A few days later, in late April, he heard a radio report from Fort Dix, New Jersey, where the first planeloads of Kosovar refugees were waiting to be resettled. Driving back to his Carrollton home after a day of construction work, Shaban Murseli listened closely to the story of Baby Amerikan -- the first Kosovar refugee child born on American soil. He quickly realized that this infant was his cousin. Most of his family, 32 of them, everyone except for the aunt and uncle who raised him, had escaped, were alive, and were in the United States.
Murseli raced home to make contact with his relatives, whom he hadn't seen for 22 years. After being passed from one government agency to the next, he was finally given the phone numbers of four Dallas charities that could help him bring his family here. He called the first one on the list, Refugee Services of North Texas. That's when his troubles began.
A week earlier, as NATO cluster bombs were falling over the Balkans and hundreds of thousands of Kosovars were fleeing the war zone, Refugee Services director Chip Corcoran was also on the move. Since the allies had cut a deal with Macedonia, 20,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo were going to need new homes in the United States right away. Corcoran headed into Dallas' Albanian community -- about 1,000 people strong -- to get some names.
He attended a Sunday-evening meeting at the Albanian community center-cum-mosque, located in a strip mall in Carrollton. The 30 or so men who assembled, every one of them a restaurant owner, had been receiving calls from distraught relatives overseas relaying tales of rape, torture, arson, and other mayhem. "We're here to help," said Corcoran. He's been through similar situations before, with Bosnians, Croats, Somalis, Vietnamese, and just about every other ethnicity that has fled a violent homeland. But with the Kosovars, never before were so many coming so quickly.
He passed out forms where the Albanians could sign up to "sponsor" their displaced relatives. As the names of refugees began flowing into his office over the next few days, more than 150 of them, he passed them on to New York-based Church World Services. The organization serves as the middleman between Refugee Services and the U.S. State Department, which starts the resettlement process rolling by passing down a grant of $740 for every refugee in America. By the time this money trickles into the refugees' hands, not much is left.
Ruzhdie Krasniqi, owner of Primavera's in Plano, attended the meeting and listened to Corcoran explain how refugee resettlement works. Several days later he received a call from Corcoran, who asked him to sponsor four Kosovars in Fort Dix, friends of Krasniqi's brother, who had given his name to the government. Surprisingly, Krasniqi declined. He understood the rules.
He could still help these four people he had never heard of, providing both his money and his time. But so long as he didn't sign on to be a sponsor, his assistance would be in addition to rather than in place of what Refugee Services had to give. Refugees without sponsors become "free cases," meaning that the resettlement agency shoulders responsibility for basic services -- setting them up with health care, food stamps, clothes, and furniture; enrolling the kids in school; finding adults jobs; and providing "safe, sanitary, and decent" housing for at least a month. When the agency signs up a sponsor for a refugee family, however, the sponsor agrees to take care of those needs. The agency then ends up having to hand over less of its government cash, which is the same regardless of sponsorship.
"Basically," Krasniqi decided, "if you're the sponsor, you're fucked." That's what others who have worked with Refugee Services of North Texas have concluded.
The agency's critics -- among them refugees, sponsors, volunteers, and former Refugee Services board members -- claim that the nonprofit is poorly managed and fiscally inept, leaving more and more refugees severely short-changed when it comes to basic services and financial assistance. They say that the agency misleads refugees and sponsors and withholds available funds as it covers up its incompetence. Refugee Services counters that it exceeds government expectations despite its low level of funding.
With the recent wave of Kosovars landing in Dallas, the battle between Refugee Services and its critics is heating up and tearing through the local Albanian community. The newly arrived émigrés, meanwhile, are unknowingly stepping into the crossfire of an American charity system mired in politics, bureaucracy, and personal battles.
According to Corcoran, when Murseli came in May to the run-down East Dallas house that serves as Refugee Services' headquarters to discuss his 32 relatives, "Shaban was frantic. He was crazy. And understandably so." Twenty-four were already at Fort Dix. The remaining eight, still in Macedonia waiting for paperwork to be processed, would be coming a few weeks after the first wave of relatives. Eventually he signed on the dotted line for them all, essentially allowing Refugee Services to delegate to him, a single construction worker, the responsibility for providing the basic services the government mandates -- from apartments and furniture to jobs and English classes. But Murseli says he understood the document differently.
