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Sequestration Hits San Diego Refugee Resettlement Agencies

Above: Habibo, a Somali refugee, writes: "The first day I came to U.S.A. was hard for me. Leave my sister in Kenya. My friends. Airplane. Leaving them forever. Excited We came in San Diego and I was scared. The first day school was scary because I did not see white people before."

Aired 6/21/13 on KPBS News.

Across-the-board federal budget cuts are being felt locally by resettlement agencies and the refugees they help.

Local refugee service providers are beginning to feel the pinch of sequestration. The 5 percent, across-the-board spending cuts went into effect in March, slicing into federal spending by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

Locally, that means organizations that smooth the transition for refugees have less money to help them find work.

Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Director Michael McKay said his organization has lost about $15,000 for a program that places refugees into jobs within four months of arrival. It matches federal dollars with local funds to cover caseworkers and programming that get refugees into the workforce, usually in San Diego's hospitality industry.

McKay said the $15,000 would put about seven people through the program. He emphasized the importance of such early employment programs. Initial aid from the U.S. Department of State that helps refugees establish households and get on their feet typically lasts through the first three months; health coverage lasts for eight months. That aid has not been cut.

McKay and Bob Montgomery, the executive director of the International Rescue Committee in San Diego, said they're concerned resettlement services will sustain deeper cuts later this year, when federal agencies release their fiscal year 2014 budgets.

The uncertainty comes as hundreds of thousands of Syrians flee civil war. The U.S. has not yet opened its doors to those refugees, but could soon.

"We hope there will be continued support for it, to invest in the folks," McKay said. "Because they become contributing and productive members of the community rather quickly when there is that support."

Montgomery said the IRC has also seen cuts to its employment program. The Alliance for African Assistance confirmed that it, too, has been impacted by sequestration.

Comments

Avatar for user 'DonWood'

DonWood | June 21, 2013 at 4:29 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Are there any limits on how long refugees can continue to collect tax funded welfare payments? Which federal agency pays local refugee agencies to bring them here, and how much are those local agencies paid per refugee they bring here? How much in federal assistance payments do refugees receive? Does the federal government and the local refugee agencies have any goals or standards for getting new refugees off the dole and into paying jobs here? I'd like to know more about how these local agencies work and how they get paid.

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Avatar for user 'FORefugees'

FORefugees | June 22, 2013 at 1:21 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

For more information on the refugee program see website at FORefugees.com

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | June 23, 2013 at 10:28 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Don, I would like to see the percentage of people brought here by race. I am betting there are no refugees from white European countries.( I remember the guy from Poland who started a business here hiring 21 people. He was deported on a visa technicality. ) I also am willing to bet that these folks have zero skills to add to the work environment. How long can America afford to take the unwanted while our own kids go without jobs. This is insane.

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Avatar for user 'Megan Burks'

Megan Burks, KPBS Staff | June 24, 2013 at 8:26 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Hi DonWood and muckapoo1, I put together this explainer on the country's refugee program and how it works here in San Diego awhile back: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2013/feb/22/.... It should answer some of your questions. The U.S. Department of State website might also help. There you can see budgets and trends in terms of which countries of origin people are coming from. It's important to note that the U.S. does not operate refugee resettlement programs for every country. Programs are offered to people who are actively experiencing war or persecution, and even then, the U.S. is discerning. For instance, we do not yet have a program for Syrian refugees. Thanks for reading.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | June 24, 2013 at 1:15 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Is there any effort to return refugees to their country of origin once the factors that caused their evacuation diminish?

It would be a complete waste to educate and train these people and keep them here. That would deprive their homeland of their incredibly valuable knowledge.

Plus the high cost of living and urban lifestyle of San Diego makes our city a very poor choice for 3rd world farmers/laborers. Perhaps the central valley or mid-west would be a more natural and efficient use of the skills they arrive here with.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | June 24, 2013 at 1:31 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Megan, we currently have about 18 million Americans out of work or under-employed. The loons in Washington are about to allow 12-15 million illegal felons have citizenship. There are 47+ million Americans on food stamps. Considering those facts, along with the billions of dollars of welfare sent to foreign countries, why are we responsible for war refugees? C'mon, until we start looking at Americans first, this country will be no better than current third world countries. We cannot sustain this type of insanity bringing in bean pickers with little to no education who breed like rabbits. Ask the millions of recent graduates who are finding few jobs worth their educational investment how they feel about government payouts for refugees. I feel worse for them than I do for any foreign refugee. They will never see the America we have unless this lib, bleeding heart insanity stops now.

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Avatar for user 'Megan Burks'

Megan Burks, KPBS Staff | June 24, 2013 at 2:21 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

CaliforniaDefender, thanks for your comment. We did a story on young Somalis who want to take what they've learned in the U.S. back to Somalia to do humanitarian work. You can read that here: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2013/feb/18/.... After that story, another reader also brought up that it's peculiar we resettle refugees in expensive cities. So we looked at why that is and found family ties and our military history play into it. Many refugees also settle in the midwest. http://www.kpbs.org/news/2013/feb/22/...

