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Thread: Local and state taxpayers do contribute to refugee welfare

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  1. #1
    Super Moderator Newmexican's Avatar
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    Heart of Dixie

    Local and state taxpayers do contribute to refugee welfare

    Local and state taxpayers do contribute to refugee welfare

    Posted by Ann Corcoran on February 29, 2016

    Over and over again we hear from political leaders and grassroots organizers looking to bring refugees into new (unsuspecting) communities that this is a federal program funded by the feds. (LOL! as if Washington has an orchard of money trees!)

    However, this short model letter-to-the-editor in Tennessee quickly dispels the notion that the resettlement of refugees in your town will cost you nothing.

    Don Barnett, a resident of Tennessee, is a longtime expert on the US Refugee Admissions Program, and is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

    The letter, by Don Barnett of Nashville, is in response to the debate on-going in the State Legislature which we reported recently, here. Tennessee is a Wilson-Fish state (a state where a federal contractor, Catholic Charities of TN, is making decisions for the state taxpayers with no accountability to those elected to protect the state’s purse).

    Barnett in The Tennessean (emphasis is mine):

    The reporting on Senate Joint Resolution 467 is proof that, at the very least, something must be done to bring the refugee resettlement program out of the shadows.

    So misunderstood and secretive is the program that contractors who profit from it are able to make blatantly false statements and be assured they will be reported as fact.

    According to Tennessee’s state refugee coordinator, who is an employee of the main federal resettlement contractor, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the program does not cost state taxpayers a dime.

    But the contractors refuse to publicize the number of refugees they place into TennCare, a program paid for by state taxpayers as well as federal taxpayers. The last time they released this data, 2011, nearly 60 percent of refugees went into TennCare upon arrival.

    The 2011 report of TennCare usage is consistent with national trends. According to the latest data available — a federal study of refugees who had been in the country five years or less as of 2013*** — 47 percent of refugees were dependent on cash assistance, 74 percent were in the food stamp program, and 56 percent were in Medicaid (TennCare) or short-term federal refugee medical assistance. Twenty-three percent were in public housing or receiving public housing assistance.

    There is considerable evidence pointing to long-term dependence. The federal cash welfare program SSI is a good indicator of long-term welfare dependency rates. It is generally a lifetime entitlement and usually automatically includes Medicaid and other social services. The federal study of arrivals over the previous five years found that 21 percent of refugee families had one or more members receiving SSI.

    For refugees from the Middle East, 91 percent of this population was on food stamps and 32 percent of families from this group had one or more members on SSI.

    Is there really no cost to the state? And what about those costs to the federal government?

    This is a letter you should use as a model where you live. Not mentioned by Barnett are the costs to local and state taxpayers to educate the children and the costs to the criminal justice system (for even minor legal infractions involving court interpreters).

    ***The report referenced here is the Office of Refugee Resettlement Annual Report to Congress for 2013. You can find all of the very useful reports (as of today) through 2013, here. But once again, the ORR is breaking the law! As of January 31, 2016 they are TWO years behind in sending reports to Congress.

    Where are the reports?
    In December, Senator Jeff Sessions and Rep. Marsha Blackburn sent a letter to ORR wanting them to deliver the 2014 report, see here. And, since reports to Congress are legally required to be delivered 3 months after the close of the fiscal year, ORR should now be providing the report for 2015 as well. Are they hiding something at ORR or is it just sheer incompetence and mismanagement? It certainly looks like a (excuse the expression) middle finger to Congress.


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  2. #2
    Senior Member lorrie's Avatar
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    Redondo Beach, California
    The High Cost of Resettling Middle Eastern Refugees

    By Karen Zeigler, Steven A. Camarota November 2015

    Download a PDF of this Backgrounder.

    Steven A. Camarota is the Director of Research and Karen Zeigler is a demographer at the Center for Immigration Studies.