"I thought I would be helping with everything, but as a translator mostly. I didn't know they expected me to do so much," he says. "I mean, this is a lot of people. I thought Refugee Services still had to do most of the work."
A few weeks passed, and Murseli began to worry. He says that other than being given five mattresses, he never heard a word from Refugee Services about furniture or apartments or the $200 cash per person the agency allegedly promised. Then he began hearing stories.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran a piece about waiter Luigi Salihi, who had 13 Kosovar relatives brought through Refugee Services crammed into his three-bedroom Valley Ranch apartment, where he lives with his family of five. Salihi claimed he didn't know what he was getting into, believing that they were going to stay there for only a few days while Refugee Services found them apartments. Corcoran was quoted as saying food and housing were the family's responsibility for the first 30 days because they signed up as sponsors. Then Channel 11 followed with a story about the first Kosovars to arrive in Fort Worth -- 17 people who ended up in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. Refugee Services provided each person in that situation $200, but nothing else.
The way refugee economics works is this: The government provides $740 per refugee to one of 10 national resettlement organizations. The government doesn't care how the agencies spend the money, so long as they ensure that each refugee receives the core services promptly -- housing, furniture, food, health care, job placement, transportation. For Refugee Services this national "parent" company is Church World Services, which passes down $580 per refugee to its local affiliates. (Church World Services has 30 affiliates.) The affiliates then use that money, along with private donations, to run their operations and hopefully have enough left over to put between $125 and $200 of "dignity money" into each refugee's pocket.
Refugee Services' budget is paltry -- less than $630,000 in gross revenue to resettle about 600 refugees a year -- which is where sponsors come in. Though the State Department doesn't recognize any financial or legal responsibility for sponsors, the agency has signed up many sponsors who have agreed to foot the bills for the relatives they bring in.
In the Channel 11 story, Corcoran said, "The primary responsibility for a family case is the petitioning family," even though they claimed they didn't understand that as the agreement.
Murseli quickly realized he was in a similar situation.
"When I saw him wave that same piece of paper that I signed," Murseli says, "and they didn't give all that money from the State Department, and no rent and no food, no help, no nothing, it gave me a chill. I didn't trust him [Corcoran]. This was not my understanding. I was misled. I thought that I would be in charge of them, but Refugee Services was going to take care of them."
In a panic, Murseli called his friend Krasniqi, who he didn't know had refused to sign on as a sponsor. "Come on. We need to go see Anne Marie," Krasniqi told him.
The two went to the Far North Dallas home of Anne Marie Weiss, a well-known, well-connected do-gooder in the Muslim community who once was a Refugee Services board member. "Something is seriously wrong here," she told them. Yet for Weiss, who has been throwing around vicious accusations against Chip Corcoran and Refugee Services for more than two years now, Murseli's story could hardly be surprising.
Weiss, a Muslim convert who is fluent in Arabic, began working with Refugee Services in 1992, when the Iraqi Kurds were arriving. After several months, she was asked to join the agency's board. She quickly impressed the organization by bringing Dallas' growing Muslim population into the resettlement effort, previously the almost exclusive territory of Christian churches. It was a logical expansion considering that, according to the State Department, Muslims are the largest single group of refugees in America.
When Corcoran took over as Refugee Services director in 1995, he and Weiss formed a symbiotic partnership. In fact, Corcoran, who was getting pressure from Church World Services to increase the number of sponsorship partners, was Weiss' strongest ally when it came to expanding Refugee Services' relationship with Dallas-area Muslims. She brought in more than $10,000 worth of donations from the Muslims, along with dozens of volunteers and translators. Together, Corcoran and Weiss helped the central mosque in Richardson become the first mosque in the United States to sponsor a refugee family officially. But by the time she resigned from the board in 1997, she would be accusing Corcoran, along with Refugee Services board president Lance Rasbridge, of mishandling the money and then lying to board members, sponsors, refugees, and the State Department alike to hide funds that she believes should be available to refugees but aren't.
