Governor says ‘exploring’ possibility of joining U.N. relocation program
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.