This was originally published in the Daily Interlake, Kalispell, Montana, January 31, 2016. It's being reposted for the use of grassroots activists like the ones who braved sub-zero temperatures to protest a refugee dump in Bismarck, North Dakota.
What’s your opinion on bringing Syrian refugees to Montana? You might want to consider that question because WorldMontana, a Helena-based non-profit organization founded in 1987, has designs to resettle refugees, primarily from Syria, around the state.
And recently formed Soft Landing Missoula has similar intentions for their city.
WorldMontana has heretofore engaged in “citizen diplomacy,” bringing in foreign notables to meet with ordinary Montanans. But by last spring, the group was contemplating this new direction—a direction that could impose dangers and significant costs on their fellow citizens. So skepticism about those designs is common sense.
When considering arrivals from the Middle East (which includes Syria), those concerned about Americans’ safety will naturally think of unpleasant, headline-grabbing occurrences within recent memory in Paris (Nov. 13), San Bernardino (Dec. 2), and several German cities (Dec. 31). But according to WorldMontana’s vice president Stephen Maly, such concerns are misplaced, since any arrivals from Syria would undergo “rigorous” vetting by 10 agencies over 18 to 24 months. (Maly was quoted on the subject in the Great Falls Tribune, Dec. 18.)
However, those impressed by Maly’s assurance may be sobered to learn that last Oct. 21, FBI Director James Comey flatly told the House Committee on Homeland Security that his agency can’t screen Syrian refugees, since relevant databases are scant, at best. Said Comey, “[I]f someone has not made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interests reflected in our databases, we can query our databases until the cows come home, but nothing will show up because we have no record of that person.” And this wasn’t really news, since Assistant FBI Director Michael Steinbach had told the committee essentially the same blunt truth in February 2015.
Maly also mentioned advice from federal officials to “go slow, be transparent, and inclusive” with refugee resettlement. The actual experience of cities around the country (e.g. Lewiston, Maine; Amarillo, Texas; Greeley, Colorado), though, is to have been deluged with needy people—typically unaccustomed to living in a modern, self-governing society—once they agreed to accept a few refugees.
And regarding “transparency,” often they didn’t even agree. Instead, the U.S. State Department, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations such as World Relief Corporation and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, merely announced that refugees would be coming, and it was up to local governments and their taxpayers to accommodate the influx.
Maly wasn’t quoted on the subject of taxpayers’ costs arising from WorldMontana’s ambitions. But there was a clue in his expectation of involvement by the state’s Refugee Coordinator, an assignment within Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services that’s currently almost dormant. Judging by DPHHS’s online documents about “Refugee Resettlement Programs,” the coordinator’s overall role is to see that refugees are progressing toward “economic self-sufficiency.”
Sounds sensible, right? But for these purposes, “self-sufficiency” is defined by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, and—amazingly—it merely means that refugees aren’t receiving either Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Refugee Cash Assistance. So refugees can be collecting food stamps, medical benefits, housing benefits, energy assistance, and/or Supplemental Security Income, yet still be officially considered “self sufficient”!
“Self sufficient” or not, refugees from the Middle East are very heavy users of taxpayer handouts. According to data for 2013 from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, 91 percent of those who’d arrived between 2008 and 2013 were getting food stamps, 73 percent were using Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance, and 68 percent were on some form of cash welfare. Thus refugees are heavy burdens on citizens who pay federal taxes.
Further, the surge of non-English-speakers into public schools (requiring English as a Second Language teachers) and as clients of the court system and social services agencies (requiring interpreters) levies additional burdens on state and/or local taxpayers, since those services don’t qualify for the federal support that supposedly makes refugee resettlement cost-free to receiving communities. For example, news reporting from Amarillo says that the refugee-impacted city of about 200,000 currently fields 911 calls in 42 different languages.
Besides the ongoing costs for refugees’ welfare benefits and services, taxpayers heavily support the non-governmental organizations that actually import the refugees and sign them up, post haste, for all those benefits. One might guess from their names, such as Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains (the Denver-based non-profit with which our state refugee coordinator works), that these “voluntary agencies” are religious or civic charities, funded by donations. Instead, they’re essentially federal contractors, running their refugee operations primarily—typically about 90 percent—with government largesse.
As refugee-policy expert and Center for Immigration Studies Fellow Don Barnett wrote recently in the Washington Times, six-figure executive salaries “are the norm at the roughly 350 organizations affiliated with the nine major contractors. There are additional hundreds of supporting NGOs—most started and staffed by refugees and recent immigrants—soaking up grants from [nearly] every agency of government.”
In Missoula, the Soft Landing group has recruited the county commissioners to their cause. On Jan. 13, the commissioners sent a naive letter to the U.S. State Department, nearly begging for “approximately 100 refugees per year”—naive because, once started, the local officials will have no say about the actual numbers.
Missoula radio station KGVO, in an online article, quoted a leader in Soft Landing about their “obligation to help other humans fleeing from violence.” But the U.S. already takes in more refugees for permanent resettlement than all other nations combined. (That’s permanent, lifetime resettlement. The large refugee camps in the Middle East are temporary arrangements. And the ongoing tsunami of Middle Easterners and Africans into Europe are mostly economic opportunists, not refugees.)
Citizens who’d like to push back against these refugee initiatives can join a rally at the Missoula County courthouse, tomorrow (Monday, Feb. 1) at 10 a.m. ACT! for America’s Flathead chapter will be participating, and information is available at their website: http://actflatheadcounty.wix.com/montana; see the “Events” tab. ACT leadership can be contacted at 59911ActForAmerica@gmail.com.
Retired physicist Paul Nachman, of Bozeman, is a founding member of Montanans for Immigration Law Enforcement.