Oh, the things my neighbors say.
As a volunteer committee meets to discuss how to include the 200 to 400 refugees currently living in Aberdeen in our community and to consider whether Aberdeen might make a good primary resettlement site for refugees, the Aberdeen American News prints this letter to the editor from another xenophobic American who doesn’t understand how refugee resettlement works and how immigrants in general make Aberdeen and America stronger.
Let’s go to the line-by-line:
I do not believe that the taxpayers of Aberdeen want their hard-earned money to go to paying for free education, housing and health care for refugees that will not be paying taxes for years if ever [Dee Blanchard, letter to the editor, Aberdeen American News, 2016.04.28].
Refugees pay taxes the moment they arrive and buy their first sack of groceries. Refugees arrive eligible to work. Lutheran Social Services, the organization that handles refugee resettlement in South Dakota, expects refugees to achieve self-sufficiency within eight months. That’s how long refugees are eligible for cash assistance, and to get that money, refugees have to participate in an employment program with a case manager, six hours a week of English language training, and 36 hours of community orientation. (See Fact Sheet on this LSS-SD webpage.)
Our education system will be hit hardest. The number of students per teacher will go back up again if more teachers are not hired. We cannot even pay the teachers we have a good wage without raising state sales tax [Blanchard, 2016.04.28].
Refugee kids won’t swamp school budgets. The new K-12 funding formula will fund Aberdeen’s public schools to maintain a 15-to-1 student-teacher ratio. If Aberdeen’s refugee population adds, say, 150 kids, the state will allocate money for 10 more teachers. The funding formula also includes a boost for Limited English Proficiency students to cover the extra English classes immigrant children need.
We have a shortage of good doctors and dentists. Our crime rate is on the rise. Charitable organizations cannot provide for those that need assistance as it is [Blanchard, 2016.04.28].
Refugees are doctors and other professionals. Fear that refugees bring crime is rooted more in fear and rumor than rigorous reading of data. Immigrants are less likely than us natives to commit violent crime or go to jail, and even as illegal immigration tripled in America, violent crime dropped 48% and property crime dropped 41% [see this July 2015 Wall Street Journal commentary].
God tells us to take care of our own. We have more citizens in this country that need our help that are not being provided for now. Let’s put our time and money into taking care of those U.S. citizens [Blanchard, 2016.04.28].
I don’t know which God Mrs. Blanchard follows, but the Christian God I hear about tells us we are all aliens and commands us to show hospitality to strangers. And the citizen who thinks America can’t take care of all citizens and refugees alike has a poor, pessimistic view of what this great, rich country can do and what this nation of immigrants should do.
I am not a racist or ignorant. Do not call me a racist and do not call me ignorant. Using these names to intimidate the citizens of Aberdeen is wrong! [Blanchard, 2016.04.28]
Mrs. Blanchard responds here to a comment attributed to Mayor Mike Levsen by the local paper about not having time for racist or ignorant attitudes in the discussion of welcoming refugees to Aberdeen’s workforce and culture. I’ll refrain from labeling any of Mrs. Blanchard’s words racist. But every line of her letter is rooted in ignorance. I don’t say that to intimidate my neighbors; I say that to tell the truth and to encourage my neighbors to welcome all the new neighbors who will make our community stronger.