Aleppo refugees

Private Contractors Force Feed Refugees To States That Quit The Program

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By James Simpson

The Thomas More Law Center has initiated a lawsuit on behalf of the Tennessee General Assembly. The suit charges that the government is violating both the U.S. Constitution’s Spending Clause and the 10th Amendment by forcing Tennessee to cover the costs of refugee resettlement in the state even though Tennessee dropped out of the program in 2008.

Under the 1980 Refugee Act, the federal government promised to provide 100 percent of the state share of refugee cash and medical welfare costs for the first 36 months of their resettlement. That constituted a significant savings for participating states, especially considering that refugees use welfare at very high rates. However, by 1991 the feds had stopped reimbursing states altogether. The refugee program has become an unfunded mandate.

Adding insult to injury, starting in 1995, the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), began assigning a private refugee resettlement contractor (called Voluntary Agency or VOLAG) to keep the resettlement program running in states that drop out. This would ensure a continual flow of refugees to the state.

In addition to welfare, refugees bring significant other costs, including interpreters, English classes for students, medical and other services. For example, in 2016, Amarillo, Texas Mayor Paul Harpole complained, “We have 660 (refugee) kids who don’t speak English and the U.S. Department of Education says they have to be at grade level within one year. It’s a ludicrous requirement — they don’t even know how to use the bathroom.”

 Amarillo received $100 per student from the feds to accomplish this goal, whereas thirty days of tutoring cost $1,300 per student. “We’ve been a giving community,” Harpole said, “and it’s a huge disservice to bring in refugees in numbers that we’re not able to handle…” Manchester, New Hampshire Mayor Ted Gatsas has repeatedly requested a moratorium on refugee resettlement. “I think at last check we had something like 82 languages represented at Central High School,” he said.

Manchester’s school ratings now rank second to last in the state.

The U.S. government pays VOLAGs by the head to resettle refugees. The Government Accountability Office found that this gives VOLAGs a strong incentive to maintain or increase the flow of refugees. Local leaders complain that VOLAGs ignore community concerns and continue to resettle refugees in their communities even when asked to stop.

This tendency is magnified when states drop out because the VOLAG runs the entire program without any input or oversight from the state. Tennessee left the program effective June 2008. After 2008, the number of refugees admitted annually more than doubled.

Tennessee Refugee Admissions (FY 2002-2017)
2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
331 453 938 869 722 961 847 1,492 1,605 1,241 1,236 1,557 1,467 1,530 1,959 771

Source: The Refugee Processing Center, www.wrapsnet.org

Between FY 2002 (the earliest state-by-state data available) and FY 2016, Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, Tennessee and Texas dropped completely out of the program. Of these, four have been run by VOLAGs long enough to compare resettlement data before the state left the program and after. The table below shows the before and after averages.

Average Annual Resettlement
Before and After State Dropped Out
Before After % chg
Alaska      30 93 208%
Kentucky    561 1,648 194%
Nevada    352 593 68%
Tennessee    732 1,511 107%
Total 1,675 3,844 129%

States that quit the program are designated “Wilson-Fish” states. Named for its two congressional sponsors, Wilson-Fish was enacted in 1984 as an amendment to the Immigration and Nationalities Act (see 8 U.S.C. §1522(e)(7)). However the Wilson-Fish statute never contemplated authorizing ORR to assign the refugee program to VOLAGs when states quit. The goal was strictly to offer alternative methods of welfare support to help refugees achieve economic self-sufficiency. Co-sponsor Senator Pete Wilson said:

The specific intention of this amendment is to encourage refugee self-support and employment in California… The language in this amendment will allow alternative approaches to this welfare dependency cycle.

ORR added 45 C.F.R. §400.301 in 1995, a regulation that claims authority to assign a VOLAG to run a state’s refugee resettlement program if the state drops out. Discussion of the final rule in the Federal Register makes clear however, that despite the Wilson-Fish designation, ORRs authority is not derived from the Wilson-Fish statute:

This authority is different from the statutory authority in 412(e)(7) of the INA [Wilson-Fish Amendment] which permits the Director to authorize the development and implementation of alternative projects under the Fish/Wilson program.

The final rule does mention Immigration and Nationalities Act guidelines regarding provision of welfare and other services to refugees (8 U.S. Code § 1522(c)(1)(A) and (e)(1)), but the INA does not authorize ORR to unilaterally assign a VOLAG to take over management of refugee resettlement programs in states that opt out. I requested clarification from ORR, but as of this writing have not received a response. It appears to be yet another reflection of the deceptive nature of this program, where information is deliberately withheld, contractors lie and dissemble, and the federal government aggressively advances a program that serves a radical Left agenda at the expense of our communities, while anyone who questions it is labeled a bigot.

There has been a groundswell throughout our country demanding change. The TMLC lawsuit should be in a good position to win this case, but with activist jurists making ever more politically motivated decisions, nothing is certain. Ultimately it will fall to Congress to reform refugee resettlement. As it stands, the program is an unfunded mandate that places unelected, unaccountable, financially motivated, private organizations in the position of imposing ever-increasing costs on states and local communities that have no say in the outcome.

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