The U.S. and Connecticut should do our share to welcome refugees

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Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria in September

In an open letter, Dale “Duffy” Dauphinais expresses doubts about where, how and why Connecticut should absorb additional refugees.

As a fellow Connecticut resident living just blocks from Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven, I reject Mr. Dauphinais’ anti-refugee alarmism. If sometimes hard to quantify, the benefits the U.S. and Connecticut derive from accepting a moderate number of refugees exceed the costs.

In our nation of 300 million, the tens of thousands of refugees who arrive each year – after undergoing scrutiny to minimize any risk that they are merely economic migrants, let alone terrorists – represent under three-hundredths of one percent of the population.  Once here, generally refugees soon have to support themselves, if necessary finding jobs for which they would have been overqualified back home.

Refugees and other immigrants haven’t hurt New Haven (which since 2000 has enjoyed population growth substantially due to immigration). Most work hard, striving to support their families while contributing to our community and its economy. My children attend public school with refugee kids who are eager to learn. A girl from Iraq has come over to our lawn to play with her neighbors. The father of one of my daughter’s best friends is from Syria. In recent years, I met a student whose Muslim family had escaped Somalia and who succeeded in high school, both in the classroom and on the soccer field. He now attends college.

The U.S. has a mixed history regarding refugees. We could have done far better in welcoming those fleeing Hitler. We were relatively enlightened after the Vietnam War, seeing our responsibility and allowing numerous Vietnamese citizens to settle here.

Mean, paranoid nativism exists everywhere, including our cherished United States. From the anti-Catholic, anti-Irish “Know Nothings” and Chinese Exclusion Act in the 19th century to the suspicion of German Americans during World War I, internment of Japanese Americans in World War II and apparent ambivalence toward Latino Americans, xenophobia is part of our past and present.

Still, we have overcome this tendency and overall continue greatly to benefit from immigration (including of refugees). Currently 14 percent of Americans are foreign born; one in four Americans is an immigrant or the child of an immigrant.

I am among that quarter of Americans. My mother left post-war Germany as a teenager in the 1950s (after years of poverty) when her father was fortunate to find a job in California. On my father’s side, immigrants arrived in New York late in the 19th century. We are grateful for the opportunities our family received in this country.

Also, unlike some other patriots, I respect but don’t fear Muslims; I married a woman of Muslim descent.

If skeptics were actually to get acquainted with Muslims and with refugees, the skepticism might dissipate. To know people ostensibly different from ourselves is to recognize their humanity, sometimes even to appreciate and like them.

IRIS holds an annual “run for refugees” on Super Bowl Sunday. Participating would be a good way to meet some refugees. I won’t be running, but the sentiments expressed by Mr. Dauphinais are a reminder to double my donation to IRIS.

Welcoming refugees isn’t only a matter of altruism; such actions can advance our national security. Increasing U.S. settlement of refugees (from 70,000 annually to 85,000 and then 100,000, as the Obama administration has proposed – still a fraction of what Germany is doing for Syrians alone) reinforces American moral authority on a global stage where “soft power” can combine with coercion to make “smart power.” Isolationism, the wrong recipe for the 20th century, is still wrong.

Yes, the United States should take better care of its own, amid vast inequalities, stagnant wages, un- and underemployment. No, we cannot invite all the world’s refugees – never mind the entire broader category of migrants – to our shores.

Yet this country and this state are strong enough to do our share.

Josiah H. Brown lives in New Haven with his wife, an immigrant and U.S. permanent resident, and their children. Follow him on Twitter at jhenryb92.

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