Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., has received a response to his letter demanding answers from Secretary of State John Kerry about the planned resettlement of dozens of foreign refugees in his state.
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But the answers failed to shed much light on the secrecy that surrounds the refugee program. The process by which cities and towns across the U.S. are selected to receive displaced persons from United Nations refugee camps remains largely a mystery.
As Gowdy discovered, the city of Spartanburg, South Carolina, was approved for an infusion of 60 refugees, mostly from Syria and Africa, by its own state government headed by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.
And if the program plays out in Spartanburg as it has in communities in Minnesota, California, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and other states, then the 60 refugees will blossom into hundreds and eventually thousands every year. Minnesota, for example, is now receiving more than 2,000 Muslim refugees annually, mostly from Somalia. Texas receives more than 7,000 per year, and California more than 6,000, directly from the Third World.
Here are the top 10 states for refugee resettlement based on fiscal 2014 figures from the State Department website:
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New York, 4,079
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The United Nations and nine private resettlement agencies are pressuring the United States to accept at least 65,000 refugees from Syria by the end of President Obama's term in office.
Of the 815 Syrian refugees resettled in the U.S. so far, 749, or 92 percent, have been Muslim, according to State Department data.
Only 43 Syrians allowed into the U.S. have been Christians, even though the turmoil in Syria and Iraq has driven thousands of Christians from their homes under threat of death by ISIS.
The U.S. takes in more refugees than any other country, about 70,000 per year, and has absorbed 3 million since 1975. But since the early 1990s, the trend has been to accept more from Muslim countries.
Some residents of Spartanburg are upset and asking questions, not only about the security risks associated with importing refugees from a Middle East war zone but also about the numbers of refugees that will eventually end up in their county and how much it will cost to absorb them into schools, housing and health-care facilities.
Almost all refugees coming into the U.S. from war-torn countries are hand-selected by the United Nations.
The plan to send refugees from Syria and Africa to Spartanburg first surfaced in March when a story appeared in a local newspaper.
Gowdy pressed Kerry's State Department for more information in an April 13 letter.
Kerry's response on May 1 indicated the process of picking Spartanburg as the country's newest refugee haven actually began back in April 2013, when World Relief, one of nine private agencies that contract with the government to provide resettlement services, was contacted by local faith groups in Spartanburg. Gowdy's own office was notified of the plans in August 2014.
Gowdy was not happy with Kerry's response and fired off another letter May 4 to the secretary of state.
"To begin, it is important to clarify and correct the timeline of events for the proposal. In your response you stated there were two community meetings, one in August 2014 and one in January 2015," Gowdy wrote to Kerry. "You also stated the proposal was submitted in July 2014 and approved in November 2014. Is this correct? If so, does this mean the resettlement agency had only one community meeting, which occurred after the proposal was submitted and before the State Department’s approval?"
At the "community meetings" no media was invited and the public was not notified, WND has learned.
Gowdy said he sent his initial letter to the State Department on April 13 because he could not answer questions asked of him by constituents regarding plans for refugees in Spartanburg.
"We have provided State's response so the public can read it. But some of the answers are inadequate and fail to provide specificity on who was consulted at the city and county level, within the public school system, and law enforcement, and if they provided input," Gowdy said in a statement.
Gowdy is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on immigration and border security, which has oversight responsibility for the refugee program.
He sent a staff member, Josh Dix, to the secret meeting in August but Dix did not raise any concerns about the resettlement plans, according to Kerry's response to Gowdy's letter.
Gowdy's press secretary denied WND's request for an interview with the congressman Monday and would not answer any questions.
Baptists working to resettle refugees in S.C.
World Relief, a nonprofit evangelical organization that works to resettle refugees nationwide, opened an office earlier this year in Spartanburg.
A group of 40 churches and other faith-based groups has signed on to help World Relief resettle the refugees, according to Kerry's letter to Gowdy. One of the lead agencies working with World Relief is the Spartanburg County Baptist Network.
But the plan to place refugees in Spartanburg has been brewing for more than a year, long before any local residents caught wind of it.
