State Dept. Claims it Has No Records of its Travel Loans to Refugees Who Need Plane Fare
OCTOBER 12, 2017
In response to a Judicial Watch lawsuit, the State Department claims in a legal document that it has no records involving refugee travel loans that the agency gives foreigners overseas to buy plane tickets to fly to the United States. The program is operated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an intergovernmental group that assists refugees worldwide with hundreds of millions of dollars from Uncle Sam. The money is channeled through the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). In fiscal year 2016 the State Department gave IOM $477,257,564, according to the agency’s report on contributions to international organizations. That doesn’t even include millions more that the State Department gives the IOM for special refugee resettlement “platforms” that pop up throughout the year.
On its website the IOM writes that it provides interest-free loans “furnished by the Department of State” to “all refugees arriving in the United States:” Judicial Watch launched an investigation into the refugee loan program and filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the State Department last year to uncover details. In the request Judicial Watch asked for all records from 2010 to 2016 reflecting the number of Refugee Travel Loans furnished by the State Department’s PRM to the IOM per year, the number of travel loans that are defaulted upon per year and the amount of money written off per defaulted loan. The State Department failed to respond to the FOIA request by the federally-mandated deadline and Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit earlier this year.
In a federal court document responding to Judicial Watch’s lawsuit, the State Department writes that its “search did not retrieve any records reflecting the number of refugee travel loans furnished per year using U.S. Government funds, the number of such travel loans defaulted on annually, nor the amount of money written off per defaulted loan.” In a footnote the agency writes that it did retrieve some records reflecting IOM’s “general reporting” on refugee travel loans, but none of it contained the “specific information sought” by Judicial Watch. This is outrageous because it suggests that the State Department can’t account for money American taxpayers are lending to foreigners to fly here to declare themselves refugees. A source with inside knowledge of the matter confirmed to Judicial Watch that the records exist and years ago a State Department insider provided figures that show only about half of the travel loans have been repaid since the program was launched in the 1950s, representing a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to American taxpayers. Judicial Watch viewed the records, which span from 1952 to 2002 and reveal that the IOM issued $1,020,803,910 in “transportation” loans and recovered only $584, 219,453.
The U.S.-funded refugee loan program is a broader racket that extends beyond travel money and involves other government agencies. Last summer Judicial Watch obtained records about a program run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement that gives refugees on public assistance special loans of up to $15,000 to start a business. The agency fails to keep track of defaults that could translate into huge losses for U.S. taxpayers, the records reveal. Since 2010 the HHS boondoggle, known as Microenterprise Development Program, has granted thousands of loans to refugees that lack the financial resources, credit history or personal assets to qualify for business loans from commercial banks. Most if not all the recipients already get assistance or subsidies from the government, according to the qualification guidelines set by the Microenterprise Development Program.
It’s a risky operation that blindly gives public funds to poor foreign nationals with no roots in the U.S. and there’s no follow up to assure the cash is paid back. The idea behind it is to “equip refugees with the skills they need to become successful entrepreneurs” by helping them expand or maintain their own business and become financially independent. The records obtained by Judicial Watch show that from 2010 to 2015, HHS gave a total of 3,096 of the so-called micro loans. In 2015 a record 558 loans were granted to refugees but it’s not clear for what amount. At the high end, if all 558 loans made that year were for the full $15,000 available to each refugee that would mean that HHS can’t account for an astounding $8.37 million in one year alone.
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