The Republican governor of Wyoming, the only state that does not participate in a federal program to resettle United Nations refugees, is considering jumping into the fray despite recent problems with Muslim refugees becoming radicalized in Minnesota and Massachusetts.
Gov. Matt Mead has requested information on the U.N. program that assigns refugees displaced by war and ethnic conflicts to various host countries. The U.S. accepts more foreign refugees than all the rest of the world's countries combined, a State Department official told WND, and many of them come from worn-torn Middle Eastern countries like Iraq and Somalia.
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WND reported last month that a new wave of Muslim refugees will be coming to American cities soon from Syria, up to 75,000 of them over the next five years.
The fact that Mead is checking into the program has fueled controversy in the nation’s least-populated state, which is also 85 percent white.
Facebook pages have popped up and local newspaper editorial pages have been abuzz with questions about Mead’s decision to “explore” the possibility of opening an international refugee resettlement office in Gillette that would be operated by a Lutheran agency serving as a government contractor.
About 100 Somalis have already migrated to Cheyenne, Wyoming, from neighboring Colorado, where they were originally settled by Lutheran Social Services. A Somali woman recently told the Wall Street Journal many Somalis are unhappy with having to wait a year or longer for government-subsidized housing in Colorado, so they came to Wyoming where the wait is only about six months. But the women questioned whether other government help would be comparable in Wyoming, since it doesn't participate in the refugee program.
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Amal Hassan, a divorced single mother who lives in Cheyenne with her two young sons, told the Journal she is considering leaving Wyoming if she can't receive more government assistance.
"My plan was to stay in Cheyenne," she said. "But there is no way to stay."
The refugee issue came up repeatedly during the Republican primary campaign, which ended in a Mead victory in August against challenger Dr. Taylor Haynes.
At a July 15 debate with Haynes, Mead, a former U.S. attorney for Wyoming who was elected governor in 2010, insisted no decisions had been made on whether to start a refugee resettlement program.
But Mead sounded like a man who'd made up his mind to pursue a refugee program when he sent a Sept. 5, 2013 letter to Eskinder Negash, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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In that letter, a copy of which has been obtained by WND, Mead informed Negash that "The State of Wyoming has elected to pursue a Public-Private Partnership model of a Refugee Resettlement program and to participate in that program through the Office of refugee Resettlement (sic)."
Mead went on to write that "This formalizes the work of the many interested persons and organizations across many years. Wyoming will designate a Refugee Resettlement Program Coordinator in the near future."
The governor's spokeswoman, Michelle Panos, told WND the letter was not meant to convey any commitment to opening a refugee resettlement program in Wyoming.
"There is no plan, there's been no verdict," Panos said Tuesday. "Whoever is going to be studying it is going to be from the private sector such as folks like Lutheran Services. I don't know if any of those folks are still looking at a plan, so there's no official statement on that."
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Calls Tuesday to Miji Bell, communications director for Lutheran Immigration Services, were not immediately returned.
Panos said she was not aware that the Lutheran group gets approximately 95 percent of its funding from federal grants. She issued the following statement from the governor.
"The Governor’s letter from September 5, 2013 was required to learn anything about the process. It did notify the federal government that Wyoming – of the options available – believed a public-private partnership is more viable than a government run program. This is a model some states use where they work with the faith community. This has been the Governor’s position from the beginning and it has not changed. He wanted to understand the program and the options available. There is no plan. Any initiative to develop a plan would be driven by public interest. For example Lutheran Services is a church-based organization that helps with these programs across the country and in Colorado. Those that initially expressed an interest in refugee resettlement were in contact with Lutheran Services."
The U.S. has taken in 3 million foreign refugees since 1975, but until the Refugee Act of 1980, the U.S. selected its own refugees. Not long after passage of the 1980 law, sponsored by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and former Sen. Joe Biden, the U.S. began relying on the U.N. to choose which refugees get assigned to the U.S.
The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for screening the refugees before they enter the U.S. but critics contend that refugees from broken countries such as Somalia are impossible to adequately screen because Somalia has no reliable law enforcement records. The nation has been in a perpetual state of civil war since the early 1990s.
So far this year the U.S. has accepted more than 58,000 foreign refugees and is on track to absorb 70,000 in 2014. The top countries of origin are Iraq, with more than 20,000 refugees, Burma with 16,299, Bhutan with 9,134 and Somalia with just over 8,300, according to State Department figures.
The FBI has admitted that at least 20 to 25 Somalis have left the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota to join ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq while Vice President Joe Biden has said that more than 100 Americans have left the country to join ISIS, though it is not known how many of them may have become American through the refugee program.
The father of the Tsarnaev brothers, accused of the Boston Marathon bombing, came to the U.S. from Chechnya as a refugee and was granted asylum. The older brother, Tamerlan, was killed in a shootout with police while the younger sibling, Dzhokhar, has been charged in the attack that killed three and wounded nearly 300 people. According to reports, the brothers had trouble assimilating and attended a Boston mosque where they came in contact with radical elements.
GAO report critical refugee program
According to a Government Accounting Office study in 2012, the international refugee program is operated with little input from the local host communities.
The U.S. State Department chooses the cities to which the refugees get sent, but the host communities have little to no say in how many refugees they can absorb and how many services will be provided. The GAO report concluded that "greater consultation with community stakeholders could strengthen" the refugee program.
The report found that "... most public entities such as public schools and health departments generally said that agencies notified them of the number of refugees expected to arrive in the coming year, but did not consult them regarding the number of refugees they could serve..."
