Refugees in Nebraska Part 2: Vetting and Financial Resources for Resettlement

With the largest refugee crisis in modern day history there have been many concerns as to who is entering our country.

Are the current procedures used by federal agencies enough to keep U.S. citizens safe?

That's what people want to know.

Refugees and agencies who help resettle them say the vetting process is already long and difficult and can take anywhere between two to five years.

But many U.S. citizens, including a newly elected State Senator Tom Brewer from District 43, wants a clearer picture as to who is coming into the country, especially in Nebraska, "The concern always is being able to vet them because really in Iraq and Afghanistan we had a pretty good system of knowing who they were, their history, what they had done, if they were working for the U.S. forces; there was a lot of data to go to. Unfortunately, with the Syrians we have nothing and so there's always a concern you're going to have individuals that may not have the best of intentions getting into our country."

Lacey Studnicka, Program Development Officer with Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (LFS), says there is already a thorough process being done, "There's different layers, there are five agencies that vet refugees."

Each one of those federal agencies which include, the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of Defense, conduct several interviews, background checks and biometric scans.

Additional steps for Syrian refugees are conducted due to the lack of background information and missing documents lost during bomb droppings on their homes, according to Fa’iz Rab, Director of Public Relations for LFS, “According to the State Department, Syrians tend to have more identity documents than other refugee groups around the world and the reasons they give for missing documents can be verified.”

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as of 2015 over 23,000 Syrian refugees were referred for refugee status, only 2,000 were admitted.

Rab says that of the 5 million Syrian refugees, 75% are women and children.

Studnicka says that the slightest error could eliminate them from the process, "If there is one discrepancy between the multiple interviews that a refugee faces then they are disqualified."

But before any individual seeking asylum reaches this point in the process they first need to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at the UN Refugee Agency and get approval.

Studnicka says even the people who worked for our military and had high security clearances, had to wait and go through the same process.

Bashar Karim and Iraqi refugee living in Lincoln, was able to come to the U.S. on a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters.

"We worked very hard with the American troops, with the American government, so I think we proven for the official that we are faithful, we are hard worker, we are honest, we are loyal to the U.S. government," says Karim.

But after President Trumps executive order banning travel from 7 countries including Iraq, his cousin Faisal Mahatta, a human rights lawyer in Erbil, Iraq, says the situation there has gotten much worse, "We know that America is a first country of democracy and human rights and all of that, but now the whole view has changed, people don't look at America as a democracy or as a human rights protector, all of that, people really think differently of the U.S. now."

Senator Tom Brewer drafted a "Refugee Resettlement Notification Act," requesting more information on refugees coming to Nebraska and more transparency with the financial resources used to help place them.

"We are living in somewhat of a vacuum, we don't know where they are from, or how many, or, there's just a lot variables; with this it would give us a better idea on how to manage Nebraska resources so that they are available at the right time," says Brewer.

Todd Reckling, Vice President of the Refugee Program for LFS says the bill is asking for services and information that are already provided to the state, “We think that many of the requirements in the bill are duplicative the state for example knows when they review applications for benefit eligibility for the different public assistance programs, the state has that information in their computer system about what services the refugee is receiving and how much benefit amount is going to each person."

According to LFS the funding comes from the federal level where each refugee gets approximately $2,000, part of which is a travel loan that has to be paid back in full.

"Once you've been in the country for 6 months, then refugees receive their first bill to pay back those travel loans, it is an interest free loan issued by the government and so they have a long period of time to pay that off, but they do have to pay it off," says Studnicka.

Reckling breaks down the amount as such, “The $1125 that passes through LFS for each refugee resettled is used for items like monthly rent, rental and utility deposits, furniture, groceries, clothing, etc. LFS only receives a one-time payment of $875-$925 per refugee which is intended to cover all our costs to deliver resettlement case management services during their first 90 days in Nebraska.”

That money comes from the federal government into the 9 VOLAG’s, and flows down to local refugee resettlement agencies.

However, Studnicka says many pay it off within the first year, “You know, in our community we have over 400 families from Burma who have purchased homes within the first 18 months to two years they’ve lived here, so they are just paying off their travel loan and buying houses and owning businesses.”

She says LFS has an 85% success rate in placing refugees in jobs within the first 60-90 days in the U.S.

Once refugees get a job they also start paying taxes and are able to get benefits like any other U.S. citizen.

During those first 90 days, refugees are required to attend English classes, medical and mental appointments, and make sure their kids are enrolled in school all in order to receive any benefits. LFS keeps a log of the amount of money that is being used and for what purposes.

“Language acquisition is such an important piece for success and so it’s something we are really committed to, and then we have cultural orientation class where we have the police department and the fire department and community partners coming in to educate about our laws,” explains Studnicka.

Although it may take time for refugees to adjust to a new country, Karim says a simple hello helps make a difference, "Someone knocked on my door and said, 'I'm from church so and so I'm a volunteer I just heard about you coming here, you and your family, we just would like to see what you need, how you're doing, if you need any help,' that was everything for me."

LFS says that the information regarding what refugees and from what countries are coming into the U.S. is always available through the Refugee Processing Center.

The LB 505 will be reviewed March 2.

Related Stories; Refugees in Nebraska: Seeking the Good Life Part 1

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