A group of Afghan refugees were caught wandering the golf course of a local gated resort community in Scottsdale, according to security reports first obtained by the Arizona Daily Independent. The group was part of the Afghan refugees housed at the Homewood Suites, a nearby hotel that made headlines last year for sheltering illegal immigrants for around seven months. The refugees aren’t confined to the hotel and permitted to roam the surrounding areas at their leisure; the hotel sits across the street from the gated community.
Mike Anderson — security director for the community, Gainey Ranch Golf and Country Club — informed residents that the refugees were anticipated to be gone from the nearby hotel by April. Anderson further informed residents that their staff had upped security measures.
“The Homewood Suites site is being used by the federal government to temporarily house Afghan refugees evacuated by the U.S. in August 2021. The families and individuals housed there are free to come and go as they please,” wrote Anderson. “These individuals who are found walking on the course GRCA believes are from the settlement program defined above and followed vehicles in through the north vehicle entry gate. The individuals were escorted out of the community.”
As AZ Free News reported last week, not even Scottsdale’s leadership or law enforcement were apprised of the refugee situation until over a week after the federal government began to house them in the hotel. Although the hotel no longer functions as the Homewood Suites — or even would be identified legally as the Homewood Suites — the managing company answered the phones last year and again this week as the “Homewood Suites.”
It appears that the lack of notice from the federal government didn’t give Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) leadership any pause.
Unlike their response to parental concerns over the presence of comprehensive sex education (CRE) and critical race theory (CRT) in curriculum, SUSD was quick to act when they learned of the refugee children. AZ Free News reported Sunday on Superintendent Scott Menzel’s announcement promising SUSD would immediately plan to provide educational services and support to around 80 school-aged Afghan children.
Gainey Club security alerted the Scottsdale Police Department (SPD) of the trespass incident. SPD contacted the group managing the hotel, one hired by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), to put the refugees on notice about trespassing at Gainey Ranch.
Locals have begun to report sightings of Afghans panhandling on the streets.
Nearly 300 Afghan refugees are being relocated to a former hotel in Scottsdale after being housed at various military installations, resulting in the mobilization of a Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) team “to plan for providing educational services and support” to any school-aged refugees, according to Superintendent Scott Menzel.
SUSD “has an obligation to provide educational services to homeless students who reside within the district,” Menzel noted in a district newsletter. That obligation is based on compliance with the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
“While we did not anticipate this influx of new students, we are committed to marshalling the resources and supports necessary to ensure that these children are welcomed into our schools as they transition to their news lives in this country,” he wrote.
The newsletter comments also referenced questions raised by some in the community about whether the district should be serving the refuge children. Instead of addressing public health, staffing, and security concerns, Menzel simply cited federal law as leaving the district no option.
Although Menzel’s comments were included in the recent newsletter, there has been nothing posted to SUSD’s Facebook page. In addition, district officials have not disclosed what conversations they have had with state and federal officials about compensation for the sudden influx of non-English speaking students.
More information is expected to be made public on Jan. 25 when the SUSD governing board meets.
Last August, Gov. Doug Ducey stated that Afghan refugees will be welcomed in Arizona. He noted that the Arizona Department of Economic Security, through its Arizona Office of Refugee Resettlement, would help secure housing, employment, and education for the refugees.
The refugees are being housed at the former Homewood Suites on North Scottsdale Road. The property is currently in bankruptcy but was approved by federal officials in early 2021 as a contracted temporary migrant transition facility.
There was no advance notice to Scottsdale city officials about the migrant arrangement last year. That contract expired at the year of 2021, but now the non-profit International Rescue Committee (IRC) is utilizing the massive hotel property for the next few months as temporary housing while efforts are undertaken to place each refuge or refugee family unit in homes with sponsors in the greater Phoenix area.
Some refugees began arriving at the Homewood Suites before Jan. 14. According to Scottsdale Police Chief Jeff Walther, “next to no one was aware” that the property was being repurposed.
Walther issued an advisory to Mayor David Ortega and council members before Menzel’s comments, noting there was no heads up to local authorities about the IRC’s plans to house unsupervised Afghan refugees within the city.
The IRC has now told city officials that the site is expected to use only through April. As far as security, IRC plans to hire security guards but made it clear that the refugees are free to come and go as they wish.