Don Barnett, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., wrote an op-ed in The Tribune of Casper, Wyoming, earlier this year in which he described the secrecy of the program and its hidden costs to taxpayers.
Six of the nine agencies that carry out the resettlement work in the United States like to paint themselves as faith-based "charitable" organizations – they are affiliated with the Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopal churches, along with two evangelical groups and one tied to Reform Judaism. These agencies rake in millions of dollars in federal grant money and essentially work as government contractors. Previous reports by WND documented how these agencies work with 95 percent or more of their budgets funded by the federal government.
The GAO report was critical of refugee contractors in terms of their lack of transparency and accountability. Once a state agrees to participate in the program, its cities have very little say over how many refugees will be dumped in their communities.
"Few agencies we visited consulted relevant local stakeholders, which posed challenges for service providers," the GAO report concluded.
Barnett reported that Wyoming’s refugee program is being proposed by Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, an affiliate of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the fourth largest refugee contractor in the nation.
The Lutheran group “takes this penchant for operating in secret to the max,” Barnett wrote. According to notes from a February 2014 board of directors meeting the process of selecting resettlement sites in Wyoming has been “complicated by both the state and a private citizen advocate providing media availability to a local paper. Media coverage at this stage is potentially damaging to the success of the overall process.”
There is a reason for the secrecy, Barnett says.
“The program places significant unfunded costs on state and local taxpayers in the form of social services which must be provided.
Wyoming rancher turns activist
Mike Elmore, an independent rancher in Gillette, is one who has been trying to get answers about the refugee program before any decisions are made.
"I can tell you from everybody that I've talked to nobody even knows what is going on," he told WND. "I’ve spoken to some of our local officials with the hospital board, the school board, and people don’t know that it’s even going on. That is I think the scariest part. I can only send out so many emails to people."
Elmore said he has written to the governor’s office four or five times.
He's received a form letter the first time, and that was followed up with emails he describes as “disingenuous and vague.”
"I’m not a bigoted or racist person, but we have our own problem, here in Gillette, we’re one of the best cities in Wyoming, but what are we looking for, unskilled labor? I’m concerned that the U.S. at this point in time can’t be everybody’s keeper. Let’s take care of our own people first.
"It's all about demographics, it goes back to our whole security breech on our southern border. I don’t know where it stops. It's very frustrating," Elmore said. "At a certain point immigration overwhelms assimilation and that's when we have a real problem.
"In the politically correct world we live in if you say anything about anybody you’re called a racist but this is still America and I think we have to look after our own and we don't need to be everybody's keeper."
Elmore said former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson worked to include elements in the Refugee Act that allowed states to decide whether they wanted to participate in the program. Over the years every state has elected to do so, except Wyoming.
"You can thank Sen. Simpson for that. He had the foresight to give states the opportunity to opt out," said Elmore.
He said he first heard about the governor's actions about six months ago from a tea party group in Big Horn County. He immediately became active and started trying to get answers, which he passes on to fellow Wyoming residents.
"The problem with this is I don’t think Wyoming people understand this program. The people of Wyoming, they are really good-natured, genuine people but they want less government and I’m not sure Matt Mead is as conservative as the people he represents in Wyoming. This is just another liberal program, more government, more big government, the nanny state. We ranchers, you know, we don’t know what’s going on in the world. Yeah right. We know what’s going on. Nobody’s responding to any of our questions. I don’t know what they’re doing here but it just doesn’t’ pass the smell test."
Refugees a drag on the system
On top of questions and concerns about how well the refugees are screened, there is the issue of cost.
According to the latest data available, a federal study of refugees who have been in the country five years or less, the unemployment rate for refugees was 21 percent compared with 9 percent for the U.S. population in 2010, Barnett reported in his op-ed. Twenty-six percent were dependent on cash assistance, 63 percent were in the food stamp program and 48 percent were in Medicaid or short-term federal Refugee Medical Assistance.
The federal welfare program Social Security Income or SSI is a good indicator of long-term welfare dependency rates. It is generally a lifetime entitlement and usually includes Medicaid and other social services. The federal study of arrivals over the previous five years found an 11.6 percent rate of usage – about 2.5 times the national average.
Most of this cost is borne by the federal taxpayer, but programs such as Medicaid have state cost components as well.
There is even secrecy in the meaning of official language used in the program. For instance, it will be claimed - and the media will report - that refugees are “self-sufficient” in some amazingly short period of time. But as officially defined, refugees are considered “self-sufficient” even if they are living in public housing, receiving Medicaid and Food Stamps. They can receive cash assistance from local, state and federal sources, such as SSI. Only the TANF or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program disqualifies one from being "self-sufficient."
Then there is the money racket, Barnett says. As a state refugee coordinator notes in the 2012 GAO report, "local affiliate funding is based on the number of refugees they serve, so affiliates have an incentive to maintain or increase the number of refugees they resettle each year rather than allowing the number to decrease."
Refugee resettlement has become big business in America. The nonprofit agencies and their sub-contractors use hundreds of millions of federal taxpayer dollars to resettle refugees in communities across the U.S. in cooperation with the U.N. Lutheran Immigration Services is joined by Catholic Charities, World Relief Corp., Episcopal Migration Services, Church World Services, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. They lobby Washington to continuously expand the refugee program, which results in more grant money pouring into their coffers.
At his recent retirement the CEO of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, another resettlement affiliate of LIRS, was making $441,767 a year in salary and benefits – almost all taxpayer-supplied.