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Office of Refugee Resettlement Year in Review - FY2014

Published: January 16, 2015

Syrian Girls 2

Dear colleagues and friends,

In FY2014, the United States welcomed refugees from 67 countries across the globe, and for the second year in a row, the highest admissions were from refugees from Iraq and Burma, followed by those from Somalia, Bhutan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, accounting for more than 56,000 (81%) of all arrivals.  Iraqi refugees continued to suffer from secondary displacement—and in some cases, tertiary displacement—as the civil war in Syria rages on. 

For the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), two thousand fourteen was a historic year, with a mass influx of unaccompanied children from Central America that totaled close to 58,000 children by year’s end—more than twice the number received in FY2013, and nearly the sum of the previous five years combined.

This influx of children expanded the overall population served by ORR and its partners to approximately 185,000 new arrivals in Fiscal Year 2014, comprised of refugees and asylees, Special Immigrant Visa holders, Cuban/Haitian Entrants and Parolees, victims of Human Trafficking, and Unaccompanied Children (UC).

Throughout the uncertainties of funding and services, ORR’s program partners carried out their mandates to assist newly-arrived persons in myriad and creative ways that are truly inspiring.  This commitment to service across the networks—refugee and unaccompanied children alike—is extraordinary, and makes the United States Refugee Program and Unaccompanied Children’s Program shining examples of a humanitarian response and a true public-private partnership.  I am proud to be part of a program that not only other countries seek to emulate, but one which puts refugees and unaccompanied children first, and upholds our humanitarian commitment to those who seek freedom from persecution and the opportunity to live a life of safety and dignity on our shores. 

It has been my great privilege of a life time to serve with all of you as Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement these last six years, and as I take my leave, I extend my utmost appreciation to my ORR colleagues and to all of you for your continued support of our mission. 

Highlights of ORR’s activities and achievements for Fiscal Year 2014 are included here; for additional information about these and other issues, please visit the ORR website, or contact ORR directly. 

Eskinder Negash

FY2014: The Year in Review

In 2014, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) instituted several new approaches to service, and revamped other mechanisms to enhance programming and interaction with stakeholders, and expand partnerships at all levels.  Continuing the schedule of regular conference calls with Ethnic Community Based Organizations, State Refugee Coordinators and Health Coordinators; quarterly joint placement meetings with the State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), and expanding outreach meetings with federal partners and technical assistance providers, ORR leadership kept up to date with changes in state programs, successes achieved by ORR’s partners, and other developments affecting the resettlement of refugees in our communities and the timely provision of services to unaccompanied children in ORR’s temporary care.

Highlights and accomplishments in FY2014 include:
ORR Regional Offices
Expanding its return to a Regional Office structure, ORR added four new Regional Representatives (RR) in FY2014: Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas, and San Francisco, California.  The new RRs joined those in Atlanta, Georgia and Denver, Colorado, in an initiative that continues to grow.  Looking forward to FY2015, ORR expects to place two more RRs, supporting programs from Kansas City, Missouri, and Seattle, Washington.  In addition to state analyst duties, Regional Representatives conduct broad local outreach and engagement with refugees and resettlement stakeholders, and work with federal, state and local partners to align services and ensure that services are being provided with the best interests of refugees in mind.

Introducing, the CNCS RefugeeCorps

ORR is pleased to announce the establishment of a new partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)—the agency that supports the AmeriCorps program, the RefugeeCorps.  An entirely new initiative, this program places former refugees in positions at resettlement agencies to work directly with new arrivals.  The goal is to improve the self-sufficiency and well-being of refugee populations and promote successful local integration.

Programs will focus on three key areas:
  1. Economic Opportunity: improved economic well-being and security; improved access to financial literacy-focused services; safe, affordable housing; and, improved employability;
  2. Education: improved educational outcomes for economically disadvantaged children; improved school readiness and educational outcomes for children; and, post-secondary education, and
  3. Healthy Futures: improved access to primary and preventative health care; increased physical activity; and, improved nutrition in youth and reduction in childhood obesity.

This new RefugeeCorps will begin in late Summer/Fall 2015 with nine agencies, with a plan to expand the program to every refugee resettlement site in the U.S. over the next few years.  Participating RefugeeCorps members receive the same benefits as a traditional AmeriCorps member, including a stipend, post-service educational benefit, health insurance and other benefits. ORR will provide the funding for this program to national voluntary agencies through the Preferred Communities grant. 

