Refugee Industry Snows the Media—For Now

The media image of the refugee continues to be women and children staggering to the sanctuary here with a few worldly possessions on their backs, pursued by knout-wielding Cossacks. In fact, of course, the net effect of the 1980 Refugee Act has been to create a special type of expedited, subsidized immigration for politically-favored groups, regardless of any objective need. In the U.S., a veritable NGO Nation of at least 400 federal government-dependent refugee agencies and affiliates has grown up on the basis of welfare as we knew it, a gullible media, dubious accounting practices and the entry of refugees into the ranks of salaried service providers and lobbyists for future waves of refugees. Perhaps an additional 400 smaller exclusive ethnic organizations and spin-offs are supported by state and local governments. This Refugee Industry is dedicated to bringing in more "refugees"—often brazenly presenting their case before Congress in terms of the employment it provides for Americans a.k.a. themselves.

Normally, the Refugee Industry would not agree with Liz Taylor  that even bad publicity is good. For this industry, even good publicity can be bad for business.

But some time around Christmas, the Refugee Industry took the calculated risk of a media campaign to separate the U.S. refugee program from popular misgivings about mass immigration caused September 11. Thanks to a media that is willing to be managed, that campaign was a success. Many major newspapers ran the same story—the one the Refugee Industry wanted told.  [See, for example, Refugees at America's Door Find It Closed After Attacks By Somini Sengupta, NYT, October 29, 2001]

This, according to the Wall Street Journal, "refugees are perhaps the most rigorously screened and vetted group of people entering the U.S." They "undergo detailed interviews and background checks to document their claims before being allowed entry. "

Bunk. Despite all this "vetting", large numbers of Russian organized crime figures have managed to pour in as refugees and immigrants for decades. Indeed, until 9/11 U.S. authorities never even bothered to verify that the refugee deplaning in New York was the same person granted "status" in the U.S. Consulate overseas.

Another bizarre industry talking point: "none of the 19 September 11 hijackers was a refugee".

This is a little like saying that, as long as you haven't murdered 3,000 people lately, you are good to go. Actually, there are alleged mass murderers—Yugoslav war criminals and the like—among recently arrived refugees. Of 10 or so foreign-born torturers resident in the U.S. that were profiled in a recent Amnesty International  report, two had arrived as refugees, one received political asylum and another is applying for asylum. All can reasonably expect to avoid expulsion from the U.S. by appealing to current asylum law. According to some sources cited in the report, there are possibly 1,000 foreign born 'human rights abusers' in the U.S. today. If these arrived as refugees and asylees in the same proportion as those individually profiled for the report, Refugee Industry will be hoping for a return to the days when the only good publicity was no publicity.

The Refugee Industry's ability to score good news stories is as amazing as its ability to avoid bad news stories. For example, under the terms of the 1996 welfare reform, Americans are facing the end of benefits in time-limited welfare programs as of fall 2002. Meanwhile 19% of recently arrived refugee households have one or more members receiving a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) check, along with food stamps, Medicaid and, in most cases, public housing. There's no time limit on SSI payments and refugees can qualify within 30 days of arrival.

Not even a whisper of this makes the news. But it is widely discussed in the neighborhoods where the refugees are moving in. Anecdotal evidence suggests the influx of Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union is a major factor in the strained relations between Blacks and Jews though my evidence for this is entirely anecdotal. Thus one of my black correspondents from Brooklyn complained bitterly that the new arrivals are getting the newer public housing where 'the elevators work'.

(The historic but little-reported immigration to the U.S. of some 400,000 Soviet Jewish "refugees" permitted by the "Lautenberg Amendment" has slowed, finally. Russia is simply running out of Jews who want to leave. Today, more "evangelicals" than Jews immigrate as refugees from the former USSR—illustrating the power of the 'me too' effect that accompanies all refugee flows. The "evangelical" category is perhaps the most absurd Congressionally-mandated entitlement ever granted to a foreign citizen, since this group is even less persecuted than the now-vibrant Russian Jewish community ever was.)]

Yep, refugee dependence on welfare sure is a problem. But Washington has a solution. A contact at the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has told me that the federal office may soon stop tracking refugee welfare usage by ethnic group because it "makes certain ethnic groups look bad". This data, collection of which is required by law, is used in the permanent interethnic warfare over government services and allocation of the refugee quota. (Actually, the data makes all "ethnic groups" look bad. I have 20 years of refugee welfare statistics in case they are dropped down the memory hole.)

Recent turmoil in the U.S. refugee resettlement program has pitted "Afghan war widows" against the U.S. State Department in an unequal contest, according to the WSJ (Refugees may be kept out of U.S. after shutdown tied to Sept. 11, Feb 13). David versus Goliath is a winning news formula. But the Refugee Industry is a Goliath in its own right. More typical than "Afghan war widows" as refugees to the U.S. are foreign retirees who never faced so much as a slur in their home country, let alone a bullet, sponsored by their refugee children and eligible for SSI, food stamps and public housing.