Security was not in place prior to the arrival of the first group of refugees, Walther noted. The refugees are expected to be gone from the hotel property by April, according to Walther.
“This is a federal government activity over which the city of Scottsdale has no oversight,” a city spokesperson recently told AZ Free News.
While Menzel was reticent about the situation, one of his school principal’s issued a detailed email to Cherokee Elementary staff. He reported that more than 80 school-aged refugees are expected to be enrolled across three, possibly four, SUSD schools.
Those students, according to Principal Walter Chantler, could speak one of four languages. And many of the youth, particularly the girls, have never been in school.
The Scottsdale hotel that made headlines last year for sheltering hundreds of illegal immigrants has been repurposed this year for sheltering Afghan refugees. In an email obtained by State Representative Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale), Scottsdale Police Department (SPD) Chief of Police Jeff Walther briefed the mayor and council on a situation that it appears not even local law enforcement was aware of until after the fact.
According to Walther’s relayed intelligence from the organization contracted by the State Department and the Department of Defense (DOD) to run the shelter, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), refugees were relocated from military bases beginning January 12. The refugees won’t be confined to the hotel and may roam the community at their leisure because the law prohibits their detainment. They will reside at the hotel until they are matched with sponsor families throughout the Valley. At most, Walther said there would be 300 refugees housed at the hotel.
Walther reassured the council and mayor that the refugees were vaccinated, vetted by the State Department, and educated on American culture. The chief of police then admitted that there’s no security on site at the moment, but said IRC promised there would be at some point in the future.
If anyone attempts to contact the hotel, they will be met by individuals purporting to operate a regular hotel. Walther explained that the IRC hired a hotel management company to disguise the site was a functioning hotel serving “a closed clientele” — i.e., the refugees. At no point will the State Department or DOD manage the hotel or install any personnel there.
Just like last year, this reporter called the hotel. A woman answered, identifying the establishment as Homewood Suites; there was a substantial amount of background chatter. The woman informed this reporter that they were accepting reservations, but that there weren’t any available rooms until June, but didn’t disclose why.
AZ Free News inquired with Scottsdale’s mayor and city council about the hotel, and its reported lack of security for the refugees. A spokesperson for the mayor and council submitted this response, essentially repeating portions of information relayed by Walther and stating that city officials couldn’t do anything about something happening within their jurisdiction because the federal government was involved:
“The city was recently informed that a nonprofit organization working on behalf of the federal government has rented part of a vacant hotel in Scottsdale to house Afghan refugees evacuated by the U.S. in August 2021. This site is being used as a temporary housing facility while each resident/resident family is assigned a sponsor family to live with throughout the greater Phoenix Area. The individuals at this location were previously housed at U.S. military bases. While there, they were vetted by the U.S. State Department and vaccinated against COVID-19. Scottsdale is in contact with the organization operating this site, but has no current authority to prevent the hotel from being rented for this purpose. This is a federal government activity over which the city of Scottsdale has no oversight.”
Chaplik warned his constituents that their city council had, once again, allowed unsupervised foreigners to occupy a building at the heart of their community.
“Residents of Scottsdale, is this what you voted for? City Council refused to put up a fight when ICE took over this hotel and now the Feds are bringing in Afghan refugees with NO public notice whatsoever. And NO security hired yet,” wrote Chaplik. “This is our community and council doesn’t care.”
As AZ Free News reported last June, the hotel was converted into a migrant shelter by ICE almost overnight to offset the unprecedented surge of illegal immigrants caused by President Joe Biden. The shelter operated as a temporary migrant transition facility from May until the end of last month. Unlike the operations that concluded recently at the hotel, this shelter won’t be overseen by ICE.
On Friday, our other reporters drove by the hotel. They reported seeing garbage piled around the building, with employees hauling more garbage out of the building. There were no barricades around the hotel.
Walther claimed in closing that there have been few issues in the past with the refugees in the Phoenix area and across the nation. He informed the mayor and council that SPD met with IRC officials on Friday afternoon.
Thursday’s announcement by Gov. Doug Ducey and House Speaker Rusty Bowers that Arizona “wholeheartedly welcomes our share of the refugees” fleeing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is shining a light on a little known state program that provides financial, educational, and cultural support to refugees.
