Refugees Make America Stronger
Rod's letter was published in the Cape Cod Times.
President Trump did our nation a profound disservice when he slashed to 45,000 the number of refugees to be received between Oct. 1, 2017, and Sept. 30, 2018. By setting the smallest goal since 1980, representing about two-tenths of 1 percent of the world’s most vulnerable persons, he also deprived America and its communities of a substantial benefit.
We have become accustomed to hearing refugees evaluated in terms of potential danger and cost to government services. What about the revitalization they have brought to American towns? Lewiston, Maine, Utica, New York and our own Worcester are just three Northeast locations to which generous refugee resettlement has brought new life. To areas that have been declining in population and commerce, refugees have brought their education, skills and eagerness to work. In turn, local economies have rebounded.
In Lewiston, which has welcomed many Somali refugees, the deputy city administrator has called them “of critical importance to the future of economic development.” In Worcester, which has received refugees of about 30 nationalities, new shops and restaurants give evidence of the entrepreneurial energies of these newcomers. A University of Massachusetts study finds that foreign-born persons make a “disproportionately large” contribution to that city’s economy.
This is not to say that there is no cost to the U.S. in welcoming refugees. The government provides a per-person amount for the first few months. Many require public housing and assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and Medicaid.
The president declared that they are “too expensive” and that our dollars are more effectively spent assisting countries bordering those of displaced persons to shelter them. But that overlooks the benefits most economists cite over the long haul. Business Insider has reported that the government spends an average of $92,000 per refugee for their first 20 years here. But over that period, a refugee will have paid an average of $129,000 in taxes. After the first five years, refugees generally are less reliant on such things as welfare and food stamps than their U.S.-born neighbors, and more likely to be employed.
The primary reason the president offers for his paltry response to this need is national security. But try to recall the last time a terrorist fatality was caused by a refugee: There have been none since the Refugee Act of 1980. This includes the recent attack in New York City, the perpetrator of which was not a refugee. The administration’s new “extreme vetting” measures are unnecessary add-ons to the already comprehensive procedures that were in place, and seem aimed at making it even harder for desperate families to receive a new start in the U.S.
Perhaps the foremost benefit the U.S. receives from its refugees lies in the understanding by ourselves and others that we are a place of welcome. Now we are in danger of losing this identity as a beacon of hope for the world. The United Nations has estimated that every minute between 20 and 24 of the world’s people become refugees. What shall we do?
— The Rev. Roderick MacDonald is chairman of the Refugee Support Team of Nauset Interfaith Association.