Friday, September 11, 2015

Arkansas among bottom states in refugee resettlement. Will we take our share of Syrians?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 11, 2015 at 10:51 AM

NEEDING A NEW HOME: Arkansas should welcome more refugees, including some of the 10,000 Syrians coming to the U.S. in the next year. - WIKIPEDIA
  • NEEDING A NEW HOME: Arkansas should welcome more refugees, including some of the 10,000 Syrians coming to the U.S. in the next year.

From the Washington Post's Wonkblog, here's a quick and helpful explainer about where international refugees land once they end up in the U.S. Not many go to Arkansas, it turns out:

Some of the least welcoming states are Montana, Wyoming, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Hawaii. Montana and Wyoming don’t seem to have received any ... [refugees] in 2013 and 2014. Mississippi and Arkansas, both states with nearly three million residents, took 10 and 14 refugees, respectively.

This item is prompted by the recent announcement from President Obama that the U.S. will absorb a modest 10,000 refugees from the Syrian migrant crisis over the next year. That's important, though it's a drop in the bucket compared to the scale of the outflow from war-ravaged Syria (and the 800,000 individuals that Germany has agreed to accept).

Wonkblog maps the states' acceptance of refugees on a per capita basis. Note there's not a clear red/blue divide. Conservative Idaho and Utah, and the Dakotas, have accepted among the highest numbers of refugees in recent years — along with liberal Washington and Vermont. The South as a whole does poorly, although Georgia and Texas do better than most.

Will Arkansas accept a proportional number of the 10,000 Syrians coming to America to seek a better life? The state hasn't had the best history in regards to those seeking international aid: Here's a primer on the debacle of the 1980 Mariel boatlift, in which tens of thousands of Cuban refugees were housed at Fort Chaffee and came close to confrontation with disgruntled locals.

On the other hand, Arkansas has its pockets of immigrant diversity — the Marshallese in Springdale, the Vietnamese and other southeast Asians in Fort Smith, Mexican and Central American residents in towns across Arkansas, various smaller communities in Little Rock — that show the state's capacity for being a more welcoming place than the legacy of Mariel would imply. 

Arkansas is all the better for the presence of those communities. Don't let the Islamaphobics convince you it wouldn't be further enriched by the presence of Syrians and others fleeing the violence and chaos of the Middle East. Yes, there are inevitably difficulties that come with any new population: challenges for schools, for law enforcement, for social services. But absorbing immigrants and giving them the chance of a better life is what this country is supposed to do. It's the premise of the whole thing, right? To me, September 11 seems like an especially good time to remind ourselves of that.

One caveat to the WaPo story is that the term "refugee" doesn't apply to all immigrants. It doesn't even encompass "asylum-seekers":

One important note: “refugee” is a technical term that applies to people who apply for protected status from outside of the U.S. This can be a long and frustrating process. People fleeing crises in their home countries can also try to first come over on a tourist or business visa, and then apply to stay permanently — to seek asylum. These people aren’t considered refugees, bureaucratically speaking. Rather, they are counted separately, as asylum-seekers.

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