“As refugees come and find homes in states across the nation, we welcome them to our state full of opportunity and choice, and we’re working closely with federal and state officials to offer them safety in Arizona,” the joint Ducey-Bowers statement reads.
Those efforts will be made easier through the Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP) run by the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) which aids refugees as they adjust to life in the United States. The objective is to respect a refugee’s culture and language while helping them reach self-sufficiency as quickly as possible, according to the DES website.
Transition efforts are further assisted by local nonprofit Refugee Resettlement Agencies (RAs) which provide frontline essential services during a refugee’s first few months. RAs also link refugees to federally-funded programs such as Employment Services, English Language Training, Refugee Cash and Medical Assistance, and Case Management.
The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act provides several criteria for who qualifies as a refugee. For most Afghanistan nationals, the applicable criteria will likely be the provision for any person outside the country of their nationality, who is unable to return to that country due to a “well-founded fear of persecution.”
Many of the Afghans coming to the United States are expected to receive a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) connected to their past service to the U.S. government and military during the 20-year war which included Operations Enduring Freedom and Freedom’s Sentinel. SIV visas apply also to one’s spouse and children.
“They helped out military members in their country, and now we stand ready to help them in ours,” Ducey and Bowers noted in their statement.
The U.S. Department of State also recently announced another program, one which pertains to Afghans who worked for private American contractors, as well as in-country programs funded by the U.S. It would also apply to Afghani employees of media outlets and those who worked for nonprofit, non-governmental organizations which are headquartered in the U.S.
Before releasing his statement about refugees, Ducey expressed concern with the unfolding Taliban expansion in Afghanistan after the U.S. Air Force released a photograph showing 823 Afghans -men, women, and children- crammed in the cargo hold of a C17 flying out of Kabul. The governor pointed the finger of blame for the chaos directly at the top man in the White House.
“As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the events unfolding in Afghanistan represent complete negligence and an abdication of responsibility by President Biden,” Ducey tweeted on Aug. 16. “If the promise of President Biden was that he would restore America’s standing in the world, he’s just done the exact opposite.”
Government statistics show more than 120,000 people died during the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which included Operations Enduring Freedom and Freedom’s Sentinel. Among the dead are 2,443 U.S. military members, 66,000 Afghan military and police, roughly 47,000 local citizens, nearly 3,850 U.S. citizens working in the country, and more than 1,100 military members from other nations.
Meanwhile, many U.S. service members and defense contractors who deployed to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2021 are speaking out about the problems now facing that country. One such Veteran is Arizona lawmaker Rep. Steve Kaiser, who served with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
“America’s military have put their lives on the line to defend freedom at home and abroad. Our friends and allies in Afghanistan now face a terrifying future because we deserted them in the dead of night,” Kaiser wrote Aug. 17. “They are now alone, hiding behind barred doors with their families, and being targeted by Taliban members seeking revenge.”
DES reports show the most resettlements from one country to be served by Arizona’s RRP between October 1981 and August 2021 is more than 12,300 Iraqis. By comparison, less than 3,200 Afghanistan nationals came to Arizona during the same period.
The number of Afghans served by Arizona’s RRP started slow -only 240 Afghanis throughout all of the 1980s- but jumped to 254 in 1990 to 1994. Then over the next six years, only 142 Afghans came to Arizona, nearly one-half the number (271) who arrived the next year ending Sept. 30, 2001.
The data shows more than 1,000 Afghanistan nationals settled in Arizona in the decade after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks before falling to a decade-and-a-half low of only 14 between Oct. 1, 2011 and Sept. 30, 2012. The annual number resettling to Arizona jumped to 237 for the year ending Sept. 30, 2014, then hit an all-time time high of 292 in 2016.
Since then, the RRP data shows a steady decline of Afghanistan nationals resettling in Arizona, with 95 reported for the year ending Sept. 30, 2020.
The U.S. Department of State shows roughly 4,200 Afghans have come to the United States since Oct. 1, 2020, with 31 reportedly making their new home in Arizona. However, DES records put that number at 53 as of Aug. 16.
Any Veterans in need of someone to talk to about their concerns related to Afghanistan can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255. Assistance is also available by text messages to 838255 or via online at chat at www.veteranscrisisline.net