    As Americans continue to debate what to do about the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, this analysis attempts to estimate the costs of resettling refugees from that region in the United States. Although we do not consider all costs, our best estimate is that in their first five years in the United States each refugee from the Middle East costs taxpayers $64,370 — 12 times what the UN estimates it costs to care for one refugee in neighboring Middle Eastern countries. The cost of resettlement includes heavy welfare use by Middle Eastern refugees; 91 percent receive food stamps and 68 percent receive cash assistance. Costs also include processing refugees, assistance given to new refugees, and aid to refugee-receiving communities. Given the high costs of resettling refugees in the United States, providing for them in neighboring countries in the Middle East may be a more cost-effective way to help them.

    Among the findings of this analysis:

    • On average, each Middle Eastern refugee resettled in the United States costs an estimated $64,370 in the first five years, or $257,481 per household.
    • The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has requested $1,057 to care for each Syrian refugee annually in most countries neighboring Syria.
    • For what it costs to resettle one Middle Eastern refugee in the United States for five years, about 12 refugees can be helped in the Middle East for five years, or 61 refugees can be helped for one year.
    • UNHCR reports a gap of $2.5 billion in funding that it needs to care for approximately four million Syrians in neighboring countries
    • The five-year cost of resettling about 39,000 Syrian refugees in the United States is enough to erase the current UNHCR funding gap.
    • The five-year costs of resettlement in the United States include $9,230 spent by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within HHS and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) within the State Department in the first year, as well as $55,139 in expenditures on welfare and education.
    • Very heavy use of welfare programs by Middle Eastern refugees, and the fact that they have only 10.5 years of education on average, makes it likely that it will be many years, if ever, before this population will cease to be a net fiscal drain on public coffers — using more in public services than they pay in taxes.
    • It is worth adding that ORR often reports that most refugees are self-sufficient within five years. However, ORR defines "self-sufficiency" as not receiving cash welfare. A household is still considered "self-sufficient" even if it is using any number of non-cash programs such as food stamps, public housing, or Medicaid.
    • Refugees are admitted for humanitarian reasons, not because they are supposed to be self-sufficient, so the drain on public coffers that Middle Eastern refugees create is expected. However, given limited resources, the high cost of resettlement in the United States means careful consideration should be given to alternatives to resettlement if the goal is the help as many people possible.


    The U.S. government publishes some information on welfare use and money spent to resettle refugees in the United States. Based on that information, this analysis finds that the costs of resettling refugees in the United States are quite high, even without considering all of the costs refugees create. We conservatively estimate that the costs total $64,370 in the first five years for each Middle Eastern refugee. This is 61 times what it costs to care for one Syrian refugee in a neighboring country for a single year or about 12 times the cost of providing for a refugee for five years. It must be kept in mind that refugees are admitted for humanitarian reasons, so the high cost of refugee resettlement is to be expected. But funds are limited and UNHCR is chronically short of money to help the millions of refugees in the world, including those in the Middle East.

    There are always competing demands on government resources. And while the public may feel a strong sense of sympathy for those in dire circumstances, their willingness to help has limits. If policymakers want to make optimal use of American resources to help those fleeing war, they should consider alternatives to resettling refugees in this country.

    The estimated costs reported here are conservative because they only include costs incurred by the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM); costs for resettlement within the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR); public education; and most welfare programs. There are many public expenditures not included in this analysis, such as the cost of local social workers who help refugees sign up for assistance, English language instruction in public schools not covered by ORR, and many means-tested programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Head Start, and the Additional Child Tax Credit, for which we do not have data. Costs for basic government services such as infrastructure maintenance, law enforcement, and fire protection are also not included. While Middle Eastern refugees in the first five years must pay some taxes to offset a fraction of the costs they create, published data from ORR indicates that more than 90 percent of households have incomes below 130 percent of poverty, which means they will pay virtually no income tax and will make very modest tax contributions of all types.

    The baseline year of this analysis is 2013 as this is the most recent year for which complete budget, refugee admission data, and estimates of refugee welfare use are available in most cases. Unless otherwise indicated, our cost estimates apply to that year. We multiply the 2013 welfare and education costs by five to get a five-year estimate.

