The director of the US State Department agency responsible for assigning refugees to locations around America spoke to the public last evening in Twin Falls, Idaho. Larry Bartlett of the Office on Refugee Admissions responded to rumblings of discontent in the region about placement of more refugees, particularly people from Syria.
Mr. Bartlett is to be commended for meeting with citizens who are concerned about this issue. But news reports of the meet did not mention an important question: Should the US State Department have the power to send refugees into a community, consuming social capital of that community, without widely consulting the citizens and obtaining approval? I believe this, along with the security issue, is what is driving opposition in Twin Falls to additional refugees.
Safety concerns regarding Syrian refugees cannot be quickly dismissed, according to this article:
[House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael] McCaul said [on September 13] there is not enough intelligence to properly vet Syrian refugees.
“If I could be assured these people could be vetted properly I would be supportive,” he said.
“The problem is the FBI testified before my committee, I’ve had Homeland Security officials and the intelligence community who all say to me that we don’t have the systems in place on the ground in Syria to properly vet these individuals. We don’t know who they are.”
Then there is the drain on community resources that occurs with the arrival of impoverished people who may struggle to succeed in the US. This was recently noted in the use of government benefits:
About 51% of immigrant-led households receive at least one kind of welfare benefit, including Medicaid, food stamps, school lunches and housing assistance, compared to 30% for native-led households, according to the report from the Center for Immigration Studies
One can only assume that private charities and local governments also see increased demand when refugees are added to the population.
To my mind, this raises an issue of fairness and of gaining consent from the citizens:
Consider a town or region where the people are community-minded: they tax themselves at higher rates in order to staff and equip above-average schools. They pay up for recreation centers and libraries. They keep the local food bank well-stocked. Many people donate to church and other community organizations that aid the poor. Now consider: who did these people envision helping in their generous community?
I suggest they imagine that their children and grandchildren will benefit from the good facilities and from living in a caring community. I reckon they are happy to see the less fortunate enjoying these advantages as well, picturing this as a means that these people can be helped to climb the ladder of success. And certainly it is reasonable that they may wish to provide a home for some weary survivors of war and oppression in other countries.
But what choice do the people in the community have regarding the use of their generously-provided resources when an agency in Washington D.C. can flood the town with refugees without consulting the worker bees who made the town an attractive destination? What if times get tough and children and grandchildren are driven back to their formerly-generous home town to wait out the economic storm–and the US State Department has effectively vacuumed up all the town’s resources with refugee settlement? Who decides these things? Who was consulted?
I say that lots of people should be consulted and that the process should be transparent. Perhaps last night’s meeting in Twin Falls is the beginning of a new, open chapter in US refugee settlement policy.