Refugees and Immigrants are People, Too: Let’s Welcome These New Americans

By Nick Gier
Reader Columnist

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of
these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
Jesus, Matthew 25:40

Ultimately, we fear this executive order may become
a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.
GOP Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham

The Declaration of Independence promises inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These are universal human rights regardless of citizenship, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion. These apply to those who live here as well as those just coming to our shores. Refugees and immigrants are people, too.

A local conservative columnist took umbrage at those who call two of Trump’s three wives “immigrants”: “They are not immigrants. They are U. S. citizens and they did it legally.” It is of course absurd to say that people stop being immigrants when they become citizens.

Among the 40 million American citizens born abroad, I’m sure there are those who are proud of their foreign origins. Incidentally, documents clearly show that in 1996-97 Melania Trump worked illegally in New York before she obtained a work permit.

The 1951 UN Refugee Convention

The basic rights of refugees, essentially the same (except for the right to vote) as the citizens of the host country, are guaranteed by the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, of which the U. S. is a signatory. People qualify when there is a “well-founded fear of being persecuted,” and Article 3 states that signatories “shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.” In both words and deeds the Trump administration has violated international law.

Refugee Crime Rate Lower than Native Americans

Refugees are thoroughly investigated for 18-24 months before they can come to the U. S. At a recent League of Women Voters presentation, University of Idaho Professor Kristin Haltinner reported that “the crime among refugees is actually lower than that of native born Americans. In 2010 the incarceration rate for non-native born people in the U. S. was 1.6 percent and for native born Americans it was 3.3 percent.”

About 785,000 refugees have come to the U. S. since the 9/11 attacks, and only three have been arrested for suspected terrorist activity. None of these people were, contrary to Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway’s fake story about a “Bowling Green Massacre,” able to execute their plans. Trump’s outrageous claim that the news media have covered up terrorist attacks is of course false.

More Christian than Muslim Refugees

Even though he admits that it is discriminatory, Idaho Gov. “Butch” Otter has agreed with Trump that Christian refugees should be given priority over Muslims, action proscribed by the UN Refugee Convention. He now says that he meant “preference,” but preferring whites at your lunch counter is still discrimination.

Trump of course was wrong (as he is about 70 percent of the time) that the U. S. has admitted Muslims but not Christians. Since 2002, according to the Pew Research Center, the U. S. has admitted 399,677 Christian refugees as opposed to 279,339 Muslim refugees. Another significant fact is that only 24 percent of Arab Americans are Muslims, while 63 percent are Eastern Orthodox or Catholic Christians.

Swedes Accept 40,000 Assyrian Christians

The Swedes now have, as a percent of population, the largest number of Iraqis living in their country. (The U. S. would have to take 9.5 million to match Swedish compassion; the actual number is an embarrassing 145,279.) Of these nearly 132,000 Iraqis, 40,000 are Assyrian Christians, from some of the oldest Christian communities in the world.

About 80 percent of the Swedes surveyed in a 2014 Gallup Poll say they are not religious or are atheists, but they are expressing basic Christian virtues of embracing the stranger and following Christ’s imperative to care for “the least of my brothers and sisters.” American Christians who are anti-refugee should be ashamed of themselves.

Until the U. S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Assyrian Christians lived in peace with their Muslim neighbors. (Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister Tariq Aziz was a Christian.) The American presence precipitated a civil war between Shias and Sunnis, and the jihadists, especially ISIS, turned against Christians in vicious and brutal ways. Sadly, some Sunni militants in the European refugee community have harassed both Christians and Shia Muslims.

Refugees Help Economic Growth

Social Democratic Sweden has the fastest growing economy in Europe, and their acceptance of refugees has not slowed that success at all. Construction of new housing has increased, and Swedish furniture maker IKEA cannot keep up the demand for mattresses.

Germany has also experienced a boom in low cost housing, and German architects are meeting the challenge in creative ways. Nearly 20 percent of business activity in Germany is done by immigrants, and in 2015, 44 percent of new businesses were started by those foreign born (The Economist 2/4/17).

Hussein Shaker is the cofounder of MigrantHire, a company devoted to matching refugee skills with German employers. Trained as an IT manager in Syria, Shaker initially had to settle for a job in a call center after fleeing from his home in Aleppo. A 2007-09 study done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that refugees accounted for a .35 percent average GDP increase in 35 rich countries. With many of these economies growing at only about 1 percent, this is significant.

Few Problems with Germany’s One Million Plus Refugees

Trump’s claim that Germany is now “crime riddled” because it has accepted over a million refugees is false. Federal crime reports show that refugees commit crimes at the same rate as native Germans, and the “majority of crimes committed by refugees (67 percent) consisted of theft, robbery and fraud. Sex crimes made for less than 1 percent of all crimes committed by refugees, while homicide registered the smallest fraction at 0.1 percent.”

Muslims Police Their Own

The 567,000 Syrians in Germany committed crimes at a lower rate than those from Tunisia and Morocco, most of them not refugees. Only nine Syrians in Germany have been arrested for suspected terrorist activities. Last July, Syrian refugee Jaber Albakr, on the run from federal police, was caught and held by other Syrians until authorities arrived to detain him.