    Methodology for Estimating Costs

    State Department Expenditures. The State Department reports that 69,926 refugee were admitted to the United States in 2013. While the State Department also helps refugees overseas, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) within the State Department spent $310 million on resettling refugees in the United States in 2013. This means that an average of $4,433 was spent per refugee in 2013. These figures include costs for the "overseas processing of refugee applications, transportation-related services, and initial reception" and "housing, furnishings, clothing, food, medicine, employment, and social service referrals". In this analysis we assume the amount spent by PRM per Middle Eastern refugee is the same as for refugees from the rest of the world.

    Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
    The ORR spent nearly a billion dollars in 2013, but a significant share went to help the resettlement of unaccompanied minors and their families from Central America. Expenditures on new refugees and other related groups such as Cuban/Haitian entrants and asylees were $613,963,000 in 2013. Asylees and Cuban/Haitian entrants are essentially eligible for the same programs as refugees. Dividing this amount by the 128,000 individuals that ORR reports are covered by its programs (excluding unaccompanied minors) means that $4,797 was spend per refugee by ORR in 2013. In general, ORR only provides assistance to local communities, charities, and the refugees themselves in the first year after they arrive in the country or are awarded asylum. After a year, charities and state and local social service agencies are expected to care for them.

    Refugees and Welfare.
    Unlike other new legal immigrants, refugees are eligible for all welfare programs upon arrival. Further, there are several short-term programs, such as Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) and Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA), for which only refugees and other humanitarian immigrants are eligible. Refugees have the most generous access to welfare programs of any population in the country. The ORR conducts the Annual Survey of Refugees each year and the 2013 survey provides a detailed profile of the socio-demographic and economic characteristics of refugees who entered the country in the prior five years, including use of many of the nation's major welfare programs by sending region. We use information published by ORR on Middle Eastern refugees' welfare use as the basis of our cost estimates.

    Welfare Use Rates. The 2013 Annual Survey of Refugees shows the following welfare use rates for Middle Eastern refugee households: 32.1 percent receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), 36.7 percent receive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), 17.3 percent receive General Assistance, 91.4 percent receive the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also called food stamps), and 18.7 percent live in public housing. The refugee survey also reports that 73.1 percent of individual Middle Eastern refugees are on Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance.

    It should be kept in mind that the survey reports welfare use for all Middle Eastern refugees who arrived in the last five years, not just new arrivals. Many refugees get RMA and RCA, but then transition to Medicaid and other cash programs like TANF or SSI after the eight-month eligibility window for RMA and RCA runs out. So, for example, use of TANF is likely lower for the first eight months than the 36.7 percent reported above. To be sure, some refugees access cash welfare or Medicaid in the first eight months. But for those refugees who have been in the country for more than eight months the rate is higher than 36.7 percent. The 36.7 percent represents the use rate for all Middle Eastern refugees in the Annual Survey of Refugees who arrived in prior five years averaged together. For this reason, it is possible to estimate five-year costs for welfare programs based on published information from the survey, but it is not possible to estimate welfare costs for, say, the first year after arrival.

    It should be noted that published figures from the refugee survey provide only use rates, not payment amounts received by refugees. It is necessary to estimate payments using other data sources.

    Average Welfare Payments and Costs. To estimate welfare payments and costs by household we use Census Bureau data and other information. To get per-person costs for programs reported at the household level, we divide by four based on the assumption that average Middle Eastern refugee households receiving welfare consist of four people. This assumption is based on the Annual Survey of Refugees. The results of this approach are shown in

    Table 1.

    To estimate average payments by household for SSI, SNAP, and TANF we use the public-use files of the 2013 to 2015 Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey (ASEC CPS) collected by the Census Bureau. We match the countries listed as being part of the Middle East to the ORR list of countries from that area using the country of birth reported in the ASEC CPS. The ASEC CPS shows an average payment of $13,494 from SSI for immigrant households from the Middle East (refugee and non-refugee) using the program. For TANF, the same data shows an average payment of $5,061, and for SNAP it was $4,039. It should be noted that the ASEC CPS generally underestimates welfare use.Because we do not adjust for this undercount, actual average payments are likely higher than that reported here.All payment figures are rounded to nearest dollar.

