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Colorado Refugee Patterns Over The Years – (the first in a Series)

September 24, 2015
Emily Griffith Technical College - a hub for refugee education, training in Colorado

Emily Griffith Technical College in downtown Denver – a hub for refugee education, training in Colorado

1. Colorado and the European Refugee Crisis

Recent news reports from the Obama Administration have announced that in part to help ease the European refugee crisis, that over the next few years the United States will increase the number of refugees authorized to enter the country, upping the number accepted annually from the current 70,000 levels to 100,000 by 2017. It is likely to include a national influx of Syrian refugees, as the number of those forced into refugee exile from that country now exceeds 4 million people. The number of Syrian refugees admitted to this country up until now is a paltry 2000, but the Obama Administration has announced that it will accept another 10,000 over the next few years.

Given the enormity of the overall refugee crisis affecting Europe, that besides Syrians, includes refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya – just to name a few of the places of origin – the increase in refugee numbers here in the USA is just a drop in the bucket. As for the great state of Colorado, it’s contribution to absorbing Syrian refugees up until now stands at a whopping fourteen, with all of two granted asylum in our state last year, although the civil war and overall crisis has been well underway for a long time.

True enough, there are more logical places  than Colorado – the Detroit area (as well as other mid-Western cities – Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco come to mind – where Syrians could join already existing Arab Communities. But then when the flood of war-era Vietnamese refugees began migrating to Colorado, there were very few of them here originally. Nationwide, the United States accepted more than 200,000 Vietnamese. How many Syrians will be welcomed here is an open question. More and more, in large measure as a result of the burgeoning price of housing and rentals in the Denver area, many refugees to the state are finding lodging in Aurora, the city just east of Denver, which has become one of the most multinational cities – not only in the West – but nationally. 

2. Colorado Refugee-Asylum Patterns: 1980 2014

Colorado is considered one of the more welcoming states for refugees seeking either economic and political asylum, its refugee transitioning programs considered better than  most places, this despite a system that is underfunded and overworked. Looking at Colorado refugee historical trends, what is striking about the statistics provided by the Colorado state agency concerned with coordinating refugee influx into the state, is how politicized are the results. This is not so much a function of state priorities as it is the policies of the U.S. State Department that makes the decisions as to who will be permitted entrance into the country as a whole, in what numbers and sent to which specific localities. Colorado’s share is then processed through Colorado Refugee Services, a state agency, which in turn farms out the specific cases to several community agencies, among them Lutheran Refugee Services, the African Community Center and Jewish Community Services.More specifically, Colorado Refugee Services decides on numbers with local VOLAGs (the voluntary agencies working with this clientele such as LFS and ACC), but specific cases are decided by national offices such as ECDC, EMM, CWS, etc.

Jewish Community Services’ refugee work centered overwhelming around settling Russian Jews in Colorado and, as related to me, their work of receiving refugees has essentially ended for the moment. A fourth organization, the Ecumenical Refugee and Immigration Service (ERIS) used to handle refugees too, but collapsed and closed shop earlier this year after a scandal erupted after which its funding base collapsed. For the moment, that leaves the two agencies, Lutheran Refugee Services and the African Community Center handling all the refugee cases in the state.

The Colorado Refugee Services Program is run out of the Colorado Division of Human Services.  It has put together data on Colorado refugee patterns over the past 35 years in a spread sheet document entitled “Refugees,-Asylees-Secondaries – Colorado 1980 – 2014.” It provides interesting data, insights into Colorado refugee patterns. Like most statistical analyses one has to wonder about accuracy, what has been left out, but still gives a sense of refugee trends, a few highlights of which are worth mentioning