Corcoran says that the allegations are ridiculous, that his agency provides services far beyond the minimum required by the government. "If I went down to the minimum, I couldn't do it. That would be unconscionable. The [federal refugee resettlement program] is so anemic. Refugee Services does not believe it is dignified ethically or morally to support someone for just 31 days," he says. "We don't believe our government policy of 'You should be happy you're here' is sufficient...We do very good work with the limited funds we have. We provide at least two months' rent when we only have to pay for one. The government says we just have to refer them to a job placement service, but no, we actually get them the job. We drive them to English classes; we take them to get their food stamps and Medicaid. Our philosophy here is, take care of this stuff within three days [of arrival]. We visit the clients regularly and become their friends, well beyond the 31-day period."
But that wasn't necessarily the case for the Zeba family. Weiss says these three Bosnians, who fled to America after Serbs burned down their house in 1996, should have been easy to resettle. This free-case family -- two twentysomething brothers and their mother -- was educated and eager to work. But more than three months after their arrival, none of them had jobs, and they were facing eviction. Refugee Services did pay two months' rent on their $380-a-month apartment -- a total of $760 out of the $1,740 in federal grant money. But, says 26-year-old Jasmin Zeba, that was about all.
He says they had no furniture until Weiss and a few other volunteers brought them some. And he and his brother, who a year later went to work at Refugee Services, repeatedly asked for a job and English classes but were ignored by the agency. "Nobody told us where to go or what to do," Zeba recalls. "And it's not easy getting a job with no English." When they ran out of money, the Richardson mosque took up a collection to pay their rent. Zeba, who still has never had an English class, eventually found himself a job four months after arriving in the U.S., bagging groceries at Kroger. Currently a telecommunications technician for Fujitsu, Zeba says his family is fine now, "but it was very hard. We did not get much help."
Later in 1996, Refugee Services took on the difficult case of three "at risk" Somali widows -- at risk because they had been raped, their husbands had been murdered, they spoke no English, and they needed medical attention. "We were told that every agency in America had refused them," Weiss says, "and that we were their last hope." Corcoran told concerned board members not to worry, she says, "because we had extra funds available for them." When they arrived with their 11 children, they had no housing, so they camped out on the floors of other Somali clients. Soon after, the widows disappeared.
Weiss, along with fellow board member Tony Chuoke and Safia Ismael, then president of the Somali Women's Association, went looking for them. They found them sitting together on rotting carpet in a condemned apartment in Northeast Dallas.
"It was really awful, very, very bad," says Ismael, who has since moved to the United Arab Emirates but returned to Dallas in June to visit her daughters. "They said it was better in the refugee camps than in America." The women and children ended up being placed in public housing, where they were given $12 every 15 days for their expenses. One widow was eight months pregnant before she saw a doctor for prenatal care, 10 weeks after her arrival.
When Weiss approached Corcoran about the matter, he claimed that he personally tried to take the woman to a doctor but that she refused. "That's what Chip would do," says Weiss, firing off a typical rant against Corcoran. "He'd say it was the refugees' fault when something didn't get done."
But according to Corcoran, "The widows and their children are doing quite well. I think they're living in Minnesota now."
Indeed they are. They moved there, they say, because Minnesota is one of the best states in the country for people on welfare.
David Robinson, deputy director of refugee admissions for the State Department, says refugees are not supposed to end up as public charges. "If after a period of time, 90 days usually, they are on welfare, that is considered problematic," he says. "The agency is supposed to make sure that doesn't happen."
Throughout the spring and summer of 1996, Weiss was becoming more vocal at board meetings about what she believed were unacceptable results for the cases Refugee Services was resettling. Soon the entire board was grumbling. Some were asking Corcoran for clearer financial reports -- they say that he gave them the impression that there was no government money in the till -- while others were asking to review procedures for removing board members.
In April 1996, the Jelanis arrived in Dallas. This Somali family of six ran into trouble when the patriarch, Abubakr, lost his family's I-94s -- documents they needed to work in the United States. One son, Saed, had already found a job before the forms were lost, so he was able to continue his job at a 7-Eleven, working 18-hour days to support the family. But the rest waited. And waited. Weiss soon learned that six weeks had passed without the I-94s being replaced and began to complain.
Corcoran claimed that he had made an appointment for Abubakr Jelani to go to the Immigration and Naturalization Service office, but that Abubakr refused to go.
That's not true, says Saed, speaking for his father, who still speaks little English. They wanted to go very badly, he says. "I wanted my father to be able to work so that I could study and our family could survive...But Chip never telephoned us."