Kerry's letter provides a rare window into how a small group of people in the federal government, local church groups, a federal contractor and a Governor's state refugee coordinator conspire to plant "seedlings" of refugees into communities across the U.S.
These refugees are seen by the White House and its network of pro-immigration and refugee partners – groups like National Council for La Raza, Welcoming America, the National Partnership for New Americans and the Chamber of Commerce – as potential "new Americans." The refugees are set up with a full plate of government benefits, placed on a fast track to citizenship and full voting rights.
The White House is also pushing to have the thousands of Central Americans who crossed the southern border last year afforded asylum status, which qualifies them for various welfare benefits and a direct track toward citizenship.
So while Spartanburg residents found out about the plan for their town in March and April, others in key leadership positions have known about it for more than a year. No public hearings have been held before the city council or local school board. Gowdy is still trying to find out exactly who in Spartanburg was made privy to the plans and who provided input.
"The initial interest in resettling refugees in Spartanburg emerged in April 2013 when World Relief was approached by Spartanburg County Baptist Network," Kerry's letter states. "The group, along with 25 other individuals and church organizations, expressed their support for a World Relief resettlement program in their city."
Kerry said the State Department requires the national resettlement agency, in this case World Relief, to "thoroughly assess the local resettlement capacity and environment of any new proposed resettlement sites before determining whether to proceed with resettling refugees in that location."
The staffer Gowdy had present at the meeting in August did not raise any concerns about the program, according to Kerry's letter.
"Two community meetings (August 2014 and January 2015) were convened to discuss refugee resettlement in the area," Kerry wrote to Gowdy. "The August meeting, convened by World Relief, was attended by 54 members of the community including Josh Dix from your office, members of local churches, the Immigration Forum, and the Convention and Visitors Bureau for Spartanburg. Mr. Dix did not offer any concerns during the meeting or in follow-up afterward."
George Soros involved
The National Immigration Forum, which was present at the meeting, receives funding from billionaire George Soros. It is the driving force behind the so-called "Evangelical Immigration Table," or EIT. Breitbart called it "a front group for players on the institutional left including billionaire George Soros and the Ford Foundation."
The Immigration Forum and EIT were involved in an advertising campaign promoting the Gang of Eight's immigration bill in 2013, a bill seen by many right-leaning lawmakers as "amnesty." One of the Gang of Eight members was Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Kerry said in his response to Gowdy that Graham was also invited to attend the August meeting on refugees but no one from his staff showed up.
The South Carolina state refugee coordinator, who works for Gov. Nikki Haley, gave her approval in November for the resettlement program to move forward.
Christina Jeffrey, a political science instructor at Wofford College in Spartanburg and former historian for the U.S. House of Representatives, said Kerry's response shows the refugee program is ingrained not only in the federal bureaucracy but in state governments as well.
"It's another grant program; it isn't just the feds cramming this down our throats. It's government corruption at all levels," she said, "with a lot of money at stake flowing to these contractors."
World Relief, as the main contractor in Spartanburg, will be awarded a grant from the State Department of $1,975 for every refugee it resettles. Federal rules require $1,125 of that to be used in providing services directly to the refugee such as cash stipends, rents for housing or other material needs during the first 30 to 90 days of the refugee's arrival. The remaining $850 may be used for staffing and administrative costs.
Nearly 70 percent of World Relief's budget is covered by government grants. Others among the nine contractors, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, have upward of 90 percent of their refugee work covered by government grants.
Seeking a moratorium on refugees
Jeffrey said she's happy that Gowdy has taken an interest in the program, but she believes his responsibility goes beyond fact finding.
"I can do my own information gathering. I'm not looking to Trey Gowdy for that. I'm looking for him to do his job and provide oversight on whether this is a good use of taxpayers' money," Jeffrey told WND.
The refugee program costs the federal government about $1 billion a year, and that does not include the welfare benefits that many refugees receive. The Congressional Research Office recently put out a study that showed 74.2 percent of refugees receive food stamps.
"Rather than just gathering information on the Spartanburg resettlement, how about let's put the whole program on hold until Congress has a chance to investigate it?" Jeffrey said.