    To estimate payments from general assistance programs, we average state payment figures compiled by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). The average annual benefit across states for this program is $2,885.(We assume that there is only one person per refugee household receiving this program.) For the average cost of housing programs we use the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website, which shows an average cost per unit of public or subsidized housing of $637 per month ($7,644 per year).

    The Annual Survey of Refugees does not provide estimated use rates for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program or the free or subsidized school lunch program. For completeness, we include estimates for these small programs by assuming that the use rates for these two programs among Middle Eastern refugees is proportional to their use of SNAP.As Table 1 shows, the school lunch program and WIC add only modestly to the five-year average costs per individual. However, refugee use of these programs still would cost millions of dollars annually.

    Health Insurance Coverage. Healthcare coverage is reported at the individual level in the refugee survey, not the household level. There are three types of "coverage" that create costs for taxpayers: the Refugee Medical Assistance program, Medicaid, and those refugees who are uninsured. Costs for the RMA program are covered by ORR and are included in the expenditures for that agency reported above. For the Medicaid cost we use the average costs figure reported in the Office of the Actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services annual report. In 2013, the program cost was $6,897 per enrollee.The refugee survey reports 12.7 percent of individual Middle Eastern refugees had no medical coverage in any of the previous 12 months.Based on information from the Kaiser Family Foundation on the non-elderly without health insurance, we estimate that uninsured refugees cost $1,943 on average annually.

    Public Education. Data is not reported in the refugee survey on the share of Middle Eastern refugees who are in primary or secondary school. However, the refugee survey does show that 65.1 percent of all refugee households who arrived in the previous five years, not just those from the Middle East, have children under age 16. The State Department also reports that 24.1 percent of Iraqi and 33.6 percent of Afghan refugees were school-age (five to 17), the two largest groups of Middle Eastern refugees for which there are statistics in fiscal year 2013. Based on these figures, we estimate that 28 percent of new Middle Eastern refugees are school-age and enrolled in public school. This means that there is slightly more than one child in public school per Middle Eastern refugee household.

    The National Center for Education Statistics reports that average per-pupil expenditures in the United States are $12,401. There are certainly added expenses associated with helping refugee children in school, such as helping those who have emotional issues due having been traumatized. We do not include those costs here partly because we do not have any reliable figures for how much extra it costs to educate these children. We also do not include them because some share of these costs are paid for, at least in the first year, by ORR grants and are included above in that agency's expenditures in the first five years.

    Putting Payment and Use Rates Together. Table 1 combines use rates and average payments to create five-year cost estimates for Middle Eastern refugees. This is done in the following manner, using SSI as an example: The reported household use rate of 32.1 percent by households for SSI is multiplied by the average SSI payment of $13,494 for an average cost of $4,332 a year from this program per household. (As already discussed, we assume four individuals per household on average.) Dividing the SSI average cost per household by four translates into individual costs of $1,083 per year for each Middle Eastern refugee. We then multiply this by five to estimate five-year costs for the average refugee for this program, which is $5,414. This approach is applied to each program. We then multiply by four to get the average five-year household cost, which in the case of SSI comes to $21,658.

    Note that figures for Medicaid and those without health insurance are reported by ORR from the Annual Survey of Refugees at the individual level, not the household level. Therefore, to get a cost estimate for Medicaid and the uninsured at the household level it is necessary to multiply by four.

    Published figures from the refugee survey show a Middle Eastern refugee use rate of 73.1 percent for Medicaid and Refugee Medical Assistance together. To estimate use of Medicaid separately from RMA, we assume that the share receiving RMA is the same as the share receiving Refugee Cash Assistance (10.9 percent) and subtract that total from the 73.1 percent figure. This means that an estimated 62.2 percent of individual Middle Eastern refugees who arrived in the last five years are on Medicaid. RMA costs are included in the budget for ORR and are therefore not shown separately in the table.