American Muslim communities have been proactive in identifying and dealing with their radicalized youth, and the good will of these resident Muslims is essential for counter-terrorist efforts. Trump’s travel ban, even though it is held up in the courts, will still hamper this cooperation. It is also being perceived as an insult by our Muslim allies in Syria and Iraq, who are working together with their American advisers to defeat ISIS.

There have been only three terrorist attacks in Germany. In December a Tunisian immigrant killed 12 people when he drove a stolen truck into Berlin’s Christmas market. Last July a knife- and ax-wielding Pakistani injured five (two critically) on a train near Würzburg. Also in July a Syrian refugee blew himself up, injuring 15 people, at a concert in the Bavarian town of Ansbach. Significantly, neither Tunisia nor Pakistan is on Trump’s travel ban list.

More Attacks on Muslims rather than by Them

As is the case in the U. S., the most of the attacks are actually on the refugees themselves. In 2016 alone German federal police reported “970 attacks on asylum accommodation centers and 2,396 crimes against refugees outside of the residences.” In the Netherlands there have been 142 cases of verbal and physical assaults in 2016, and 19 Dutch mosques have been attacked, some repeatedly. Last year an additional 147 mosques in Germany, France, Sweden, and Switzerland were vandalized.

Canada’s Trudeau: We’ll Take Your Syrians!

Right next door Canada has laid out the red carpet for 39,000 Syrian refugees. In stark contrast the U. S. has accepted 13,210 Syrians, about 333,000 fewer than Canada per capita. Compassionate Canadians, responding as individuals or in groups, have raised the $20,400 required to sponsor a Syrian family. As in the U. S., the Canadian government gives them a living allowance for one year until they find jobs.

In December 2015 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met the first plane load of Syrians, giving them winter coats and promising them permanent residence. Soon after Trump announced a ban on Syrian refugees, Trudeau tweeted that Canada would be happy to accept them instead.

Fake News about Muslims

In an incredible example of fake news, Trump’s press secretary and white nationalists reported that the gunman at the Quebec City mosque was a Moroccan terrorist. But Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed six people and left eight injured, is, according to The Globe and Mail, “a right-wing troll who frequently took anti-foreigner and anti-feminist positions and stood up for U. S. President Donald Trump.”

Half of Syrians who have come to the U. S. are women and children, 25 percent are over 60, and only 2 percent are single males of combat age. GOP Congressman Louie Gohmert has made fool of himself by suggesting these traumatized women, who deserve our support and compassion, will give birth to “terrorist babies.”

Immigrants Have Better Health and Need Less Assistance

World Relief Spokane has had a superb record in settling refugees in that area. Director Mark Kadel reports that all the people they’ve accepted have found jobs within 6 months. Kadel states that “nationally, refugees spend the least amount of time on any public assistance than any other group of people.”

In a comprehensive study entitled Integration of Immigrants into American Society, the authors found, contrary to what people might believe, that “foreign-born immigrants have better infant, child, and adult health outcomes than the U. S.-born population.” In addition to having higher life expectancy—80.3 years, 3.4 years more than the native-born—they also have lower incidences of cancer, heart disease, and other major diseases. Sadly, the longer they are exposed to the sub-standard American diet, they less healthy they become.

Immigrants are Successful in Business and the Professions

In her research on refugees University of Idaho Professor Kristin Haltinner cites this success story: “Cleveland spent about $4.8 million to help refugees get established, but the economic impact of those refugees was estimated at $48 million.” It is little wonder that CEOs of major U. S. businesses are calling on Trump to rescind his travel ban to forestall possibility that immigrants, many highly skilled, will choose other destinations.

Muslims from Bosnia, initially looked upon with suspicion but now 50,000 strong, have transformed a section of St. Louis that was previously derelict and crime-ridden. They tend to be more skilled and more educated than their native counterparts, and they have lower crime and unemployment rates. Overall, immigrants in St. Louis make, as reported in The Economist (12/19/15), “$83,000 a year, or 25 percent more than those who were born in America.”

Refugees Start 200 Businesses in Southern Idaho

The refugee center in Twin Falls has come under criticism, and the City Council has defended itself against unfounded rumors of refugee crimes. The newcomers are taking classes at College of Southern Idaho, and employers in the region are happy to have them as workers, many in jobs that natives don’t want. Furthermore, more than 200 new businesses in Southern Idaho have been started by refugees.

Jen Heller, who volunteers on projects all over the world, recently worked alongside refugees from Bhutan outside Boise. She admired their work ethic and wrote: “These people are so beautiful, it makes my heart swell. They are now Idahoans, and they are home.” Instead of using the terms “immigrants” or “refugees,” let’s call these fine people the New Americans.

Nick Gier taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Read his other column on refugees at www.NickGier.com/refugees.pdf. Read his columns on Islam at www.webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/IslamPage.htm. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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