Division of Policy

Over the past several years, ORR programs have expanded significantly, creating challenging and distinctive policy and procedural challenges for the office and its partners.  ORR operates six multifaceted programs: Unaccompanied Children, Anti-Trafficking in Persons, Refugee Resettlement, Survivors of Torture, Unaccompanied Refugee Minors, and Repatriation.  With the increasing need to manage day-to-day activities and simultaneously develop and interpret policies, regulations and initiatives, these programs require significant on-going policy development, analysis and liaison with several Federal partners.  As a result, ORR created a new, distinct Division of Policy, to advise the Director and Division heads on policy initiatives, and navigate the growing and challenging mandates of these programs.   

Moving into FY2015, the new Division of Policy has issued an Interim Final Rule on standards to prevent, detect, and respond to reports of sexual abuse and sexual harassment involving unaccompanied children.  This rule is the first regulation to comprehensively address the issues of sexual abuse and sexual harassment in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) care provider facilities nationwide.  The standards build upon and enhance existing state and local laws, regulations, and licensing standards, and is a key tool to ensure the protection of children in ORR’s temporary care.


Anti-Trafficking in Persons

The Anti-Trafficking in Persons (ATIP) Division supports the Rescue & Restore Campaign to raise awareness of the fight against human trafficking.  One of ATIP’s key partners is the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), which operates a national, toll-free hotline that works to protect victims of human trafficking in the U.S. by providing callers with a range of comprehensive services including: crisis intervention, tip reporting, comprehensive anti-trafficking resources, and technical assistance for the anti-trafficking field and those who wish to get involved.

In 2014, the ORR/ATIP-funded National Human Trafficking Resource Center received over 27,000 phone calls, more than 21,500 of them related to trafficking.  HHS also distributed free of charge approximately 800,000 pieces of original, branded public awareness materials publicizing the NHTRC in 2014.

ATIP is also the sole federal agency authorized to certify adult foreign victims of human trafficking, and provide eligibility letters to minor foreign victims of human trafficking.  In 2014, ORR issued over 530 Certification Letters and more than 210 Eligibility Letters, which granted recipients access to benefits and services to the same extent as refugees.  Eligibility Letters for child victims of trafficking were nearly double the total issued in FY2013. 

For more information on upcoming webinars and events, please sign up for the Rescue & Restore listserv, or visit the Rescue & Restore page on the ORR website.

Refugee Health

In FY 2014, ORR’s newest Division, the Division of Refugee Health, hired its first licensed physician as Division Director, Dr. Curi Kim.  During the year, DRH instituted a number of changes in its approach to improving refugees’ access to health care and overall wellness.  To begin, ORR re-structured the Preventive Health program by distinguishing allowable activities under this grant from Refugee Medical Assistance and Refugee Medical Screening.  The re-structured grant was renamed Refugee Health Promotion (RHP) and focuses on continuing Affordable Care Act (ACA) outreach, health literacy, health education and case management services.  In September 2014, for the first year of this new grant, ORR awarded 38 new RHP grants, totaling $4.6 million in overall funding to state programs that will promote health activities, prioritizing the continuum of care from arrival through integration.

DRH launched several key initiatives during the year to support refugee health and wellness, issuing two State Letters that provided guidance on Affordable Care Act (ACA) changes on RMA eligibility; preparing for revisions to RMA regulations; developing frameworks to fairly evaluate health-related administration costs, and refining ORR’s vision for refugee health.

This vision includes refugee health-related outreach and education to the refugee resettlement network—a key priority for ORR.  Early in the year, a women’s health video series for Somali refugees (in Somali, subtitled in English) was released, and is posted on the ORR website.  DRH also created a mental health video in response to the epidemic of Bhutanese refugee suicides, which is in the final stages of completion and will be released in Spring 2015.  ORR also sponsored a Mental Health First Aid training for 120 Bhutanese community leaders, in continuing efforts to address the issue of suicide, and strengthen existing resources within the community.  DRH also began work on a second women’s health video series, this one designed for and with Congolese refugee women and presented in Congo Swahili.  Leveraging inter-agency collaboration, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) translated emergency preparedness booklets developed by ORR into 14 refugee languages.  DRH also hosted a webinar on autism for the refugee community, and continued to produce newsletters on refugee health topics.

Videos, webinars and other materials are available on the Refugee Health pages of the ORR website.

Refugee Resettlement

There were several notable changes to the Refugee Resettlement programs, beginning with the expansion of the Regional Representative structure to six regions and growing.  In addition, ORR bid farewell to several long-serving staff members who retired in FY2014, including Division of Refugee Assistance (DRA) Director Mitiku Ashebir; DRA State Analysts Bill McPherrin, Lorraine Berry, and Thuy Nguyen, and Program Manager for the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (RAPP), Larry Laverentz. 