★ From 1980 through 2014 this state has processed some 50,207 refugees. They came through four agencies, two of which are still active.
★ The largest influx was in the first year of this record-keeping – 1980 – with 4200 refugees entering the state, of those, nearly 4100 came from three countries: Vietnam (1544), Laos (836) and Cambodia (276). These populations were made up largely of political refugees, allies of the U.S. Vietnam War effort who feared for their lives in all three countries after U.S. allies were overthrown by armed struggles. A separate category was created for the Hmong people, the mountain people who cooperated with the C.I.A. in both heroin and counter-insurgency operations. 1435 of them legally entered Denver as refugees.
★ Across all the years documented some 10,788 Vietnamese were settled in Colorado, 3221 Laotians, 2269 Cambodians and 2536 Hmong for a combined total of nearly 19000 from SE Asia over the period. The numbers of these categories taper off considerably after the millennium
★ Beginning around 2000 two other groups of South Asian refugees begin to arrive here in significant numbers, again, from countries undergoing political turmoil: Burma and Nepal. Starting in the late 1990s the Burmese started trickling in. Ten years ago, their numbers begin to explode into the hundreds each year, so that by 2014, last year, there were, according to the records anyway, 3830 of them in Colorado. During approximately the same period, as the political crisis in Nepal deepened, Colorado received 3221 Nepalese.
★ The South Asian refugees accepted from other countries exist, but are numerically insignificant, ie. 6 from India, 14 from Thailand, 22 from Indonesia, a whopping 71 from China.

The pattern of refugee migration from Europe and Central Asia (lumped together as a category) are equally telling:

★ The greatest influx by far in this category includes refugees from the former Soviet Union, and after its collapse, from Russia. Although it is not stated in the figures, I’m pretty sure that most of these are Soviet Jews. The trickle in the 1980s becomes a flood right around the time of the collapse of Communism (1989 – 1991) and continues in large numbers through around 2005 when it tapers off again. All told, throughout the entire period, some 6062 people emigrated from the former USSR-Russia to Colorado, most of whom (I would bet) settled in Denver
★ There was a spate of refugees entering Colorado at the height of the awful ethnic clashes in the former Yugoslavia (1993-2003). After 2003 these numbers completely collapse. Some 2130 people settled in Colorado from Bosnia and Herzegovina during that period.
★ More recently, given the crisis in Ukraine some 850 people have entered the state, virtually all of them admitted in the past few years.

Given the chronically bad situation in the Middle East and North Africa, it is notable how few are the numbers from that region given refugee status.

★ Should we be surprised, given the U.S. role in intervening militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan, that the these two countries have the highest numbers of entries – 2731 from Iraq, 1021 from Afghanistan.
★ This is a drop in the bucket given the extent of the damage done and the millions of people in both countries that have been forced to live in refugee status. In fact, the numbers suggest a systematic campaign to keep them out, keep the numbers down.
★ Particularly shameful are the number of refugees granted asylum from Syria, where now the civil-regional war has produced more than 4 million refugees. According to the data presented, Colorado has admitted all of 14 of them. Oh yes, over the course of the past 35 years, the state has admitted a whopping 4 Palestinians, and all these in one year, 2013.

Even more surprising is the paltry number of refugees entering Colorado from Latin America, a region/continent where the United States bears much responsibility for the political and refugee crisis of the past 65 years.

★ Over the entire 34 period, only 801 people from countries south of the United States have been given refugee status (this out of, again, a total of 50,207 accepted)
★ Of that number a full 514 or nearly two-thirds the total came from Cuba alone, suggesting the politicized nature of the national selection system
★ Yet countries where the United States has supported military dictators and this or that right-wing kooks, wracked by civil wars, are very poorly represented. El Salvador, a country where U.S. intervention wreaked havoc, has provided not a one refugee to Colorado during the said mentioned period. In 34 years, during which time some 250,000 people, mostly indigenous Mayans, were slaughtered by one of the most ruthless – and U.S. supported militaries in the world, 1 person !!!, 1 Guatemalan has enjoyed refugee status in our state, and that most recently in 2013. Virtually no one from either Brazil or Argentina, run for decades by cruel (and again U.S. installed and supported) military dictatorships was granted entry (1 for Brazil and 0 for Argentina, the name of which isn’t even on the list).
★ In the same light, having provoked a civil war in Nicaragua in which the Reagan Administration, upset that nationalist government had come to power (the Sandinistas), essentially trained, armed and politically directed a right-wing, Nazi-like “Contra” rebellion that tore the country in half. Besides putting a naval blockade in place against the country, the U.S. funded multiple, C.I.A-type disruption operations. While no reliable figures of the casualties are available, some estimates suggest that as many as 50,000 died (1981-1989). Of the hundreds of thousands made refugee, 1980-2014, the United States accepted a whopping 14!
★ There are no statistics for Chile, not a one Chilean admitted in the aftermath of the September 11, 1973 U.S. sponsored coup. Nor is El Salvador, with its horrific 1980s civil war in which the Reagan Administration stood by and armed the local latifundia and military, represented by even one refugee in Colorado. Same goes for Honduras.

