in Jan/Feb of 2008. How is this even remotely possible, as this “one person staff” has been involved with VRRP for past 11 months tops. According to your hypothesis: back in the 90s, she must have somehow invented “TimeMachine”, traveled into the 2008-2009, and money laundered wads and wads of bills from so called “Slumlords” to start off the business back then.

    Therefore, before you make any assertion, please do some back ground research and corroborate your findings with other witnesses in the community. Anyone can disseminate hate messages from the serenity of their homes, but I choose not to do so. Your comment on this topic reminds me of imbecilic xenophobic couch-potato remarks!!! get off the la-z-boy and get some real job!!!

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  12. This is nonsense. I live in Burlington and have taken a strong interest in the Bhutanese refugee community. This is due to the fact that I moved here after spending several years in South Asia in both India and Nepal and speak Hindi fluently and Nepali at a rudimentary level. I just love South Asians and South Asian culture, so I inevitably ended up coming into contact with this little-understood community. I have also had the opportunity to hang out and get to know the case manager (referred to here as “one staff person”) who works closest with the Bhutanese and the employment counselors at VRRP at various events and based on my conversations with those individuals I can confirm that they are very knowledgeable indeed, great people working under very difficult economic conditions. One of them has published in academic journals on the Bhutanese refugee crisis.

    As for the “invisibility” claim, I was at the VRRP’s celebration of World Refugee Day yesterday. It featured about 400 people partying and dancing on the lawn of the Unitarian church at the top of Burlington’s pedestrian mall, Church Street. Probably the most visible location in all of Burlington, if not Vermont. Hmmm, what ARE those VRRP people trying to hide?!

    The person who wrote this post clearly has an axe to grind and is entirely off-base. By the way “John,” the refugees from Bhutan speak Nepali, not Bhutanese. That’s why they left Bhutan. You should know at least this much before you start trashing people who are dedicating their careers to advancing the rights of refugees.

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