Progressive Views: Positive Impacts of Refugees

by Susan Dollar, President of Boerne Area Democrats
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, March 13, 2020

The Statue of Liberty silhouetted against a colorful sunset
“The New Colossus” by Nathan Eaton Jr. is licensed under CC-BY-NC 2.0

Note: For earlier installments in this series of columns by Susan Dollar, see Part 1 and Part 2.

One of the most well-entrenched myths about refugees is that immigrants steal jobs from American workers, collect an excess of government benefits and in general represent a drain on the economy. Contrary to popular belief, refugees do not take away jobs from American workers. Instead, they create new jobs by forming new businesses, spending their incomes on American goods and services, paying taxes and raising the productivity of U.S. businesses. Refugees are good for the economy, not the other way around.  

A December 2019 article by the New American Economy looked at the economic costs for states (like Texas) that opt out of the refugee resettlement program.  They found that a state may be risking millions of dollars in income and additional economic stimulus—just by opting out for one year. These millions of dollars would also come on top of the direct loss of federal funding for refugee resettlement—money that is spent locally, supporting local businesses and the economy.

Research shows that refugees have an enduring legacy on the American communities they have come to call home, and cities and towns across the country have seen first-hand the positive impact that has come with them.  Many aging and once declining communities have credited young, entrepreneurial refugees with injecting new dynamism into the local labor force and revitalizing commercial main streets.  In addition, refugees have higher rates of entrepreneurship and homeownership than other immigrants.

A study by the New American Economy found that the total spending power of refugees in Texas was $4.6B in 2015 and the total state and federal taxes that were paid by refugees in Texas exceeded $1.6B.  Refugees are more likely to be of working age than other immigrants or the U.S.-born population.  The 181,463 refugee entrepreneurs contributed over $4.6B in income to the U.S. economy in 2015.

Most Americans have long understood that refugees embody American values, exemplifying the American Dream and the idea that hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit will lead to a better life.  Texas was a leader in providing safety, fresh starts, and open hearts for thousands of the world’s most vulnerable children, mothers, and fathers since the U.S. refugee resettlement program began more than 40 years ago.

Gov. Abbott’s recent decision to deny entry to refugees in Texas made him the first and only governor to opt out of the resettlement program. To date, more than 40 state leaders, including several Republicans, had opted in. However, a federal judge has temporarily suspended the new Trump administration policy, concluding that it would likely be found to be illegal.

For those who want to close off our country to refugees and yes, close our borders to other immigrants, “This is not who we are.”  We are Americans, and American values are our grounding source of stability and greatness.  Even our monetary system is inscribed with “E Pluribus Unum – Diversity with Unity.” The United States has been from its very founding a country of refugees and immigrants and the sentiment still applies today. 

In 1948, a milestone document, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” was signed by representatives at the United Nations General Assembly.  I would encourage everyone to review that document. Its preamble includes:

 “Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,…

 “Now, Therefore the General Assembly proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual… shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms….”

As Americans, we value the inspiring words of Emma Lazarus, written in 1883:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And for those Americans that profess to be believers, when considering the plight of refugees, it is helpful to refer to your scriptures:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Matthew 25:25-36

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