Up to 10,000 Syrian refugees, most of them Muslims, will be resettled in cities throughout the U.S. in 2015, with that figure expected to surge to near 75,000 over the next five years.
While some of the planned destinations for these refugees are starting to leak out, the big question is: where will they be going?
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The U.S. State Department does not announce where it plans to send foreign refugees for resettlement within the United States, although the locations do eventually show up in a government database some weeks after they arrive in their host cities. Word of their anticipated arrivals will sometimes surface earlier in local media reports.
And that's already happening in North Dakota, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington.
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The Jamestown Sun of Jamestown, North Dakota, reported recently that the Midwestern state is expecting about 400 new refugees to arrive from the Middle East this year.
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Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota and its "community partners," which include schools, medical facilities, law enforcement, county and volunteer agencies and churches, are anticipating a shift in the ongoing resettling of refugees there.
The state is expecting a slowing of the influx of Hindus from Bhutan and an increase in the number of Muslims coming from the Middle East, reported Ann Corcoran in her Refugee Resettlement Watch blog.
The Lutheran agency has recently resettled a number of people from Afghanistan, and is planning for refugees in the coming months from Syria and Iraq, who are escaping the brutality of the Islamic State, also called ISIS, and civil war in Syria, the Sun reported.
Laetitia Mizero, program director and state refugee coordinator at Lutheran Social Services, said 260 refugees will settle in the Fargo area, about 95 in Grand Forks and 45 in Bismarck.
Once a city gets a refugee "seed community" started, it tends to grow, Corcoran said. That's because the resettlement agency, the Lutherans in this case, then gets paid by the government to resettle the family members of the initial refugees.
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The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Kentucky Refugee Ministries Executive Director John Koehlinger said an Iraqi-American in that city has started an Arabic newspaper to serve the "large number of refugees from Iraq" in Louisville. That's a trend that started around 2008 — and now Louisville is preparing to aid the first wave of refugees from Syria in 2015, the Courier-Journal reported.
"Refugees have been coming from Iraq in large numbers for five years," Koehlinger told the Courier-Journal. "I think that the time is right for a newspaper for that (Arab) community."
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Spokane, Washington, has already welcomed one family of Iraqis that had fled to Syria under pressure from ISIS.
In addition to the Iraqi family arriving from Syria, World Relief Spokane told KXLY-TV that a Syrian family will be coming in the next couple months "with many more to follow."
North Carolina, Texas and Ohio
As previously reported by WND, the cities of Greensboro, North Carolina, and Cleveland, Ohio, are also primed to receive Syrian refugees.
If established patterns hold, Texas could also be a hotspot for Syrian refugees. It has already received 50 Syrians over the last year-and-a-half, according to State Department figures.
Nebraska is also primed to receive Syrian refugees. At least four Nebraska resettlement agencies have said they are preparing to help the effort, reported the McCook Gazette of McCook, Nebraska, although no numbers have been released yet for Nebraska.
Nebraska agencies pledging to help deal with the refugees include Lutheran Refugee Services of Lincoln, Lutheran Family Services, Catholic Social Services and the Southern Sudan Community Association.
More than 3 million Syrians have fled their country because of the ongoing civil war between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and several Islamic rebel groups including ISIS, the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army. Assad is a member of the minority Alawite sect which is fighting the coalition of Sunni Muslim rebels. Christians have been largely protected by the Alawite regime, worshiping freely in centuries-old Syrian churches, many of which now lie in ruins.
Watch brief historic perspective on the indigenous Christian population in the Middle East and the threats it faces today.
Syria part of broader Christian genocide in Mideast
Greek Catholic sources have said more than 300,000 Syrian Christians are among the refugees driven from their homes. But neither the United Nations nor the Obama administration has shown a willingness to bring large numbers of Christian Syrians to the United States, focusing instead on Muslim refugees which pose a greater security risk.