The Ethnic Community Self Help program received several accolades in FY2014, including recognition from the National Security Council acknowledging ORR’s key role in convening an informational call and civil society listening session for U.S. Government principals on the topic of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.  Also, during the White House National Convening on Immigrant and Refugee Integration, held in July, ORR current and former grantees Somali Family Service of San Diego, Refugee Family Services, and the Tucson International Alliance of Refugee Communities were recognized for their work to support ethnic communities.

The Individual Development Account (IDA) program helps refugees and their families save money to purchase a home, pay for higher education, or open a business, with the government providing $2 for every $1 saved (up to $2,000 per individual, or $4,000 for families).  In FY2014, over 1,800 clients enrolled in the IDA program, accumulating more than $2.8 million in savings, and purchasing $1.1 million in assets.

The Voluntary Agencies Matching Grant (MG) Program is offered as an alternative to public cash assistance.  The MG Program is designed to enable refugees and other ORR eligible populations to become economically self-sufficient through employment within 120 to 180 days from date of arrival into the U.S. and/or date of eligibility for ORR services.  Services provided under these cooperative agreement include, but are not limited to, case management, employment services, housing and utilities, food, transportation, cash allowance, health and medical, English language training, social adjustment, and other support services. In all cases, self-sufficiency must be achieved without accessing public cash assistance, and all program services cease at 180 days from program eligibility.

29,787 individuals at 234 locations nationwide enrolled in the Matching Grant program in FY2014, and achieved an overall 76% economic self-sufficiency rate—an increase of 7 percentage points from FY13.  The highest 180 day self-sufficiency outcome was recorded by Church World Service (CWS) in Dorel, FL, at 96%.  Forty-three other sites reported 180 day self-sufficiency over 90%. 

Another important development designed to increase refugees’ access to appropriate services and benefits came in the Matching Grant program.  The FY2015 Matching Grant Program Guidelines include waiver language allowing enrollees to transfer from one resettlement agency to another (within or across states) if there are special needs that are not being met—including medical services, rare language requirements, or support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT) cases where such services did not exist in the initial resettlement site. 

ORR’s two Microenterprise Development programs provide micro-loans and business development support to refugees, proving that a little goes a long way.  In FY2014, the traditional Microenterprise Development program provided nearly 10,000 hours of pre-loan technical assistance to grantees, including one-on-one counseling, training on small business development, and assisting clients in the preparation of business plans.  The program also made more than 550 loans, and disbursed more than $3.5 million dollars, creating or retaining more than 1,000 employment opportunities to other low income people, including family and community members.  Most impressively, grantees in the MED program leveraged nearly $7.6 million in funding from outside sources, to support their small businesses.  Refugee-owned business are growing, across the country and in communities big and small.  In many places, they are also revitalizing areas previously impacted by economic downturns, and filling niche markets with familiar goods and services, as well as mainstream business opportunities and franchises. 

Also in FY2014, the Funding Opportunity Announcement for the newer Microenterprise Development Home-Based Child Care program aimed toward refugee mothers was revised to meet ACF’s Office of Child Care standards.  An estimated 370 home-based child care businesses have been started so far, providing sustainable income and a career—not just a job—to refugee mothers.

In addition to sponsoring the new RefugeeCorps initiative, ORR’s Preferred Communities Program focuses on special populations needing intensive case management.  This year, ORR expanded programs and funding to include those with special medical and mental health conditions, serving over 8,500 refugees in 120 sites nationwide, through 27 grantees.  One example is the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) development of local site capacity to serve the complex mental health needs of refugees, including LGBT populations, in Denver, CO, Grand Rapids, MI, and Boise, ID.  The PC program was funded at $9.7 million in FY2014.

In May, the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (RAPP) grantee network gathered for a refugee farming conference in Phoenix, AZ, sponsored by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and ISED Solutions.  The current grantees accessed more than 39 acres of land for community gardens and market production in FY2014, bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to the tables of refugee families and their communities at large.

Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM)

The Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program continues to grow, with close to 1,700 children served in the program in FY2014, from 49 different countries.  Transfers of Unaccompanied  Children (UC) granted Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status continue to overtake traditional overseas arrival refugees, which accounted for less than half of all new URM participants last year.  The top five countries of origin for URM participants served in FY2014 were Honduras and Guatemala, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea and Burma. 
Reporting and data management has been a key focus for the URM Team; in FY2014, they incorporated new electronic reporting forms (ORR-3 and 4) into the URM database.  This change will provide ORR with more accurate and timely data about the URM population and, in the future, information on how the children are accomplishing their goals of independence. 

