Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Creating more value than Trump ever will
Immigrants and refugees, the target du jour of some of our less contented citizens, are proving to be a healthy shot in the arm to formerly dying areas of this country. New people with new ideas and, unlike their Teabagger/Trumpoon detractors, a willingness to work and create new lives.
While President Trump has cast incoming refugees in a sinister light, the influx into the beleaguered communities along New York’s old Erie Canal has been a surprising salve for decades of dwindling population and opportunity.Some people see the initial costs os refugees as expenses instead of the investments thy turn out to be. All those whiny white folks who want to turn them out could do well to follow their example.
The impact has been both low-budget and high-tech: Foreign-born students from countries like Iran have flocked to programs — and paid tuition and fees — at upstate schools offering advanced scientific degrees, while street-level entrepreneurs have started shops offering knickknacks and takeout for curious locals, and exotic staples and calls home for homesick émigrés.
Local businesses have found cheap, willing labor in the rolling stocks of refugees, while resettlement agencies have used federal funding to assist with their assimilation, creating work for everyone from refrigerator sellers to house painters.
“People left and left housing vacant,” said Shelly Callahan, the executive director of the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees in Utica. “So when refugees came in, the prices were cheap, and they were ready to put in the sweat equity that a lot of people weren’t anymore.”
And that, in turn, “put properties back on the tax rolls,” Ms. Callahan said.
All told, upstate communities took in nearly 95 percent of the some 5,000 refugees New York accepted during the last fiscal year, according to the state’s Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance. Perhaps nowhere has that impact been more profound than in Buffalo, the self-described “City of Good Neighbors,” where about 10,000 refugees have been placed over the last decade.
“One of the reasons that Buffalo is growing, that Buffalo is getting stronger, that Buffalo is getting better, is because of the presence of our immigrant and our refugee community,” Mayor Byron W. Brown, a Democrat, told several hundred recent arrivals at a town-hall meeting in early February.
The stance of Mr. Brown and other upstate leaders sharply contrasts to President Trump’s remarks casting refugees as potentially “very bad and dangerous people,” bent on bringing “death and destruction” to America.
Other critics, while less hyperbolic, note the new arrivals often cost the government money in the form of food stamps, cash assistance and Medicaid benefits, as many begin new lives here below the poverty line. Schools also sometimes struggle with language needs and some school districts have been the subject of embarrassing, and costly, lawsuits relating to their treatment of refugee students.
Still, economists say that such upfront costs are usually mitigated by immigrants’ long-term benefits to a community, a desire amplified by their often traumatic pasts.
“The drive for citizenship and the drive for a permanent home is a pretty powerful drive,” said Paul Hagstrom, a professor of economics at Hamilton College, who has studied the impact of refugees on upstate cities.
And unlike native upstaters, they tend to stick around. “My kid and every other kid here graduates from college and moves somewhere else,” Mr. Hagstrom said. “Refugees, they stay.”
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