Wow! This is impressive! The Salt Lake City Tribune has apparently undertaken a major effort to explore the Refugee Resettlement Program in Utah. If every newspaper in every city experiencing refugee overload did the same it would go a long way to keep tensions from building around a federal program that is in desperate need of reform.
The puff-piece articles normally written about refugees—you know, ‘African refugee sees first snow’ garbage—serve only to disguise problems that everyone knows exist. They don’t help the citizens understand what is happening in their communities and that does a disservice to refugees as well.
I’m not going to write about all the articles in this series, but note that each one has a sidebar with links to other articles in the series. The one I am writing about here is the most balanced article I’ve ever read on the Refugee Resettlement Program (and not because it quotes me and Don Barnett, but that helps!).
It begins with a discussion about a Vietnamese man who was one of the ‘boat people’ we resettled in the wake of the Vietnam war.
Ly and his father, Hoang Tuoi Ly, lived for months in a jungle island refugee camp in Malaysia before heading for the U.S. When they finally arrived on a winter morning at Salt Lake City International Airport, Ly wore camp-issued flip-flops, a woman’s blouse and slacks.
“We would do anything for freedom,” says Ly, now a chief engineer at Hill Air Force Base who, by all measures, has achieved the American dream.
His experience, though, is not shared by many of today’s refugees. More and more, they fail to attain even a shadow of the American dream. Ill-equipped for the United States’ tough-love approach that expects quick assimilation, many live in poverty. Hope for a better life soon turns to despair.
“Most of the refugees from Burma are saying, … ‘We want to go back,’ ” says Zaw Htike of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, who works with fellow Burmese.
The article then goes on to say that there just isn’t enough taxpayer money in the refugee program to help all the diverse refugees we are bringing (no one ever asks if that means we are bringing too many!) Lavinia Limon, head of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (we have written about her on other occasions) not suprisingly is singing the taxpayers should pay tune. And, while she doesn’t say the word ‘xenophobe’ she suggests that malady is behind a growing critical trend.
Don Barnett, a critic of the program for the last two decades says the problem is that charity has long since been forgotten when the government steps in to pay for everything. That is one of the major differences with the earlier program (before the Refugee Act of 1980) that Mr. Ly experienced. He was cared for by an individual family until he was assimilated and on his way to higher education and a successful life.
The refugee program has been neglected for a number of reasons, Limon says. Support from the American public, while still strong, has eroded.
“People are more anti-foreign,” she says. “When we were in the Cold War, we knew who our enemies were and anyone fleeing Communism was alright by us.”
It’s harder to articulate who we want to rescue these days.
While there is no national effort pushing reform, critics say fundamental change is needed.
Don Barnett, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, says resettlement agencies are a “refugee industry,” more about making money than helping refugees get settled.
“They are federal contractors. They are not charities,” he says.
Limon says the taxpayers should pay:
Limon, the longtime refugee advocate, bristles at suggestions that resettlement agencies’ work should be funded entirely by charity.
“If America as a nation has decided that bringing refugees to our shores is good, why would we expect it all to be done without any taxpayer money?” she asks.
Although there is at this point no national reform effort, it is on the way, because the more they hear about the program, the more people are bristling about paying for a program that seems to be in complete disarray as other articles in this series attest.
It is not as Ms. Limon says that Americans are more anti-foreign, it’s mostly because we object to paying for refugee resettlement where refugees are neglected by those contracted to resettle them. Or, where refugees refuse to assimilate as some Muslim refugees have demonstrated. In other cases refugees have said they don’t even want to be here. Expressing this is not being “anti-foreign.”
I think Ms. Newland of the Migration Policy Institute has it right when she said this to the Tribune:
Most Americans “like the idea of us as a nation of refuge,” she says. “As long as people feel the system is not gamed or taken advantage of, they’ve been supportive.”
There is no doubt in my mind that the system is being gamed.