Jeffrey and others have also voiced concerns about national security. Dozens of people from Muslim countries have come to America as refugees only to be charged with providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations, according to FBI reports. At least another 48 cases have been confirmed of Muslim immigrants leaving the U.S. to fight for ISIS in Syria and al-Shabab in Somalia.
The refugee program has flown under the radar for more than 30 years, but controversy flared in February when a top FBI counter-terrorism official, Michael Steinbach, testified before the House Homeland Security committee and said the U.S. has no way to vet the Syrian refugees for possible connections to ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
As WND reported, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, sent a letter to the White House Jan. 28 citing “serious national security concerns” about the Syrian refugee program and imploring Obama to not let it become a "back door for jihadists."
Transforming cities, one at a time
Jeffrey believes the Obama administration is using the refugee program, along with its broader immigration policies, for political purposes.
"Their intention is to identify, recruit, transport, whatever you have to do to get 9 million 'new Americans' naturalized as citizens and to the polls in November 2016 and beyond," she said. "I've never seen a more blatant ballot-stuffing program in my life."
Gowdy said in the statement on his website that Kerry's suggestion that Gowdy had a supportive role in the assignment of refugees to Spartanburg was "patently false."
"[T]o correct the record, the State Department's characterization that our office was ‘critical in the process’ of establishing the refugee resettlement is patently false. Our office sent one staff member to one meeting almost one year ago, as State’s own answers to our questions indicate," the statement said. "We were provided no follow up information on the proposal or implementation of the plan, nor did we at any point provide approval of the plan. The South Carolina Department of Social Services, not a Member of Congress, is responsible for approving proposals of this type.
"Finally, government transparency and accountability to the public is paramount. While our office does not have a role under the law in the implementation of such a plan, we are interested in providing the community with answers. To that end, we will be following up with the State Department with additional questions regarding local input."
Gowdy posted the full State Department's response online.
The response reads in part that Spartanburg would play "an integral role in ensuring that former refugees find a community which they can call home and which they in turn can enrich through their contributions. Key stakeholders such as the local churches in Spartanburg, which provided the impetus to establish this site, are a wonderful example of the support and spirit of the community."
According to Jason Lee, director of World Relief Spartanburg, a letter signed by about 40 ministry leaders who support resettling refugees here was hand delivered to Gowdy's district office in Greenville.
"We felt like we were able to enlighten his staff when we met on April 21st," Lee told the Herald-Journal of Spartanburg.
"You can be a Bible-believing Christian and have one perspective. But as an elected official, you have an obligation to the people who you work for who have legitimate questions about how things will be paid for. They have legitimate questions about access to health care, security questions, educational opportunity questions," Gowdy told the newspaper.
He said the state approves the resettlement plan, and the U.S. State Department interacts with the contractor agencies.
"Congress has no role whatsoever, but as the member of Congress, it is my job to get answers to questions," Gowdy told the Herald-Journal.
Jeffrey hopes Gowdy will see his role as providing more than just information, but actual oversight.
"Alexander Hamilton once said that if ever two branches of government should gang up against the American people, the Republic is over," she said.
The full text of Gowdy's May 4 follow-up letter to Kerry is reprinted below in full:
Congressman Gowdy | May 4, 2015
The Honorable John Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Kerry,
Thank you for your response to my April 13, 2015, letter. This issue continues to be important to my constituents, and as their representative in Congress, it remains my job to get complete answers to the legitimate questions raised.
Toward that end, parts of your Agency’s response lacked sufficient specificity. In an ongoing effort to better understand the process and public impact of the proposed resettlement of refugees in Spartanburg pursuant to the resettlement agency’s proposal, several follow-up questions are listed below. I appreciate your prompt, substantive, and specific responses.
To begin, it is important to clarify and correct the timeline of events for the proposal. In your response you stated there were two community meetings, one in August 2014 and one in January 2015. You also stated the proposal was submitted in July 2014 and approved in November 2014. Is this correct? If so, does this mean the resettlement agency had only one community meeting, which occurred after the proposal was submitted and before the State Department’s approval?
