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More than 100 Syrian refugees could soon be in Mobile, given Medicaid and food stamps

Migrants pass through the border from Greece into Macedonia near the town of Idomeni, Northern Greece, on Aug. 22. (Sakis Mitroldis/AFP/Getty Images)
Migrants pass through the border from Greece into Macedonia near the town of Idomeni, Northern Greece, on Aug. 22. (Sakis Mitroldis/AFP/Getty Images)

MOBILE, Ala. — According to the U.S. State Department, more than 100 Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees could soon be housed in Mobile where they would receive Social Security cards and could become eligible for Medicaid, food stamps, and other welfare services.

Over the weekend Secretary of State John Kerry called on the federal government to admit 85,000 refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries over the next two years, up from the 10,000 originally mandated by President Obama last week.

In light of this imminent influx of refugees, Congressman Bradley Byrne sent a letter to the State Department, imploring them to make known to him the security criteria refugees, who are estimated to be primarily males, will be subject to before they are allowed to enter the United States.

“I have very serious concerns about the impact the refugees could have on our nation’s security,” Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) told Yellowhammer. “Given the fact that some of these refugees may wind up in South Alabama, I believe the State Department owes my constituents clear answers about the screening process these individuals must undergo. While I certainly understand the crisis in the Middle East, we should never lose sight of our government’s top priority: to keep the American people safe.”

There is only one organization in Alabama that works with the State Department to house refugees, Catholic Social Services (CSS) in Mobile.

Though the CSS is part of the church’s Archdiocese of Mobile, the program is completely funded by the federal government. CSS volunteer outreach coordinator Erin Dunn told Yellowhammer the service is equipped to provide assistance to up to 130 new refugees in the coming year.

“We work with them for about 6 months to help them become self sufficient,” explained Dunn. “We have various programs that our case managers walk them through, and we have a job developer that helps them find jobs, and case managers work on connecting them to local resources… As volunteer outreach coordinator, I work with volunteers who are willing to help teach them English, or take them to the grocery store, or teach them how to ride the bus. It’s pretty much everything you can think of to help orient them to the city so after six months they’re able to be self sufficient.”

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the State Department will provide $1,850 per refugee for the first three months of assistance, to be used for reception, initial housing, food, clothing, referrals services and social programs.

If the refugees are not able to find a job in those first three months, or are precluded from doing so due to a disability, they are eligible for many welfare programs, including Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), and Supplemental Security Income.

While Rep. Byrne, and many other lawmakers whose districts will soon house refugees recognize the United States must help those persecuted for their religion or forced from their homes because of violence and terrorism, they also insist those being admitted are properly vetted for security risks.

“Recently, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said that his agency would not ‘put it past the likes of ISIL to infiltrate operatives among these refugees,'” wrote Byrne in his letter to the State Department. “These terrorist groups have made clear they intend to use the refugee process to infiltrate our country, and I have serious concerns about increasing the number of allowed refugees.”

Congressman Byrne asked the Department to answer several questions regarding the application and screening processes the government will employ to ensure the refugee process is not being exploited by those who wish the U.S. harm.

1. What kind of vetting process must the applicants go through?
2. What types of security screenings must the applicants go through and which federal agencies or departments are involved in the screenings?
3. What are some of the specific findings that could lead to an application being denied?
4. What efforts will be made to monitor the status of these individuals while they are in the United States?
5. What safeguards are in place to ensure our national security remains a priority while admitting refugees?
6. Will this increase in refugees require additional funding from Congress?

Understanding some of the answers to these questions may be sensitive, or even confidential, Byrne wrote he understood if they must be shared in a “classified setting.”

The State Department has acknowledged receipt of the letter, Byrne’s office told Yellowhammer Monday, but has yet to respond.