I heard on the radio that the latest white nationalist rallies are setting their agendas around refugee settlement in particular areas. Two such rallies were held last weekend in central Tennessee. These white nationalist groups are claiming that refugees who are entering the U.S. are using up valuable resources when they are resettled and that, overall, refugee settlement is a drain on communities. This is false information. These groups claim they do not have easy access to the data on refugees and that the government is not being transparent; again, a false assertion. Such information is readily available. This new line of argument for white nationalists, who are trying desperately to move their fear mongering agenda forward, cannot mask the economic realities that refugees are a positive force monetarily. Communities are indeed fortunate to be able to welcome refugees, who are driven to succeed.
Enter an important study by the Department of Health and Human Service, a federal agency. This study, released this September, clearly demonstrates that, from 2005-2014, refugees brought in $63 billion more in government monies than they cost. This is an enormous number, yet the current administration has attempted to suppress these figures as they continue their Muslim ban rallying cry. My Central MN high school students, some 600 strong over the last ten years, are youngsters who are new to the country and determined to build productive lives for themselves and their families. Like you, like me, they deserve a chance to become educated, and they, like you, have a sincere, abiding desire to contribute meaningfully to a working society.
A member of the St. Cloud City Council has brought forth a resolution to ban new, primary refugees from entering the city, where I have taught English to refugee students for the past ten years. I attended the city council meeting because I could not sit idly by as my students and their families were discriminated against in the guise of falsely construed economic impacts. The council member who brought the resolution forward argued that refugees in St. Cloud are a drain on the community and its resources.
The palpable racism that I encountered in the council chamber from members of the community who supported the councilman’s ban was highly disconcerting. Individuals held signs that stated “Support the refugee ban” and “Keep our culture and our law.” I wanted to say, “Whose culture?” (the dominant one, which is, hello, no longer the only one out there). Yes, I certainly agree that our laws should be followed. The “law” that the person holding the sign was attempting to refer to was simply misguided and demonstrated ignorance; our laws, both national and international, are certainly being followed insofar as refugees are concerned. The St. Cloud City Council holds no federal jurisdiction surrounding refugee resettlement in the city; it is not their job to regulate such settlement, as that is a role of the federal government. The councilman who proposed the ban has this information; he is simply choosing to ignore the facts surrounding resettlement.
Happily, the resolution regarding the ban was shot down by an honorable member of the council that night. He chose, along with his colleagues on the council (except for the one who had brought the ban forward) to demonstrate welcome and compassion by putting forth a resolution declaring the city as a welcoming community for refugees. A lovely turn of events! Indeed, he put the resolution forward before the other councilman proposed his and forced the negative resolution to be put in front of the audience. The other councilors present quickly voted for the positive resolution and did not even bring the negative one to a vote. Justice for the win!
Given the economic impact and the positive contributions by the refugee population within the city of St. Cloud and the country as a whole, it behooves the city to be a place of welcome. Refugees here have proven to be entrepreneurial, resourceful, and active within St. Cloud, and I believe they shall only become more so as they continue to hone their skills and make significant contributions to the growing community. Just as the immigrant and refugee ancestors of so many Americans chose to do when they first arrived on our shores, the refugees of St. Cloud pay taxes and spend their paychecks in order to improve the U.S. economy.
I applaud the St. Cloud City Council for their quick response to the hatred and bigotry that attempted to make inroads in Minnesota. Common sense and justice won, as did the economic engine that is the city and the state, which will reap the benefits of our refugee population as they contribute, both monetarily and as future citizens, to the well being of these United States.
I will continue to challenge and educate my refugee and immigrant students, and they, in turn, shall bless and educate me as they open my eyes and heart to the nature of their hopes and dreams. My job shall not soon end.. While some make haste to exacerbate fear and foment hatred, my classroom door shall remain open in the face of such negativity. I stand at the door, ready to teach, equip, and empower my students with a respectful message of human dignity: “Welcome! Won’t you please come in?”