Even the Washington Times is unable to summon skepticism at the tales the Refugee Industry tells. According to the paper, refugee advocates are "very afraid this country will not have the infrastructure in place to respond to future refugee emergencies in the world."(Security Leaves Refugees Stranded, 1/31/2002). But what you won't learn from this reporting, and from a dozen other articles taken from the same template, is that refugee NGOs have steadfastly refused to use their own resources to maintain the U.S. refugee resettlement "infrastructure". Indeed, the program known as the Private Sector Initiative, allowing sponsoring NGOs to bring over refugees if they were willing to cover costs of resettlement and support, was discontinued for lack of use in the mid-1990s. Today the NGOs are even opposed to diverting federal refugee dollars to overseas refugee assistance—where such dollars will be far more effective—for fear it will mean fewer dollars for them!

The Washington Times featured Lavinia Limon, director of a non-profit refugee agency. But it neglected to mention she was formerly the director of the federal DHHS Office of Refugee Resettlement. Would any other government-dependent industry have gotten such light treatment by the media for what is obviously a revolving door between the industry and the federal government? Back when Miss Limon was head of ORR, she told me the main function of the refugee "non-profits", known as Voluntary Agencies, was to link refugees up with public benefits programs.

A constant theme in virtually all of the recent publicity is that refugee numbers have fallen off lately and should be restored to the high levels that are "in America's best traditions", "what America is all about," and so on.

It is true that the annual flow is down from the high water mark reached in 1980 when 200,000 "refugees"—some significant number of whom were not really refugees—immigrated to the U.S. But when the 1980 Refugee Act was passed the bill's sponsors promised an average flow of about 50,000 per year. However, in many past years the annual intake has been comparable to the refugee quota for 2002, which has been set at 70,000.

Further, refugee advocates neglect to mention that successful asylum seekers, very similar to refugees, have surged. Numbers from all of the various humanitarian immigration programs have consistently outstripped even the wildest projections made when they were implemented.

Instead of countering or even questioning Refugee Industry demands for more refugees, INS director James Ziglar recently promised the NGOs that his agency will pay overtime to speed up refugee processing, which had slowed after 911. Not only has he vowed to meet the current fiscal year quota of 70,000, but the Bush administration remains committed to pushing the annual refugee quota to 90,000 in coming years.

I wonder if the self-proclaimed libertarian INS director knows that he was responding to "public opinion" that was totally manufactured by government contractors? 

There are stories that may yet come yet come to haunt for the Refugee Industry.

The African refugee program, which is certain to be the largest and longest running in U.S. history, has been plagued by fraud with both UNHCR officials and U.S.-based voluntary agencies involved in schemes to allow individuals to crowd into the U.S. refugee program by falsely claiming family relationships to refugees already here. (Nothing new in queue-jumping. A retired FBI agent recently told me that in the 1980s, you could look out of the Consular office windows in Moscow and see known mobsters "managing" the line of intending refugees, in which they might have stood for days, to get their own people in first.)

It is hard to believe that public opinion will remain unmoved if the African AIDs epidemic is imported to the U.S. on the refugee program. And recent data from the Minnesota Health Department report show that, although African immigrants make up less than 1% of the state's population, they accounted for 16% of new HIV infections reported in 2001.

Apologists point out that the number of new AIDS cases in Minnesota is small in absolute terms. Minneapolis is a resettlement center for known HIV positive African refugees, so the state might be expected to show higher than normal HIV infection rates for immigrants and refugees. But the newly arrived cases were not included in the state study. Including known HIV positive arrivals makes African immigrants' contribution to the state's rate of HIV infection 25 to 30 times higher than their proportion among the states population would suggest. Further, most of the state's African population is from Somalia, a country that has been spared the higher infection rates found in some other African countries. In South Africa, for instance, the AIDS infection rate is 10 times higher than the rate found in Somalia.

Public opinion still counts—sometimes. When Senator Sam Brownback (R.-Kansas) thought an entire tribe of 10,000 Bantu Somalis was to be settled in his state, he jumped on the barricades Boris Yeltsin-style and declared on 10/12/2001  

"I oppose any resettlement of Somali Bantu refugees in the State of Kansas"…. Our office has contacted the Department of State asking them to not resettle any Somali Bantus in Kansas….Simply put, this should not occur".

This statement was never reported in the national media. Luckily for the Senator, because he has since backed away from his impolitic outburst. All parties involved describe the statement as a response to "popular hysteria" and a 'big misunderstanding."

In fact, states have little or no say over refugee resettlement, a largely unfunded federal mandate imposed on them by Washington. Ironically, Senator Brownback is sponsoring a bill, the Refugee Protection Act,[PDF] which would dwarf the impact of the resettlement of Bantu Somalis. But the point here is that aroused public opinion almost moved a political leader to act—even if fleetingly.

By the way, the Bantu Somalis are coming anyway, perhaps as early as the end of this year. According to a State Department official some will likely be placed in Kansas. And, after initial resettlement, there is nothing to stop the entire tribe from moving to Kansas if they so choose.

Any one of these and other stories could come crashing through the assiduously cultivated hedge of misinformation that protects the refugee program. Like the Roman Catholic Church's pedophilia problem, the story may flicker for many years at a low intensity before flaring into a conflagration.

There is more here than just an analogy. The Catholic Church is now the main importer of refugees. Last year the US Catholic Conference MRS brought in 26,000 refugees—putting up pennies, if not actually netting a profit, for every dollar of taxpayer support for the refugees.

News stories that are suppressed have an unfortunate tendency to burst out in twisted and virulent forms—what I might call the "Pravda effect". One way or another, the Refugee Industry will one day find itself consumed by a story that would give even Liz Taylor pause.

July 31, 2002