Peter Jesserer Smith, Washington correspondent for the National Catholic Register, recently filed a story from a refugee camp in Lebanon in which a Catholic nun, who runs a relief effort serving Christians and Muslims from Syria, told Smith that she is well aware that ISIS has its "infiltrators within the Sunni refugees."
"If they kill me, it's not a problem," the nun said. "Maybe another sister … will have the courage to continue the mission."
The Canadian government said in December that it was considering giving priority to Christian and Yazidi refugees fleeing Syria and has since come under strong condemnation from the U.N. and non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International. Canada's left-leaning Liberal Party also roundly criticized the plans by conservatives to focus on non-Muslim refugees.
Watch video clip showing backlash by leftists against Canadian government's attempt to select Christian minority refugees.
"As far as global needs go, the Middle East has plenty of safe refuges for Sunni and Shiite Muslims; it has none for Christians and Yazidis," writes Daniel Greenfield, a New York-based journalist and fellow at the Freedom Center who focuses on radical Islam. "It only makes sense that the West should fill the need for safe refuges that don't exist in the Muslim world for non-Muslims, while the Muslim world takes in its own refugees."
The situation for Syrian Christians has only grown more dire since a 2013 report by Global Catholic Network.
"Many Christians in the region fear Syria will become another Iraq, where poor security after the U.S. invasion in 2003 has allowed militant Islamic groups to target Christians for intimidation, killings and kidnappings that helped drive hundreds of thousands of Christians out of the country," reported the Global Catholic Network more than a year-and-a-half ago.
That fear now appears to be coming to pass.
Sister Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, mother superior of the Greek Catholic Monastery of St. James the Mutilated in Syria, said the Syrian uprising has been "hijacked by Islamist mercenaries who are more interested in fighting a holy war than in changing the government," according to the Global Catholic Network.
She said the conflict turned into "a sectarian conflict" in which Christians are "paying a high price," the Daily Mail reports.
At least 80,000 Christians were forced from their homes in the Homs region, said the nun, who was forced to flee to Lebanon when militants wearing the black bandanas of al-Qaida laid siege to her monastery between Damascus and Homs for two days to try to prevent Christmas celebrations.
She blamed the U.S. and Europe for supporting rebel groups whose stated goal was to create an Islamic state.
The British think tank Civitas, in a December 2012 report titled "Christianophobia," warned there is "a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands" in the Middle East and north Africa due largely to violence and intimidation from members of the Islamic faith.
"In the large area between Morocco and Pakistan, for example, there is scarcely a country in which church life operates without restrictions. Syria has been one of the exceptions until now," writes the author of the report, Rupert Shortt. "As I write, however, the country is enduring full-scale civil war, and tens of thousands of Christians have been ousted from places including Homs and Qusayr."
Civitas estimated that up to two-thirds of Middle East Christians have left their homelands or have been killed in the past 100 years.
Obama creates task force on 'New Americans'
The U.S. State Department places refugees in 180 cities across 49 states with help from nine contractors, most of them affiliated with Christian denominations. See the list of resettlement offices in all 180 U.S. cities where U.N.-selected refugees are being resettled.
WND has reported that mayors in Georgia, Massachusetts and New Hampshire have been outspoken in their opposition to the State Department sending any more refugees to their cities, saying the refugees have been a drain on social services and taxpayer dollars.
The cost of resettling the refugees has been estimated at more than $1 billion a year.
Yet, the Obama administration maintains that refugees and asylum seekers are good for the U.S. economy.
The U.S. has brought in nearly 2 million refugees from Muslim countries since President Jimmy Carter signed the Refugee Act of 1980 into law.
With the massive increase in U.S. immigration, both legal and illegal, President Obama announced on Jan. 12 he is creating a "White House Task Force on New Americans" under the direction of Cecilia Muñoz, one of his trusted aides and a former vice president for National Council of La Raza or "the Race."
"By March 2015, the Task Force will submit a plan to the president that includes recommendations for federal actions to promote the integration of new Americans," the announcement states. "In developing this plan, we need to hear from you. You know best what is working to support immigrant integration in your community."