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | June 24, 2013 at 2:55 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Megan,

Thank you for the follow up. I see that military and family ties bring them to San Diego, but it was clearly a shortsighted 1980's policy mistake. This should be corrected by now. I hope the IRC is reconsidering placement policy to fix the issue.

As for returning home, the February article is unclear. While some Somalis feel it is their patriotic/humanitarian duty to return, most stay. The IRC and US government must focus more on repatriation, perhaps even putting a conditional limit on refugee status.

What is clear is that San Diego can no longer support our growing refugee population. It is time for another city to step up and assume the burden.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | June 24, 2013 at 10:27 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Mr. Wood, did you READ the third paragraph?

Guess not.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | June 24, 2013 at 10:29 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

_uckapoo, IRC brought people to the USA from the former Yugoslavia.

Happy now or are these Serbs and Croats not "white" enough for ya?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | June 24, 2013 at 10:31 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

_uckapoo, NOT speaking to an immigration officer is a civil offense, NOT a criminal one.

Just a little FYI next time you decide to drag yourself to the keyboard.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | June 24, 2013 at 10:34 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Can ALWAYS count on you, CA Offender, for the lebensraum angle. Our cowtown appreciates it.

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Avatar for user 'NiceandCivil'

NiceandCivil | June 25, 2013 at 6:51 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Megan,
I want to applaud you for your calm, courteous and on target replies. We are all in this together and you are setting a great example of what reasonable dialogue can be. Thank you.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | June 25, 2013 at 9:09 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Muckapoo,

Does the Pottery Barn rule ever get discussed at meetings of the John Birch Society? Refugee programs are part of "you break it, you buy it." I'm gonna' go out on a long limb and guess that you don't know a lot about our government's involvement in these refugees' countries of origin. Ever make the connection between Little Saigon and the Vietnam War? By the way, all human beings have redemptive skills.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | June 25, 2013 at 1:37 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

DLR "By the way, all human beings have redemptive skills"
This is simply not true. It is also beside the point.

It is difficult to place primary blame on the US for a civil war in Syria. There are many factions much more involved there than we are. Can you construct an argument to the contrary or demonstrate how we are responsible for their conflict, suffering or displacement?

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | June 25, 2013 at 3:41 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Benz,

Whether you support the rebels' agenda or not, the Syrian government is winning the war. The U.S. and other Western countries are going to prolong the war, thus prolonging the suffering, by sending more resources to the rebels. Therefore, the U.S. and those other Western countries are partly responsible for the ensuing refugee crisis. Hezbollah/Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iran are also partly responsible.

"We cannot sustain this type of insanity bringing in bean pickers with little to no education who breed like rabbits."

All human beings have redemptive skills. If you want to defend the deplorable comment listed above, feel free.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | June 25, 2013 at 7:26 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

DLR, please be clear in your attribution of quotes. I am not going to claim the one you used.

Additionally there are human beings with no skills whatsoever, making your statement about redemptive skills untrue. I will accept the assertion that most people have some useful skill, but that more narrow statement implies neither that the skill is sufficient to allow a person to be self-supporting nor that it is worth importing someone and subsidizing them to perform it.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | June 26, 2013 at 7:21 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Mission. Because I taut "America first" does not make me a Bircher anymore than your left stance makes you a Communist. Nice try at attacking the person rather than the thought. I would like to see our government stay out of any foreign conflict. I would like to see us fix this country before China owns it. I would like to see jobs go to Americans. I would like to see a manufacturing economy rather than a nation of hamburger flippers. Call me a Bircher if you care to, but it appears I would like to see a stronger USA. I cannot ever wrap my head around bringing in 80,000 low skilled workers making that happen. If some bleeding heart group wants to do that with ZERO tax dollars, great. But that means that group taking care of them from landing here till death. Don't dump them on the doorstep of welfare and be happy with the results.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | June 26, 2013 at 7:29 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Benz,

Muckapoo made the statement. My comment was directed at him/her. I believe, unconditionally, that all humans have redemptive skills. In my life, I've been robbed at gunpoint and assaulted; my identity has been stolen; and, some loved ones have been murdered. After all that and countless other transgressions visited upon me, I still believe in the redemptive value of all human beings.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | June 26, 2013 at 12:42 p.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Please explain what skills a human vegetable has and how those skills in any way redeem them (and also what they are being redeemed from).

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | June 28, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

Benz,

Turnabout is fair play. I point out the example of Anne Boleyn; you bring up a human vegetable. OK. Society cannot redeem the skills of a human vegetable because they are incapable of action. (Even so, I bet the human vegetable's family would argue otherwise.) Every conscious human being has redemptive value and/or skills. You can now give some form of nihilistic response where you point out how much better a human being you are than most others (if not all others).

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | June 30, 2013 at 8:30 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

I'm flattered you think I am better than most or all other humans, but I do not believe that to be the case.

Would you care to address the relationship between the value of the skills you mention and the costs required to sustain the skilled person who would hypothetically utilize them?

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | June 30, 2013 at 10:12 a.m. ― 1 year, 2 months ago

No, I don't care to explain. My view, like yours, is strictly subjective and cannot be proven true one way or the other. Once this country's military and covert spending is brought down to an intelligent level (which can be measured objectively), I might change my mind on spending for humanitarian causes. But we're not there yet, are we?

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