Eventually the Jelanis decided to approach Catholic Charities for help, shortly after the government informed them they were losing their food-stamp benefits becaused Saed was employed. Catholic Charities sent a letter to INS and received a response in a week. It then passed that information to Refugee Services, which, because it was the Jelanis' sponsor, had to complete the paperwork.
But three months would pass before a Refugee Services worker took the family anywhere -- and then it was not to the INS, but to the welfare office.
When Weiss learned the family was on welfare, after Corcoran had told the Refugee Service board the problem had been handled, she took her concerns to board president Lance Rasbridge, who suggested she discuss the matter directly with Corcoran. In November 1996, Corcoran promised her he would personally take Abubakr Jelani to rectify the problem. Ten days later, Corcoran responded to her complaints in writing, claiming the process had hit several bureaucratic snags but that it would all be solved in a matter of days. When January 1997 rolled around and the family was still without their I-94s, she threatened to tattle to Church World Services.
On January 9, 1997, about seven months after Saed Jelani first reported his family's I-94s were lost, Weiss received a check for $325, the cost of replacing the family's forms, along with a memo from Corcoran: "I apologize for the seemingly endless series of problems we have faced in replacing these documents...Again my sincerest apologies for any delays. Thank you. Chip."
That same day, he provided her nearly a dozen pages of financial statements to appease her money concerns. But she immediately suspected that the numbers, which showed about $13,000 spent on the Jelanis and more than $10,000 on the Zebas, were fudged. It wasn't the fact that caseworker salaries were shown to be billed at $18 an hour, even though they were making about $9, or that the documents showed some $500 of reimbursement to the Jelani caseworker, who says he got only $300.
What caught her attention was a torn piece of paper with handwritten numbers stapled to the outside of the file that showed the chunk of government cash allocated for each refugee.
"I didn't say anything, really," Weiss says, "but I was fuming. That was the proof that board members had been lied to for years about there being no money from the government for refugees." Indeed, Corcoran wrote in a letter -- printed in the Weiss-written manual How to Resettle a Refugee Family: A guide for mosques and Muslim organizations -- "Unfortunately, the government does not pay the expenses for refugee resettlement...Therefore we cannot perform our task without the help of the community."
Corcoran insists that he never misled anyone, that this, ridiculously enough, is a semantic misunderstanding. "The $580 was never meant to pay for these people, it was meant for administrative costs," he says. "Technically, the State Department doesn't require us to give them a cent. But because the [federal refugee resettlement] program is so anemic, we've been forced to use that administrative money and convert it to direct private support. There's enough for rent and furnishings and that's about it."
The State Department's Robinson says it's true that no fixed percentage of the money the government provides must go directly to the refugees. "But we do expect them to take care of the core services," he says. "Whatever the agency does with the money, they have to make sure that the refugee is provided the core services...Even if a family signs up to provide everything, it always remains the responsibility of the agency to make sure there is enough money for these requirements."
What Weiss contends is that Refugee Services didn't deliver the services -- not with free cases, and definitely not with sponsored cases. "The bulk of the monies were being retained by the agency when the sponsor was providing all the services," she says. "In the cases I resettled [as a volunteer], the agency kept 100 percent of the resettlement funds, giving me only $225 to spend on the refugees, which came directly from two churches. And I did 100 percent of the work. They never even met the clients until the 90-day checkup. Nor did they tell me there was any money available that they were keeping."
Though Corcoran and Rasbridge don't believe that a longtime board member wouldn't know about the $580 passed down from Church World Services, Weiss says: "The board was led to believe there were zero dollars from the government. We assumed all the money they did get came from private donations."
Former board member Tony Chuoke concurs, sort of.
"There was so much doubletalk. We never could get a straight answer where funds were going," says Chuoke, a retired real estate man who often invited refugees to stay in his five-bedroom home for as long as six months while they waited for apartments. And when he finally did see financial statements, he didn't trust them. "Just so much didn't make sense. All I knew is that for the amount of money coming in, the refugees weren't being taken care of properly. [Refugee Services] just never came through with anything."
