Your Views: Admit that refugees come with costs

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To the editor:

A thousand Alexandria voters supported Trump in the March 2016 Republican Presidential Primary. Are they all blue-collar folks too tired after a trying day of physical labor to write a letter to the editor defending or explaining the current White House’s policy decisions, so instead I have to?

Trump’s Executive Order 13888 – your article, “City council responds to President Trump’s refugee executive order,” in the Oct. 31 Times, left out the last “8” – far from showing animus toward refugees, attempts merely to restore the historic spirit of federalism in refugee resettlement. Typically, refugees were only resettled by refugee resettlement agencies states and localities would establish which would coordinate and fund services to refugees and work with non-governmental “do-gooder” groups assisting refugees. Recently, some localities which came to feel overwhelmed by the number of refugees disbanded these agencies, but non-governmental “do-gooder” groups continued resettling refugees in those localities.

Federalism, whereby the federal government works with state and local government, has always been a cornerstone of our American system. Since so much of the cost and impact of refugee resettlement is borne by state and local taxpayers, the federal government quite reasonably is restoring their role in accepting refugees into their communities which private entities not answerable to voters circumvented by continuing to settle refugees in communities which had disbanded their refugee resettlement agencies.

The issues associated with refugee resettlement came to a head in Lewiston, Maine some years ago when Mayor Laurier Raymond Jr. implored refugees to stop coming because their numbers strained social services, including welfare, job training and English-as-a-second-language programs. Then Maine Gov. Angus King Jr. defended Raymond, while announcing a task force on immigration and refugee issues to balance being welcoming with recognizing residents’ concerns.

Far from parroting the refugees’ line about, in Alexandria city councilor Del Pepper’s phrase, a “great benefit of having them here,” these efforts recognized both benefits and costs. King acknowledged that such a refugee influx “would be difficult for any community.”

Alexandria’s resolution suffers from two glaring defects: (i) While its call on other localities to also welcome refugees is aspirational, it sets no numerical limit on how many refugees we should have, opening the door, at least theoretically, to all 18,000 the executive order allows settling here. (ii) The resolution insists, contrary to other communities’ experience, that “refugees have a positive…economic impact on the communities where they settle,” evidencing the same misguided thinking Jimm Roberts’ letter about development describes: “City hall touts the new tax revenue density produces without accounting for the services the new residents demand for which the new tax revenue is insufficient.”

This resolution similarly pretends away the reality that refugee resettlement also involves costs.

-Dino Drudi, Alexandria

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