    Estimated Per-Person Costs. The table shows that each Middle Eastern refugee creates a cost of $64,370 in the first five years on average. Per-refugee costs include $9,230 spent by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). They also include $55,140 in expenditures on welfare and education for the first five years. While the costs for ORR and PRM are only in the first year, welfare and education costs persist for many years. At the household level, the five-year cost is $257,481. It should be clear that what drives these costs are the initial expenditures by ORR and PRM and the very high use of welfare by Middle Eastern refugees.

    Costs in Other Countries. Comparing the estimated costs of refugee resettlement in other developed countries is difficult because each has its own very different system for delivering social services to its overall population. Further, they all have their own systems for helping humanitarian immigrants and their own methodologies for what to include when they report expenditures on refugees. A 2010 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report shows that, despite different ways of estimating costs across countries, most spent between $10,000 and $25,000 a year per refugee or asylee. Dividing our cost estimate by five would indicate annual average costs of $12,874, though the first years are likely the highest due to ORR and PRM expenditures. The OECD reports shows first-year expenditures for 2009 of $10,196 in the United States. But while this estimate includes ORR and PRM expenditures, the only welfare program counted is food stamps. Other welfare programs and education are not included.

    Recent reports indicate that it would cost Norway a billion NOK ($123.46 million) in the first five years to resettle 1,000 refugees, or $24,691 per refugee per year.The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has reported that Germany spends $14,500 a year to resettle a refugee. Very broadly defined, our estimated costs for resettling Middle Eastern refugees in the United States are in line with what most other first world countries spend.

    Taxes Refugees Pay

    While information is limited, refugees must pay something in taxes. There is some information in the 2013 Annual Survey of Refugees that provides insight into refugees' likely tax payments. The survey shows, for example, that 91.4 percent of refugee households from the Middle East reported that they received food stamps. In general, households can receive food stamps only if their income is below 130 percent of the poverty threshold. For the most part, households at or below this income level have no federal income tax liability and most will also have no state income tax liability. In fact, those earning less than 130 percent of poverty almost always qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and if they have children they will also qualify for the refundable portion the Additional Child Tax Credit. Under these two programs, low-income workers pay no federal income taxes and instead receive a significant cash payment from the IRS. (Costs for these programs are not included in this analysis).

    While very few Middle Eastern immigrants pay income tax in the first five years, there are other types of taxes. However, those in or near poverty generally make very modest payments for other types of taxes as well. The Annual Survey of Refugees shows that the average hourly wage for all refugees who worked was just $9.79 an hour in 2013. Even those who worked and had been in the country for five years at the time of the 2013 refugee survey still earned only $10.50 an hour on average. ORR also reports that 38.9 percent of all refugees both work and receive cash welfare.

    There is no detailed, publicly available data on Middle Eastern refugees who have been in the country for more than five years. The Annual Survey of Refugees only surveys people who have come to the country in the last five years. Moreover, large-scale refugee resettlement from the Middle East is a relatively new phenomenon so there is little past information to extrapolate into the future. However, the refugee survey shows that Middle Eastern immigrants who entered in the last five years have only 10.5 years of education on average. There is research showing that immigrants (not just refugees) with less than a high school education (12 years of schooling) are a large fiscal drain during their lifetime — creating much larger costs for public coffers than they pay in taxes.

    Given the education level of Middle Eastern refugees, the costs associated with processing and screening them, the assistance provided by ORR and PRM, and their heavy welfare use, it seems almost certain that it will be many years, if ever, before these refugees as a group will cease to be a net fiscal drain. Of course, refugees are admitted for humanitarian reasons and the fiscal burden they create for taxpayers should be interpreted in light of this fact.

    It is worth adding that ORR often reports that most refugees are self-sufficient within five years. In fact, the ORR report actually uses the term "entirely self-sufficient" at one point. This is also sometimes referred as supporting oneself with "earnings only". However, ORR defines self-sufficiency in a way that is contrary to the common understanding of the word. A household is considered self-sufficient if it is not receiving "a cash assistance grant". But other welfare programs do not count under the ORR definition of "self-sufficient". Thus, a refugee household is still considered self-sufficient even if it is using any number of non-cash programs such as receiving food stamps, living in public housing, or being enrolled in Medicaid.This fact should be kept in mind when reading ORR reports.