Weiss resigned in January. Chuoke followed soon after, along with two others from the then 10-member board. Weiss sent a letter to Church World Services in New York demanding an investigation. She provided Deborah DeWinter, associate director of Church World Services' immigration and refugee program, with details on problematic cases as well as contact information for nine people -- caseworkers, board members, refugees, volunteers -- who she was confident could verify her claims of incompetence. (DeWinter told the Dallas Observer she did indeed contact these people, but couldn't remember specific names. They gave her "mixed reports," she said. At least five of them told the Observer that they were never contacted by Church World Services and that the agency did not return their repeated calls.)
Little changed for Refugee Services clients after the board-member exodus. In August 1997, a mix of 21 Bosnian and Somali refugees was found crammed into a run-down 1,500-square-foot house without air-conditioning in Carrollton. The shelter, called The Good House, was home to Refugee Services refugees sponsored by Carrollton's First Baptist Church. It was infested with roaches and had broken floorboards, a non-functioning washing machine, no smoke detectors, and bunk beds in the hallways and attic. Safia Ismael says she tipped off city officials (along with a Channel 8 camera crew) after Corcoran told her he could do nothing about the situation. "If you tell him, let us do some help," she says, "he gets mad at us. We were just volunteers. We just wanted to help the refugees."
When code enforcers came to close down the place, the man in charge of the church's refugee program said that he knew it wasn't an ideal situation, and that he intended for them to stay there only temporarily. But he didn't have enough money for apartments. Refugee Services' assistance, he said, was just $178 a head. According to the State Department, regardless of what a church or individual sponsor agrees to provide, the onus is still on the agency to ensure the refugees get "safe, sanitary, and decent" living conditions. The Good House hardly met that standard.
As a result of the situation, The International Women's Club of Dallas, which had donated about $6,000 a year to Refugee Services over six years, dissolved its partnership with the agency. "We were concerned about the overcrowding," says Patricia Smith, a past president and current board member of the club. "And we were concerned that the management just didn't have its act together." Donations from all sources in 1997 accounted for almost $70,000 of Refugee Services' $630,000 in gross revenue.
"These people just aren't performing the way they should," says Chuoke, who continues to work with refugees by finding them jobs and apartments, and even buying them furniture and cars. (He stays a little more behind the scenes with the Kosovars because he fears his Serb heritage might unsettle the new arrivals.) "I've never had any problems like this when I did work with Catholic Charities or IRC." Catholic Charities and International Rescue Committee are two of the other three resettlement agencies in Dallas, the third being Jewish Family Services.
All three groups say money is always tight, but they can still guarantee the necessary services and then some without relying on sponsors to shoulder any financial burden. Bob Carey, IRC's vice president for resettlement, says his nonsectarian agency receives almost no sponsorships from churches and handles mostly free cases. It passes down the entire $740 from the government to the local level. "We have to ensure that services are provided," he says, "so they have to have enough at the local level to make payments on behalf of the refugees." Adding to that government grant money, IRC's local affiliates get even more money from their national organization's fund-raising efforts.
Corcoran, however, says Refugee Services' problems are not unique. "What's going on here is going on all over the country, in at least five or six other locations." Corcoran has a degree in sociology from East Texas State University and was working in a subsidized dental clinic when he took his current job to "get back in the trenches," he says.
"It's very stressful. We have a very complicated system. The government plays an equal role in all this insanity," says Corcoran, pointing out a bureaucratic Catch-22 in that giving more than $200 cash to refugees means they lose their food stamps and Medicaid benefits. Corcoran also says the churches have made things more difficult. "Some 20 years ago, when the program was established, we had churches sponsoring 85 percent of the cases," he says. "Now it's only 20 percent. The churches have abdicated their job." That, he claims, has led to many of the financial struggles he faces in resettling some 600 cases a year.
"The funding we have is grossly inadequate," he says, claiming that of the $540 sent by Church World Services, an average of $318 goes directly into the refugee's pocket. "We're not administrative-heavy. We have a very humble operation." The salaries for Refugee Services' seven part-time and five full-time employees total less than $160,000 annually. And tax records indicate more than $250,000 (of a $630,000 budget) goes directly to the refugees -- in the form of rent, furniture, food, or pocket money. "It's a tough job. The business, the refugees, people like Anne Marie -- it's overwhelming."
"That's Chip," says Weiss, who would have no problem with those figures if she believed agency employees were actually doing the bulk of the work that gets dumped on sponsors. "He'll blame everyone but himself. He'll blame the refugee, he'll blame the family, he'll blame the government, he'll blame the churches."
