Columnist, Kevin Leininger, writing last week in the Ft. Wayne, IN News-Sentinel has suggested a public forum on refugee resettlement might bring some resolution to the growing tension over how services there will be stretched as more and more refugees pour into the city. Citing public meetings in Hagerstown, MD and Emporia, KS as the type of opportunity for public discussion that was needed in Ft. Wayne, he said.
No such public discussion has occurred in Fort Wayne, however – despite the presence of as many as 3,500 refugees from Burma and thousands more from Bosnia and Africa. With another 1,000 Burmese refugees expected to settle here in 2008 on top of 700 arrivals this year, it’s long past time to correct that shameful oversight. Public education and participation is more than justified – it’s essential.
Local US Representative Mark Souder agreed that such a discussion should occur. One of the things I don’t get though is that the ball seems to be tossed back to city and state officials, but this is a federal program and the Congressman has much more power to change things then he lets on. Here he seems to be resigned to more refugees coming. Granted there isn’t much to be done about secondary migration but he could stop new resettlements for a time if he was of a mind to.
“If the discussion is about whether more refugees should be allowed to come to Fort Wayne, it would be counterproductive. They’re here, and more will come, even if unofficially,” said Souder, R-3rd. “The U.S. has already committed to take a certain number. A forum could discuss such questions as, ‘When churches sponsor refugees, what is the impact on a community?’ But we don’t want an ‘anti-immigrant’ forum.”
Maybe the US has committed to more, but Ft. Wayne hasn’t. Is the Congressman dancing to the tune of the volags, like Catholic Charities?
We have been advocating reform of the Refugee Act of 1980 by requiring a Social and Economic Impact Statement for a locale in advance of refugees arriving. This could be patterned after the National Environmental Policy Act which mandates an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) when a federal project will affect the quality of the human environment. As part of the EIS process, public hearings are required. Why not a Social and Economic Impact study to ascertain the ability of a city or town to handle a large number of immigrants who will be on the welfare rolls. I also propose this be renewed every few years to allow a local government to take a breather from the increased burden on local services if needed.
We’ve written a lot about the public meeting in Hagerstown, see our category ‘September Forum’ for the whole story. And, for more on the Emporia public forum see the category ‘Emporia, KS controversy.’