3. ERIS – Serta Bed Bug Free Mattress Scandal

Unfortunately, one Colorado refugee services was recently targeted by different scam artists to cash in big time. Such a caper was one of a number of elements in its collapse. The reasons why ERIS closed shop are multi-layered, mostly lack of good Board Of Directors’ oversight. ERIS had financial problems for the last few years and the scandal was just one more layer on topbrought down ERIS, an organization which otherwise, it appears, did good work on the whole. Then came to “Bed Bug Free Mattrress Scandal” to tip the balance.” Back in late April (2015) an ERIS employee since 1999, Genevieve Cruz, 57, was indicted by the Adams County prosecutor on two counts: theft of a $1 million or more plus one count of charitable fraud.

In the case, Cruz and a partner, Adam Shyrock, under false pretenses, obtained Serta mattresses returned under Serta’s warranty program. Using Cruz’s connection to ERIS, the two claimed the offered mattresses  were being donated to ERIS and distributed to refugees. Serta thought it was recycling perfectly decent bed bug free mattresses to people in need. But the mattresses never went to ERIS nor to the refugees to whom they were intended. Instead they were redirected to a warehouse in Adams County out of which, it is alleged that Cruz and Shyrock sold them for profit at reduced prices, both within Colorado and across state lines. “Creative” little operation. $1 million divided two ways – nice haul, at the expense of Colorado’s most vulnerable.

Their cases now separated, Cruz and Shyrock are awaiting trial. According to the Adams County District Attorney’s office, Shyrock, who appeared in court on August 26,  will be back before the docket on October 9. Cruz was formally arraigned on September 2. Her case is scheduled to go to trial on January 25-26, 2016 in what is scheduled to be a two-day trial.

This was not a first scam operation for Shyrock, Cruz’ partner, who seems have developed nothing short of a calling for these activities. Earlier he ran the racily named, Boobies Rock! a  fraudulent breast cancer charity, investigated by the State’s Attorney General’s office in 2013. Lovely young woman, referred to in one article as “hotties” with extended chests and low cult dresses, their boobies rocking, would cozy up to men in bars and shake them down for contributions to Boobies Rock! – not a bad strategy given how men, in bars or out, tend to follow their cocks around. Worked like a charm, with Shyrock making oodles of money until the Adams County D.A. office got wind of it. For all his organizational adroitness, Shyrock got nailed and was ordered to pay $5.89 million in restitution…and spend six months in prison.

All this would have a certain amusing aspect to it if not for the facts that ultimately it was Colorado’s refugee community that got the raw end of the deal and publicity around the case hurt ERIS’ funding potential. Reliant on soft money grants and contributions, funding sources, I was told, quickly dried up. Shortly thereafter, the non-profit dissolved, leaving refugee management in the state now to two overworked, understaffed organizations – Lutheran Refugee Services and the African Community Center.

_______________________________

Links:

Are The Lives of Afrikan Refugees Not Worth Saving Also? – this piece looks at how refugees coming from Sub-Sahara Africa are treated differently – much worse – than those coming from Syria in Arab countries like Tunisia and Egypt. Worth reading.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarge Cheever permalink
    September 24, 2015 12:19 pm

    “Spate”, not “spat”, of refugees. Only “spat” if they argue. Or expectorate. fsc

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