What other refugee relocators don't have to face is what Corcoran calls a "one-sided war" being waged by Weiss, who he says is dedicated but overzealous. "We've bent over backward for her, and she just makes it harder on everyone. Her hatred, her anger, is greater than anything I have ever known."
Certainly, Weiss is willing to fight dirty for whatever her cause may be. She, too, will fudge facts and figures -- as she accuses Corcoran of doing. In an April action alert sent out to Muslim activists, she claimed 3,000 Kosovars were headed to Dallas. But that number will likely not climb past 1,000. And she consistently throws out a figure that between 80 and 90 percent of all refugees coming to America are Muslim. Corcoran says it is more like 65 percent. The State Department, which keeps records of these things, says it is less than 50 percent.
"Anne Marie's only concerned about the Muslims," says Corcoran. "She tries to make this a religious battle."
True, Weiss frequently suggests that Refugee Services was reluctant to follow through whenever she brought in Muslim support for the organization, yet she doesn't mention that on July 8, 1996, the agency voted unanimously to aggressively pursue Muslim sponsorship and donations, and made her the point person on the matter. Corcoran, she says, would seem excited at first but would never follow through when it came to securing Muslim help. "He says he was doing things, but my sources in the Muslim community said something different. He'd miss meetings and not return phone calls, then say the Muslims didn't want to participate. But they were telling me they desperately did want to work with Refugee Services."
Since the Kosovar situation developed over the past few months, the battle between Weiss and Refugee Services has caused a rift in the Albanian community. For several weeks, the Sunday-evening meetings at the Albanian community center -- where Corcoran first introduced himself to area Albanians -- were not held. "This is not good for anybody," says Bruno Ceka, a Valley Ranch restaurateur and local Albanian leader who admits he has been left personally footing the bill for several Kosovars' apartments. "Some people are just complainers. This is not an easy task. By complaining, we're not going to go anywhere. The main focus is the refugees, not me, or her, or Chip. It should not matter who takes care of things."
Despite Weiss' multi-year campaign against Refugee Services, its parent Church World Services is satisfied with Corcoran's leadership and the agency's overall operation. Deborah DeWinter is quick to defend him, though she admits that after the last review, he was sent for training in money management and recruitment of church sponsorships. Of situations where more than a dozen refugees are crammed into a tiny apartment, "Sometimes they want to live in small spaces," she reasons. "They ask to have more people together. It's a cultural thing. Really."
Back in 1995 and '96, Church World Services was struggling. Each year, the State Department ranks the 10 national resettlement organizations. The evaluations are determined by a variety of factors, a primary one being the success of free cases -- refugees without a sponsor -- according to 90-day reports filed by the local agencies with its national overseer. The more who have jobs or are enrolled in English classes, for example, the better. The more on welfare, the worse. The higher-ranked organizations then get more of the 50,000-100,000 cases the State Department assigns. That fiscal year, Church World Services ranked nine out of 10, meaning a smaller pool of refugees to resettle, and fewer $740 grants from the government.
But, DeWinter proudly points out, by last year Church World Services had jumped to No. 1 for its work in resettling nearly 9,000 refugees, meaning that at least according to the 90-day reports filled out in Dallas and other affiliate offices, Church World Services clients were the most successfully resettled.
DeWinter also defends Refugee Services against complaints brewing from the Weiss camp that with the Kosovar situation, Corcoran recruited refugees and sponsors to alleviate the agency from much of the financial and labor burden while still beefing up the numbers to get a larger slice of government refugee dollars. "We got a mandate from the State Department to aggressively go into the [Albanian] community and identify existing relatives," she says. "Every national agency asked each of its affiliates to do that."
The State Department emphatically denies issuing such a mandate to find relatives. "We never asked them to go out looking for cases," says David Robinson, adding that the government had its own system for locating potential family reunification. "There was no sense of urgency to recruit." The government did encourage the agencies to prepare for the Kosovars, he says, but not in the form of soliciting individuals to sponsor refugees.
Corcoran says he approached the Albanian community out of humanitarian desire. "Catholic Charities and IRC were invited to attend that meeting too, but they didn't show up."