1) (a) Who, with specificity, were the “25 other individuals and church representatives”who “expressed their support for the resettlement program in Spartanburg”?
(b) Who specifically was consulted as part of the community and site assessment referenced in the timeline included in the proposal. Please include names and dates of the consultations where possible.
(c) Was anyone directly consulted in the South Carolina Governor’s office other than Dorothy Addison, the State Refugee Coordinator? Who did Ms. Addison talk with as part of the community assessment in order to validate the resettlement agency’s assessment of the community’s ability to support the influx of refugees?
2) After the August 2014 meeting, who provided feedback on the proposal? Was this feedback included in the proposal although it had already been submitted? Which of South Carolina’s United States Senators was contacted and did either provide feedback? Was Congressman Mick Mulvaney, whose district includes a portion of Spartanburg County, consulted?
3) Who were the “care providers” consulted as part of the community assessment? Please provide names and dates of consultations where possible.
4) Who were the local “public school representatives” consulted as part of the community assessment? Please provide names and dates of consultations where possible.
5) With whom did the resettlement agency meet to identify potential housing locations for the refugees? Please provide names and dates of consultations where possible.
6) (a) Is the per capita grant funding from the Department of State guaranteed for as long as there are refugees present?
(b) What happens if the local resettlement agency, World Relief in this case, can no longer offer support services for the resettled refugees? Will the Department of State relocate the refugees? How much funding must the resettlement agency provide each year?
7) According to your response, there are nine refugees who may start arriving in Spartanburg in the next few months. What is the country of origin of each of these nine refugees?
8) (a) What advanced notification will be provided to the community after the “annual proposal process is conducted by PRM” to determine how many additional refugees will be resettled in the Spartanburg area in the coming years?
(b) Must the State Refugee Coordinator sign off on any additional resettlement of refugees?
(c) What individuals will be consulted for the annual proposal?
(d) Who are the stakeholders that will be included in the ongoing community consultations? Please provide names where possible.
9) (a) Who generally will be part of the “Good Neighbor Teams”?
(b) Who will oversee the refugees’ access to public welfare benefits and/or assist them in job searches?
(c) Will this be solely World Relief’s role or will the South Carolina Department of Social Services play a role?
10) (a) What school district representatives did the resettlement agency consult with regarding the effect of minor refugees on Spartanburg’s seven (7) school systems?
(b) Were the discussions with school principals or district superintendents?
(c) Did representatives of the school districts sign off on the resettlement? If so, please provide the names of the individuals.
(d) Precisely who in the Spartanburg school systems told World Relief there is “capacity for more students” in the system’s already existing English immersion programs?
11) For what crimes, if any, can an individual be convicted and still be approved for U.S. refugee status? Do any of the nine refugees you indicated are currently slated for Spartanburg resettlement (or any who have subsequently been selected for resettlement) have such convictions?
12) How exactly are background checks performed on individuals seeking refugee resettlement in the United States? How can the background of an individual who is outside his country of origin be thoroughly investigated? Does the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) have access to background check procedures in the countries of origin of each of the individuals proposed to be resettled in Spartanburg?
13) (a) How do the national resettlement agencies “assess the capacity and environment” to determine the number of refugees a city can resettle? How is a “strong refugee program” quantified?
(b) Who must be included in the community consultation plan? Who is typically consulted in other communities?
(c) Please provide any and all guidance provided to resettlement agencies by USRAP regarding the process that must be undertaken to get to the point of submitting a resettlement proposal, the ongoing process until the time of approval, and how a resettlement proposal should be conducted.
(d) Are local law enforcement officials part of the initial consultation and do they remain so once the resettled refugees are in the community? What, if any, efforts exist to track the refugees’ interactions with local law enforcement officials?
14) How do you ensure long-term accountability on the part of any resettlement agency so the taxpayer is not ultimately left paying for the costs of refugee resettlement proposal?
Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter. This issue remains important to my constituents, and I will continue to work with you to get answers to all their questions.