Iraqis making a beeline for Detroit

Time magazine has a story this week that we have reported previously, but as an old friend reminds me—repeat, repeat, and repeat some more!   Come to think of it, that’s what the mainstream media does too—just repeat the same old stories—and that’s how a couple of twentysomethings scooped them on the ACORN scandal (I guess you can tell those two are my heroes). 

Back to my reason for writing:  according to Time, 1/3 of the population of Dearborn (on the outskirts of Detroit) now is of Arabic descent and the children of Arab heritage make up 2/3 of the school-age population.

For Wasan Aljanaby, the journey from her native Iraq to the U.S. was long and convoluted: with her husband and young son, she fled first to Jordan, then Turkey, Argentina and Ecuador. Everywhere they went, inhospitable immigration rules prevented them from even trying to put down roots. It wasn’t until they were finally granted asylum in the U.S. last year that the Aljanabys could finally unpack their lives and settle down.

The easiest part of it all was deciding where in the U.S. they would settle down. “From the beginning, our destination was Detroit,” says Aljanaby.

It didn’t matter that Motown was experiencing the nation’s highest rates of unemployment or that Aljanaby’s skills as an Arabic-English translator might be more valuable in states with concentrations of defense contractors. More important was the fact that her husband had some relatives in Dearborn. “We knew we’d get shelter, food and the chance to build our lives,” says Aljanaby.

Detroit may be the poster child for urban flight, but there’s one group that still regards it as a city of hope: Iraqi refugees. Like previous waves of Arabs fleeing violence and political upheaval — or merely seeking new economic opportunity — thousands of Iraqis have been arriving in the Detroit metropolitan area since 2007, when the Bush Administration began accepting refugees from Iraq.

The U.S. will admit 17,000 Iraqi refugees this year, an increase from 14,000 in 2008. Mindful of Michigan’s unemployment burden, the State Department, working with nongovernment refugee-resettlement agencies, places most of the newcomers in other states, like Arizona, Maryland and Virginia. Michigan got around 3,000 last year, and that number is expected to shrink by a third in 2009.

But once they’ve got their bearings, many Iraqis placed elsewhere in the country make a beeline for Detroit.

I wondered when I read this story if many Iraqis, like the family above, are coming as asylees.   Generally asylum seekers get here on their own steam then use one of the hundreds (thousands!) of immigration lawyers ready and willing to file their asylum applications.   Once approved they receive the same benefits as refugees, except of course the airfare loan.

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