According to Art Granzeier, administrator of immigration and refugee services for Catholic Charities, which has taken on about 30 Kosovars in Dallas, "The first thing we wanted to do was get our system ready to tap into other programs and support services. But that's what we always do, because we know that the government funds and church sponsorships are never enough."
Bob Carey of IRC says his organization, which has handled 120 Kosovar cases in Dallas, did not worry about sponsors. "We were looking for translators, hiring new staff, and meeting with directors of various community groups that could help," he says.
Getting assigned free cases indeed costs local agencies more, and Refugee Services did end up with the fewest Kosovar free cases. But Corcoran denies that his agency recruited anyone. "By no means do more refugees, more sponsorships, mean more money for us," he says. "More refugees mean more headaches."
He points to the case of Shaban Murseli, who signed on to sponsor 32 Kosovar relatives, as a prime example: "I did not solicit his business. This one is a financial nightmare. We've had to spend a grand or two in long distance just to get them over here."
Murseli, of course, has wanted nothing to do with Refugee Services since May 28, when his Albanian friend took him to Weiss' house, which was cluttered with boxes of donated toys and clothes. That afternoon the three sipped Turkish coffee, discussing the news reports of Kosovars brought by Refugee Services being crammed into the too small apartments of suddenly overwhelmed relatives. With Weiss, dressed in her new Che Guevara T-shirt, typing, Murseli wrote Corcoran a brief letter, predated May 24. A fax from Weiss' house came through at the Refugee Services office late that Friday. "Please cancel the papers I filed with you," read Murseli's note. "As a result of recent publicity, I prefer to bring my relatives through another agency."
A few hours later, he was on the phone with Corcoran. "Congratulations," Corcoran said cheerfully. "You're the proud father of 24 new Americans." The first batch was set to arrive in a day or two, so it was too late to cancel the sponsorship agreement, he said. By this point Murseli knew being the sponsor meant more than hugs and translations.
The two renegotiated what Refugee Services would provide. In a heated discourse, Murseli threatened to bring his whole clan to Refugee Services' doorstep -- followed by TV news cameras -- if they didn't have a place to live. Corcoran agreed to find them three apartments and pay two months' rent. Murseli also claims Corcoran made a promise of cash: $100 each the first month, $150 each after the first 30 days. (The baby, Amerikan, didn't qualify because she was born on American soil.) But a week after the refugees' arrival in Dallas, Corcoran explained to Murseli that cash was never part of their new deal because Refugee Services was paying for the apartments.
For the Murseli 24, Church World Services sent Refugee Services $13,920 of the $17,760 in federal grant money. Two months' rent for the eight bedrooms tallied about $4,000. But Corcoran insists that this case, the agency's largest resettlement ever for a single family, is costing them much more with incidental expenses and man-hours. "Shaban did nothing to provide housing, even though he said he would. We knew he wasn't going to, so we did it for him. We've had to take them to Social Security, doctor's appointments, to get food stamps and Medicaid," says Corcoran. "The list goes on and on."
Murseli, however, says he has missed six weeks of work while helping with these errands. "What labor do they do? Because I am the sponsor, they do nothing. Zero. I have to do all the work, so where is all that money going? This is 100 percent rip-off!"
Meanwhile, Weiss continues to crusade as the voice of underassisted refugees. A week ago she held a news conference -- complete with sobbing Kosovars -- to show the public some fresh-off-the-plane refugees who had no food or furniture. These refugees came, surprisingly, via IRC. A vice president flew down from the agency's national headquarters in New York the next day. He admitted there was a problem with their work on these cases despite the fact that IRC had less than 24 hours' notice that they were coming, and promised to return this week to ensure that no other Kosovars were suffering a similarly unpleasant first few days in America.
Also last week, Murseli's eight remaining family members landed in Dallas. He had taken Weiss' advice. "Go with the Jews, Shaban," she said. "They are the best." Jewish Family Services traditionally serves only Jewish refugees. But the organization made an exception for Kosovars. Their deal included four months' rent on two furnished, bills-paid apartments plus $225 a month cash per household for four months, even after the refugees find jobs. To find jobs for his family brought through Refugee Services, Murseli went to Catholic Charities, which found them all work in a hotel. The hotel, in turn, offered free bus service for its new employees and a free night's stay for Murseli, in case he needs to get away for a bit.
After all, the business of refugee resettlement for some can be a rather unsettling experience.