    Cost of Providing for Refugees in the Middle East

    According to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there were a total of 4.29 million registered Syrian refugees as of November 3, 2015, and it appealed for $4.533 billion (about $1,057 per refugee) to care for them.Most Syrian refugees are in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. While this might seem like a low level of funding, the UN also reports that the poverty line in Lebanon is $3.84 a day ($1,402 a year) for a family, presumably of three to five individuals.Clearly, keeping a family above poverty in Lebanon is much less costly than in the United States, where a family of four is in poverty if its income is below about $24,000 a year. Housing, feeding, and otherwise providing for refugees from Syria or Iraq in neighboring safe countries is dramatically less expensive than resettling them in developed countries such as the United States.

    The UNHCR reports a funding gap of $2.5 billion between what it needs to provide for refugees and what it has received from donors. Based on what it costs to resettle one Middle Eastern refugee in the United States for five years, 61 refugees can be helped in the Middle East for one year or 12 refugees can be helped for five years. Alternately, the five-year cost of resettling about 39,000 Syrian refugees in the United States is enough to entirely erase the current UNHCR funding gap. Of course, the material life of a refugee in the United States is almost certainly better than in a city or refugee camp in a nearby country.


    America has a long tradition of being a refuge for those fleeing war and persecution, but the modern system of refugee resettlement comes with a very high cost. This analysis attempts to conservatively estimate the costs for refugees from the Middle East based on government data. One may argue that when it comes to refugees costs should not matter because refugees are admitted for humanitarian reasons. But this position makes little sense. Funds to resettle refugees in this country or to help them overseas are never unlimited and there are always competing demands for public monies. The federal budget deficit was more than $400 billion in 2015 and 47 million U.S. residents live in poverty, including one-fifth of the nation's children. Resources to deal with the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East are finite.

    Processing refugee applicants, assisting charities that serve refugees, helping state and local governments in refugee-receiving communities, and providing welfare and public education create estimated costs of $64,370 in the first five years after a refugee arrives from the Middle East. These costs are significant and must be incorporated into any discussion of how best to handle the Middle East refugee crisis.

    The UN spends $1,057 per refugee to help them in the region. Comparing the five-year cost of bringing one refugee to the United States to the cost of providing for someone in the region shows that for each refugee resettled here, 61 can be helped if they remain in a safe neighboring country such as Turkey, Jordan, or Lebanon for one year. At present, the UN reports a $2.5 billion funding gap between what it needs to care for some four million Syrian refugees in the Middle East and what it has received from donor nations. This is equal to the five-year costs of resettling just 39,000 Middle Eastern refugees in the United States.

    Wealthy countries like the United States that have costly refugee resettlement programs face a choice: They can help a relatively tiny number of refugees who in effect win what might be called the "migration lottery" and are resettled here, or they can devote the limited resources available to helping many more refugees in the region for the same amount of money. If the goal is to help as many people as possible, then assisting Middle Eastern refugees in their home region gives a far greater return on public money.

    To be sure, the material life of refugees in the United States will, with few exceptions, be better than if they remain in the region. However, providing for them a neighboring country has two additional advantages other than being more cost-effective. First, other countries in the region have similar cultures, while adapting to the United States can be challenging for people who have already suffered from war and deprivation. Second, if refugees remain in the region, they will be much more likely to return home once the war is over. If, on the other hand, they are resettled on the other side of the world in this country, it is much less likely they will ever return to their home country.

    The refugee crisis in the Middle East defies simple answers. If the United States wants to help, it must soberly assess what can be done given limited resources. This analysis has shown, not surprisingly, that resettling refugees in this country is very costly. This fact must be a part of any discussion of what to do about the current humanitarian crisis.
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  3. #3
    Senior Member European Knight's Avatar
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    But in US you can still make good money i am every week watching american footage about how in Alaska some american miners go for gold what is i can tell you even if they gold in some place in France no miners would go for it because government will help itself

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