Unaccompanied Children

In FY2014, the unanticipated rate and referral numbers of Unaccompanied Children (UC) surpassed program planning, physical capacity and staffing, and stretched funding authorization at an historic rate for the United States.  In total, ORR placed 57,496 children in 124 facilities across 15 states. In May and June alone, ORR received 19,628 children for placement, representing 34% of the annual total for FY2014.

During the height of the summer influx, ORR coordinated with the Department of Defense (DoD) to utilize three DoD installations (Fort Sill in OK, Port Hueneme Naval Base in Ventura, CA, and Joint Base San Antonio (Lackland) in San Antonio, TX).  ORR and its partners worked tirelessly throughout the summer influx, addressing emergent medical issues and implementing protocols to prevent backlogs in placements, to ensure that the children received appropriate medical screening and care.  Faced with unprecedented numbers of children arriving at DHS border patrol stations faster than space could be found in the network to accommodate them, the team worked tirelessly and creatively around the clock to clear the backlogs at over-crowded border patrol stations, and move the children quickly and safely into appropriate shelter beds.  ORR is grateful for the assistance of HHS, DHS, and the White House, and most importantly, to the Department of Defense which was instrumental in helping ORR attend to the critical protection needs of the children, by providing temporary shelter on the three bases.

In simple numbers,

  • two-thirds of children referred to ORR in FY2014 were male
  • 21% were 12 years of age or younger
  • 96% of all referrals came from three countries: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala
  • Overall bed capacity increased by more than 70%

Looking ahead to FY2015, it is difficult to project how many children may arrive, but ORR staff and partners are working diligently to create surge capacity and medical plans; continue streamlining program policies and procedures; reform post-release and home study services; ensure adequate staffing and oversight, and remain flexible to accommodate seasonal patterns of referrals that are subject to change at any time.

Partnership Building

ORR has been actively engaged in outreach and partnership efforts to a range of federal entities, including within ACF/HHS. Using a client-centered approach, ORR’s goal is to build partnerships that will better serve refugees and other eligible ORR populations who may otherwise not be considered within other mainstream programs and initiatives. ORR is promoting integration by connecting refugees to critical mainstream resources and raising awareness that serving refugees requires a community-wide engagement across this nation, particularly for programs and agencies responding to the health, education and human service needs of low-income and underserved populations.

In addition to recent historic partnership efforts at ACF, ORR is working closely with the HHS Offices of Minority Health (OMH), Women’s Health (OWH), Civil Rights (OCR), Global Affairs (OGA), Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA), the Partnership Center (CFBNP), CMS, CDC, and SAMHSA among others to explore and develop opportunities for linkages and increased collaboration and consideration of refugee issues. ORR is grateful to its HHS partners willing to serve as Refugee Champions across the Department by linking ORR to HHS initiatives and raising awareness of refugee issues. Through expanded federal outreach efforts, ORR has helped remind its partners and far-reaching networks to consider refugees in their: outreach, public engagement, strategic planning, events and meetings, policy deliberations, funding opportunities and services.

In July, ORR Director Eskinder Negash participated in the White House’s National Convening on Immigrant and Refugee Integration, featuring many of the Administration’s initiatives to promote Immigrant and Refugee Integration. These initiatives include several historic firsts for ORR, including:

  • A Dear Colleague letter sent by the Office of Community Services to its Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) stakeholders, announcing a partnership between OCS and ORR.  This letter—the first of its kind at ACF—encourages partnerships between the CSBG and refugee resettlement networks, emphasizing that CSBG lead agencies and their partners can help support refugee resettlement by linking them to community services projects, technical assistance resources, funding opportunity announcements, and outreach/partnership initiatives.
  • ORR and the Office of Child Care (OCC) released a joint Information Memorandum (IM) to lead agencies administering child care programs under the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act. The purpose of this memorandum, the first of its kind in ACF, is to create linkages between the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) lead agencies and the Refugee Resettlement Networks. It offers strong encouragement to partner at the state, regional and local levels to increase refugee families’ access to high-quality child care; guidance about how this collaboration can occur; and specific action items to take into consideration.

ORR continues to prioritize partnership-building and integration services for refugees and the network.  Information about these and other programs may be found on the ORR website, or by contacting ORR directly at 202.401.9246.