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Closing the door to refugees a bad policy

The Nov. 7 issue of the Independent included columnist Michelle Malkin’s appalling editorial applauding the Trump Administration’s approval of a new annual refugee cap of 18,000, “the lowest since the US program began in 1980.” At the end of her article, she advocates even reducing that number to zero.

After casually dismissing America’s legacy of “embracing people from around the world fleeing persecution and war,” Malkin claims refugees are too costly, citing a statistic that refugee resettlement programs cost U.S. taxpayers $9 billion over five years.

Let’s put that statistic in perspective.

The Trump Administration is paying $16 billion in taxpayer-funded handouts to American farmers this year alone. $16 billion in one year makes $9 billion over five years look rather paltry.

Some more perspective. A Health and Human Services report found that refugees were fiscal contributors to the American economy, contributing $63 billion from 2005-2014. Again, that makes $9 billion in costs look a bit paltry.

Malkin also dismisses humanitarian concerns as irrelevant, alleging that refugees are just a drain on our nation. She even goes so far as to call refugees “wretched refuse.”

Wretched refuse?

Is my friend Inthisone “wretched refuse”?

Her family fled Laos in the wake of the Vietnam War and arrived as refugees in my hometown of Edgerton. They came not by choice and not because they were seeking a handout. They came because they were forced to, their homes and lives destroyed by war. But they came, planted roots, and made Edgerton their home. They became part of our community, attending our churches and schools, playing on our sports teams, acting in our plays. As adults, they found jobs, married, and had children of their own. They are now interwoven into the fabric of the community, contributing to its social and economic vitality.

Are my students HouaShe, Muna, and Fadumo “wretched refuse”?

HouaShe grew up in St. Paul, the daughter of Hmong refugees who came to Minnesota as a consequence of the Vietnam War. The Hmong, as HouaShe’s aunt Kalia writes in her memoir The Latehomecomer, are an ethnic minority. “We don’t have a country. We are here looking for a home.” With no home of their own, HouaShe and her extended family have made Minnesota their home. Her parents started a business in St. Paul, and now their children attend several of Minnesota’s state colleges and universities.

Muna and Fadumo are the daughters of Somali refugees who fled their war-torn country and settled in Marshall in the 1990s. Having grown up in Marshall, Muna and Fadumo now attend Southwest Minnesota State University. Muna is an MBA student who plans to become an attorney and open her own law practice someday. Fadumo is a biology major who intends to practice medicine.

Rather than “wretched refuse,” refugees are assets to our communities. Whatever paltry sum our nation expends on resettlement programs is repaid one-hundred-fold. Refugees are our students, doctors, poets, school teachers, middle school principals, lawyers, and business owners.

With no homes of their own and forced to relocate, they make new lives and new homes for themselves here and become part of our communities. Rather than shut the door, we should welcome refugees and the benefits they bring. When we shut the door, we are only harming ourselves and our communities.

— Anita Gaul is a history instructor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College and Chair of the Lyon County DFL

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