[dehai-news] (Times-Gazette - Tennessee) US Suspends African Refugee Program After Discovering Fraud


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From: Biniam Tekle (biniamt@dehai.org)
Date: Mon Nov 17 2008 - 08:39:12 EST


Refugee program stayed after feds confirm fraudSunday, November 16, 2008
By Brian Mosely

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."

The rights group is made up of a coalition of immigrants, refugees and their
American-based supporters who work to "improve the rights and the public's
perception of Tennessee's rapidly growing foreign-born population."

"We are talking about folks who are eager to reunite with their families and
are eager to bring their friends and families to a safe and peaceful place,"
Nieto said.

Shelbyville has seen an influx of Somali refugees within the past few years,
and there has been no reported evidence that any fraud has been perpetrated
by local refugees. The suspension, however, may impact local refugees who
are hoping to be reunited with family members here.

"The U.S. Government has a fair share of the responsibility to help resettle
refugees from war torn areas," Nieto said. "We don't want government
bureaucracy to be a significant obstacle for reuniting families."

*Fraud uncovered*

The DNA tests were conducted after both the Departments of State and
Homeland Security jointly decided to test a sample of refugee cases due to
reported fraud in the P-3 program, particularly in Kenya, the fact sheet
explained.

The rate of fraud varied among nationalities and from country to country,
"and is difficult to establish definitively as many individuals refused to
submit DNA samples," the State Department said.

Samples of some 500 refugees, who were under consideration for U.S.
resettlement through the P-3 program, were initially tested in Nairobi,
Kenya.

But after the sample "suggested high rates of fraud," testing was expanded
to Ethiopia, Uganda, Ghana, Guinea, Gambia and Cote d'Ivoire, the State
Department said.

"Most of the approximately 3,000 refugees tested are from Somalia, Ethiopia
and Liberia," the fact sheet said. The initial DNA testing "was limited to
members of families applying for the P-3 program, and not between the
applicants and the anchor relative in the United States," the State
Department explained.

Family reunification processing and resettlement in Kenya and Ethiopia was
halted in March, the State Department said, and the suspension was expanded
in May to include the countries where the second round of DNA testing was
done. The State Department also stopped accepting applications for the P-3
program on Oct. 22.

"The Departments of State and Homeland Security, along with our resettlement
agency partners, are currently discussing how to handle applications that
were submitted earlier this year," the fact sheet said.

*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."

"It will impact refugees nationwide who have submitted a non-fraudulent
application for a parent, spouse, or minor child because they will be
separated from their family indefinitely," she said.

Johnson said all resettlement agencies "are under strict guidelines
regarding the reporting of suspected fraud in refugee families, and we are
no different."

"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."

"Our goal is to have them living independently within six months of
arrival," she said. "The many refugees that have resettled here over the
last 40 years have a solid track record of getting on their feet and joining
the community very quickly."

Johnson also noted that while those who work with refugees understand the
deplorable living conditions that would inspire one to attempt to flee by
any means possible, "we strongly believe that the established guidelines
must be followed in order to preserve the integrity of the U.S. refugee
program."

"In no way do we excuse or condone the falsification of these applications,
and are saddened by the fact that honest people are suffering because of the
dishonesty of others," Johnson said.

*Tyson comments*

Gary Michelson, director of media relations for Tyson Foods, which employs
nearly all of the Somali refugees that live in Shelbyville, said that Tyson
has "zero tolerance for employing people who are not authorized to work in
the U.S. That's why we use all available tools provided by the U.S.
government to verify the documents of the people we hire."

"We check the employment documents of all new team members when they are
first hired," Michelson said.

New hires are required to fill out a Form I-9, Employment Eligibility
Verification Form and are required to present documents that prove identity
and employment eligibility.

Since 1998, Tyson has also voluntarily participated in the U.S. government's
Basic Pilot/Employment Eligibility Verification Program, which is now known
as E-Verify, an internet-based system operated by the DHS in partnership
with the Social Security Administration.

Tyson also uses the Social Security Number Verification System (SSNVS), an
on-line service offered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), which
allows registered users (employers and certain third-party submitters) to
verify the names and Social Security numbers of employees against SSA
records, Michelson said.

"If we learn one of our workers may not have proper authorization to work in
this country, we take immediate measures. If they are unable to correct any
discrepancies in their documentation, then they are released from
employment," Michelson said.

*Verifying claims*

New methods of verifying family relationship claims are now being developed
with the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department said, which
may include voluntary DNA testing. The P-3 program in Africa will remain
suspended until new measures are finalized and implemented.

However, exactly what measures will be taken against the thousands of
refugees who have come into the country through the P-3 program in the last
20 years will be a question for the Department of Homeland Security to
answer, the fact sheet said.

Since October 1, 2003, some 36,000 people have arrived from Africa through
the P-3 program, the fact sheet explained, but also only some 400 people
have arrived from other parts of the world through the program.

The P-3 program has not been suspended for non-African nationalities, the
State Department said, noting that "the number of individuals applying from
non-African countries, such as Burma, Cuba, etc., is very small."

Citizens from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Burundi, Central African Republic,
Colombia, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Somalia,
Sudan, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe are eligible for consideration through the
P-3 Program.

*UPCOMING IN THE T-G*

The Times-Gazette is seeking refugees who have been affected by the
suspension for a follow-up report. Any affected refugees may call staff
writer Brian Mosely at 684-1200, Ext. 264.

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