What is the world coming to?
Yesterday we learned that the Southern Poverty Law Center could (fingers crossed!) implode and now The New York Times (The New York Times!) reports on the deep dark secret about travel loans to refugees that you pay for with your tax dollars.
I first heard about the travel loans in 2007 and wrote about them from time to time at Refugee Resettlement Watch, but I don’t recall any major publication saying much about them and certainly not with a questioning tone about how the nine federal ‘non-profit’ refugee contractors benefit from collecting the loans.
For many of you it’s bad enough that we give no-interest loans and that a large number are never repaid, but for me the scam has always been that the contractors (six are supposedly ‘religious’ charities) benefit financially from the deal.
Here is The New York Times. The story begins with the obligatory sob story to soften up the reader.
Welcome, Refugees. Now Pay Back Your Travel Loans
A few years ago, when Rana Safieh learned that the United States had given her family refugee status, she was overjoyed.
In 2012, Ms. Safieh fled Syria with her four children after their house was bombed. Since then, Ms. Safieh, who had been an elementary schoolteacher in Damascus, had been living with her mother outside of Cairo. The money she’d saved from selling off her jewelry had run out, and she could find only part-time work. Ms. Safieh’s children were unable to attend Egyptian schools because of their immigration status.
In December 2016, as the family finally prepared to leave Egypt for the United States, Ms. Safieh signed a promissory note to repay a travel loan, offered by the International Organization for Migration on behalf of the State Department, which would cover their airline tickets.
“I was so happy I didn’t pay attention to how much they would charge me,” Ms. Safieh said in Arabic over the phone from Albany, where she now lives. “I just wanted to leave.”
About seven months later, Ms. Safieh started getting notices in the mail about paying back the $5,356 loan.
“I almost had a heart attack,” she said.
For decades, the State Department has funded interest-free travel loans to refugees who, like Ms. Safieh, cannot afford the cost of relocating here. Six months after their arrival, borrowers are expected to start repaying the loans to one of nine private nonprofits, known as resettlement agencies, which are involved in helping refugees start their new lives here. When refugees make their travel plans, they are assigned one of these resettlement agencies through the International Organization for Migration, which administers the travel loans.
I want you to open the link above for the nine private nonprofits and see that The New York Times actually uses information from the Center for Immigration Studies —will wonders never cease!
The NYT continues….
The average loan per person is $1,100, and that amount can quickly increase when considering a full family. Meanwhile the resettlement agencies, including World Relief, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the International Rescue Committee, all of which collect the travel loan payments but have nothing to do with granting them to begin with, retain up to 25 percent of the total payments.
According to the most recent data from the State Department, in 2017, refugees made over $66 million in loan repayments. Of that amount, a bit over $14 million went to the resettlement agencies.
Some advocates think that these agencies should not be taking money from those they are trying to help. The nonprofits involved claim that these fees go toward their administration costs and programming, all of which is focused on giving refugees long-term financial security.
Eskinder Negash, the president and chief executive of the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, the agency assigned to collect payments from both Ms. Safieh and the Majeeds, argues that the fee is fair; if the State Department requires refugees to pay back their loans, his nonprofit should be allowed to recoup its costs, which include paying three full-time employees who coordinate the repayments.
“The question is whether we should charge refugees for their transportation to begin with,” Mr. Negash said.
According to a spokeswoman for the State Department, which, it must be said, takes a loss in the travel loan transactions, having refugees pay for their travel expenses helps defray resettlement costs and can strengthen the newcomers’ resolve for a successful migration.
To date, slightly over 18 percent of all the loans issued to refugees in 2016 did not receive a single payment, according to data from the State Department. These missed payments were reported to credit agencies.
The (bogus) argument by both the State Department and the contractors is that it teaches refugees how the American credit system works and that they must have good credit to survive. The flip side of course is that when they don’t pay, as so many can’t pay (because we have imported very poor people), it means they develop a terrible credit score!
There is much more here.
But, that still doesn’t answer the question about why the collection agency must be the contractors who then get to pocket millions of YOUR tax dollars!
By the way, Judicial Watch attempted to get travel loan information out of the US State Department here.
What do you do? This is one more issue you should let the President know about. The Administration could reform this portion of the US Refugee Admissions Program if they wanted to without Congress.