Refugee Program Stayed After Feds Confirm Fraud

Brian Mosely, Shelbyville (Tennessee) Times-Gazette, November 16, 2008

A fact sheet released this week from the U.S. State Department reported widespread fraud in the refugee program that has brought tens of thousands of people from Somalia and other African nations to the United States.

The reported fraud spurred the State Department to suspend a humanitarian program in August which was supposed to reunite African “anchor” refugees already in the states with their family members who are still overseas.

DNA testing conducted earlier this year by the government to verify blood ties between anchor refugees and their supposed family members revealed that fewer than 20 percent of those checked could confirm their biological relationships, the fact sheet stated.

The suspension impacts the Priority Three (P-3) Program of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, which grants access to those claiming to be “a parent, spouse, or minor child by certain legal residents in the United States.”

Priority One (P-1) and Priority Two (P-2) refugees are admitted into the program based upon their vulnerability in their native country, through a referral from the United Nations. The P-1 and P-2 statuses of the program have not been suspended.

An applicant for refugee status must establish that he or she has suffered persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, creed or origin.

“In recent years, applications to the P-3 program have been overwhelmingly African—primarily Somalis, Ethiopians and Liberians—accounting for some 95 percent of the P-3 applications,” the fact sheet from the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration stated.

When asked about the fraud described, Catalina Nieto, director of advocacy and educational programs for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said that the State Department fact sheet is “a very general report and it is referring to all refugees, not particular to Shelbyville.”

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Impact on refugees

Holly Johnson, State Refugee Coordinator for the Tennessee Office for Refugees said Friday that to her knowledge, the suspension “has not had a significant impact on the local program.”

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“I take it very seriously,” Johnson told the Times-Gazette. “Of the hundreds of resettlement cases that I have handled in the ten years that I have worked in the local resettlement program, there were only two cases (in the state) where I suspected the possibility of fraud.”

Those cases were reported immediately to their national organization, Catholic Charities, Johnson said, and then were passed on to the State Department and/or the Department of Homeland Security. She added they were not notified of the outcome of these reports because of confidentiality guidelines.

Johnson said that Catholic Charities’ focus “is on resettling refugees that the U.S. State Department selects and sends to Middle Tennessee.”

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