The White House says it is seeking input "on promising practices and examples of model programs that help immigrants and refugees to contribute to your communities and our economy."
"We also need your input to ensure that federal programs and policies continue to reflect our ongoing commitment to welcoming and integrating newcomers into the fabric of our country," the White House statement said.
The White House asks for ideas and examples to be emailed to [email protected] by Feb. 9.
The White House said it wants ideas to "Help Shape a Federal Immigrant and Refugee Integration Strategy."
Jindal speaks out
But at least one high-profile politician has been speaking out this week on the topic of assimilation, or lack thereof, on the part of immigrant communities, especially those coming from Middle Eastern cultures.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., said in a Tuesday radio interview with the Family Research Council that Muslims coming to America need to accept American culture and values or stay in their homelands. Otherwise, he said, America will go down the same path as Europe, where "no-go zones" or "semi-autonomous areas" have sprouted up within major cities.
"What is not acceptable, what you've seen in Europe, is people do not want to assimilate and want to set up a form of Shariah law," Jindal said. "You see third- and fourth-generation immigrants in Europe, in the U.K., what don't consider themselves part of that society. What's not acceptable is people who want to come here and conquer us. That's not immigration. That's colonization, if someone wants to change our culture and values. That's really an invasion if you're honest about it."
"Of course the P.C. crowd doesn't want to hear this."
Jindal said that if the U.S. is not careful its traditional "melting pot" in which immigrants learned English and considered themselves Americans first, will morph into something closer to cesspool of cultures within a culture. That will create a breeding ground for those who wish to do America harm, he said, producing home-grown radicals like those who attacked the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris.
"This is the threat we face, and if we're not serious about this we're going to see more lone-wolf attacks," he said. "These are monsters. We need to be very clear about the enemy we face."
To watch the full interview with Gov. Bobby Jindal, see video clip below.
Ann C. Richard, the deputy Secretary of State in charge of immigration, said the United States had resettled nearly 70,000 refugees from nearly 70 countries around the world last year, and is reviewing 9,000 to 10,000 recent Syrian referrals from the United Nations high commissioner on refugees. The State Department receives about 1,000 new referrals each month from the U.N. agency and takes 18 to 24 months to screen each applicant for security purposes and possible ties to terrorist organizations.
Last month's State Department announcement was careful to explain that the U.S. will take in only those Syrians who are "persecuted by their government." Christians in Syria are being killed by ISIS and other Muslim rebels, not by "their government," but the Sunni Muslims are being killed by the Shiite-led government.
It also would not take 18 to 24 months to vet Christian refugees for security purposes, which leads refugee experts to believe that the vast majority of those coming from Syria will be Muslim.
"There is no doubt the majority of Syrians to be admitted to the U.S. will be Muslims because it would be unlikely there would be a ‘security risk’ with the Christians," according to Corcoran.
The number of refugees from Syria is expected to surge in 2015 and beyond, Richards said, and the U.S. accepts the majority of all United Nations referrals from around the world.
Refugees accepted through the United Nations refugee program are put on a fast track toward U.S. citizenship and are eligible for a full range of government welfare programs, including housing subsidies, Medicaid, food stamps, Women, Infants and Children as well as refugee assistance loans and tutoring from language experts who will help them bridge the language gap in public schools.
The nine resettlement agencies all have strong presences in Washington and often lobby on behalf of the U.N. high commissioner on refugees, pushing for more foreign refugees to be resettled in America, which results in more federal grants flowing into their coffers.
The nine contractors that lobbied for more Syrian refugees are:
• Church World Service (CWS)
• Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC)
• Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM)
• Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)
• International Rescue Committee (IRC)
• U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)
• Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS)
• U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
• World Relief Corp. (WR)
WND has documented in previous stories that more than 90 percent of the money used by Lutheran Social Services, the Catholic Bishops and other religious charities for their refugee resettlement work comes from government grants.