by Daniel J. Durand
A friend of mine reached out to me on Facebook, and asked what my take is on the idea of refugees receiving welfare.
Refugees are a touchy subject, especially in Idaho; the College of Southern Idaho acts as a refugee center, taking people in from all over the world and helping them find homes and jobs. Many decide to settle permanently in Boise or Twin Falls, and I’ve known and worked with many refugees and their families.
In my experience, most Idahoans are indifferent or even happy about refugees living in their community. Some people, though, aren’t so thrilled, or can even be hostile to the idea, and this creates tension—there are now groups in Idaho that have formed to “watch” refugees and keep track of their activities.
Big Brother is Average Joe, but “Average” isn’t a Compliment
Recently, one of these “watcher” groups posted an article on its blog about a young girl in Twin Falls who was raped by the son of a refugee family. The article suggested not only that the boy was congratulated by his family, but also claimed that the response to the situation by the police and prosecutors hinted at a greater scheme.
Details are still emerging, but information released by the authorities involved in the case and the media suggests that there were three boys involved, one committing the crime while the others egged him on. The police responded, the boys were apprehended, the legal system is processing. As of writing this, it doesn’t look like any of the boys were refugees, either.
A young girl was sexually assaulted—but clearly, the incident was not exactly how the blog made it appear.
Keep in mind, the people running these blogs are regular people like you and me. Question is, do you trust the guy next door enough that you’d be comfortable with him watching your activities?
Is it hard to believe that in a city where refugees are common, and people are on edge, some of the details these “concerned citizens” produced were fuzzy, or even made up?
Unfortunately, this was after the conservative, anti-refugee crowd got all hopped up on freedom juice—YouTube is full of videos right now linking the incident to media cover-ups and a conspiracy by Obama to strategically place Muslim refugees across the United States.
I’m not going to link to any of those videos, because I refuse to give them web traffic. If you really want to go to the freak show, just search “twin falls refugee” on YouTube. Sadly, you won’t find the media reports or credible sources, because the news agencies are using their own video players, not YouTube.
In this day and age, information is spread rapidly, but it’s the information that is the easiest to pass around that actually gets passed around, not necessarily the best information. You almost can’t fault people for buying into the bullshit when it’s so abundant and easy to find.
Refugees on the Dole
Regardless of where you stand on this, it’s a huge can of worms to talk about refugees right now, and so I decided to take some time to gather my thoughts before answering my friend’s question, and this article is for him.
To put it simply, I am in favor of refugees receiving welfare. By “welfare,” I mean access to food stamps, housing, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, etc. Refugees have virtually the same access to welfare programs as legal immigrants and United States citizens, and in my mind, this is fair.
If you think about it, their entire status as refugees is a form of welfare—we recognize that refugees are without a country, without a home, without a life, and we strive to take care of them until they can get back on their feet. Why would you bring in refugees, and then not give them access to food, housing, medicine, and financial aid?
Refugees are your neighbor who has a house fire and has to stay in your living room. Yes, we one day want our living room back. But we understand that our neighbor didn’t choose to have their house burn down.
Ideally, refugees will return to their countries of origin when the war, natural disaster, or political climate that caused them to be refugees has subsided, or they could become citizens, and fully integrate themselves into American society. If either of those outcomes are to be realized, someone has to make sure these people—and they are people, above all else—are cared for.
How can you expect a person to survive, or to want to naturalize, when you remove all access to the systems they need to do so? Remember, refugees have nothing—no job, no money, no social security number, nothing. If you don’t give them a way out of that situation, they won’t get out.
I think this goes against what a lot of Americans believe right now, this pulled-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality that suggests if you just grit your teeth and struggle hard enough, you’ll make it. It’s got a simple sort of beauty to it, I suppose. No matter what else, you can always count on yourself, and pull yourself up, without pity or charity, or, heaven forbid, the government.
How do you pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you have no boots?
That’s really what we’re dealing with—a group of people who have nothing, and can only depend on others, a plight that is so much the antithesis to our national mindset that the people who suffer from it may as well not exist.
But there was a second part of my friend’s question; specifically, what are my thoughts on refugees receiving welfare, when other immigrants don’t have access.
Getting Ours First
Here are some other questions you may have heard people ask when talking about refugees, or about immigration:
- “How can we let in refugees when we have homeless veterans?”
- “Why should we ease immigration restrictions when there are no jobs for Americans?”
- “Why can’t they just fix their own country before ruining ours?”
All I hear is, “I want mine before they get theirs.”
Not that I’m accusing my friend of harboring that notion. But I do think the second part of his question sounds awfully familiar. So, here’s a new riddle: A Syrian refugee, a homeless veteran, and an illegal immigrant who just crossed the border walk into a soup kitchen. Who’s hungriest?
We live in a world where sometimes, people need to rely on help from others. Call it charity, call it welfare—poverty knows no nation, creed, color, or language, and the helpless will always need help. I don’t think you can assign a pecking order to the tired, the poor, or the hungry, and short of Batman, bigger soup kitchens are probably the best way to help the most people.
What disappoints me is that instead of planning to build more soup kitchens, we plan to build walls. We believe rumors a little too willingly, and care too little about the truth.
Americans believe in working hard and building a prosperous life—the American dream, alive and shining.
The second part of that ideal, the part we seem to be forgetting lately, is that once you realize the dream, once you pull yourself up by your bootstraps… you reach back down to the people below you, and pull them up.
Sometimes, reaching back means risking a bite on the hand, but we do it anyway, because that’s the kind of people we are.
Daniel Durand is sick of Facebook debates. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org