Last week, Chairman of the Board, Clint Schnekloth and I (Emily) had the opportunity to spend a day advocating for refugees on Capitol Hill.
We were grateful that both Senator Cotton and Senator Boozman took the time to meet with us personally. We found some areas where we really agreed—and others where we would like to see our senators doing more.
For starters, we could agree with Senator Cotton that conditions in refugee camps are pretty abysmal. He told us about how he and his wife took a trip to a refugee camp in Jordan a few years ago and bore witness to the dire humanitarian conditions in which refugees are forced to live—often for decades—while their cases are being processed. It was heartbreaking, he said, and he could agree that refugee camps are not good long-term solutions. His proposed solution is to focus more resources on stabilizing the countries that are producing the most refugees so that these people can return home…. And we like that idea—everyone likes that idea—but that doesn’t negate the importance of continued refugee resettlement in the mean time.
The fact is that there are over 21 million refugees registered with the UN—the highest number in a generation—and millions of them simply will not be able to return home any time soon. When we shut these people out, they don’t return to their home countries—they flood into countries that are already saturated with refugees, countries like Jordan and Turkey and Kenya that play a key role in the US’ global counter-terrorism efforts, where they languish in camps and burden the countries that host them. By choosing to take in 60,000 fewer refugees this year than originally promised, we are forcing 60,000 additional people onto our allies, leaving them with fewer resources to devote to issues that directly impact our national security. Not to mention the fact that, national security aside, it’s just not consistent with our national moral values to turn away those in need.
The way we see it, as the global refugee population rises, the United States should be doing more—not less.
This is where we disagreed. Senator Cotton would like to reduce the number of total refugee admissions to 50,000—and his reasons are mostly economic. He is concerned that current immigration levels are driving down wages, with immigrants taking mostly lower-skill, lower-wage jobs and drawing on our public assistance programs. We have two issues with that: first, we haven’t found that to be true, especially in our home state of Arkansas; and second, we think the conversation around refugee resettlement should be separate from the conversation about immigration to begin with. Immigrants come to the US to study, work and visit—refugees come fleeing for their lives.
But in any event, we have not found that refugees—or immigrants more broadly—have had any sort of negative economic impact on Northwest Arkansas. Over the last 25 years, the foreign-born population in Washington County and Benton County has shot up by 460 percent and 500 percent respectively. At the same time, wages in Washington County have grown by 25 percent and wages in Benton County have grown by an astonishing 95 percent. It’s clear that immigration has had no negative effects on our economy—in fact, this report by Winthrop Rockefeller argues that it has significantly aided the economy, with immigrants.
And although we’re all new to refugee resettlement in the area, so far, our refugee clients have proven to be a benefit to our local economy. We at Canopy have sat around a table with local poultry plant managers who are each short 100 laborers or more at their plants, eager to employ any of our refugee clients who are interested. All across Northwest Arkansas—in poultry plants, at the university and in our local businesses—refugees are helping fill gaps in our labor market. Our first refugee families only arrived about three months ago, but already they are providing labor for our local businesses, contributing to the tax pool, Social Security and Medicare—and they are even earning enough income that the cash assistance they were receiving from the state has been reduced or terminated entirely. As far as we can see, Senator Cotton’s concerns about the economic impact of refugee resettlement have not borne themselves out so far here in his home state. We agree that our national resettlement program should not reach beyond our country’s capacity—but our capacity is far, far higher than 50,00 annually, and we are asking Senator Cotton to raise that number.
Over in Senator Boozman’s office, the conversation centered more around questions of national security. He was already familiar with the extensive refugee vetting process and was aware that refugees have not perpetrated a single act of terror since the 1960s. However, he maintained that people have lost confidence in the vetting system; they simply aren’t sure that it is working the way that it is supposed to.
He said the only way to restore confidence in the system is to examine it closely and ensure there really are no weaknesses inherent in it.
We, of course, are all for that. We encouraged the senator to initiate such a review immediately and to be as thorough as possible. We want nothing more than to restore confidence in the vetting process—and if there are any areas of weakness, it seems crucial that we should waste no time in identifying them! However, Senator Boozman seemed hesitant that any such review could proceed while the president’s travel ban is on hold. He said the Senate could not begin the review process unless the courts allow the ban on refugee arrivals to take effect. We cannot see any reason for this: how would refugee travel bookings interfere with such a review? It seems to us travel ban or no, it is in our national security interest to begin reviewing the vetting and admissions process as quickly as possible. We pleaded with the senator to push for this review as soon as possible and, once his confidence has been restored, to throw his full support behind the refugee resettlement program.
We’ll be continuing these conversations in the months and weeks to come and we invite you to join us. It was great for our senators to hear from us. But what will really make all the difference is if they hear from you! So please:
-Call or email Senator Cotton and let him know about the positive economic impact refugees and immigrants have had on our community.
Phone: (202) 224-2353
-Call Senator Boozman and ask him to review the refugee vetting process without delay so that we can all feel confident in the system we are using.
Phone: (202) 224-4843