Refugees in Atlanta

Moderated by Rick Badie

Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration — citing state and local taxpayer costs — has asked the feds to substantially cut the number of refugees sent here from war-torn regions. Today, the mayor of Clarkston says he understands such a request, noting the strain on resources the new arrivals have created in that DeKalb County city. A resettlement executive, though, says we should welcome all foreigners.

Slow influx helps us prepare

By Rick Badie

In 1997, Emanuel Ransom was interviewed by The New York Times about refugees that were being settled into the DeKalb County city of Clarkston. What Ransom, a decades-long resident of the town, told the reporter shames him today.

“A lot of Clarkston residents are being left out totally. Nobody wants to help,” he said of the refugees. “It’s just give me, give me, give me.”

Now Ransom is the Clarkston mayor, the first African-American to hold the post. Even though he has asked the federal government to curb the number of foreigners sent to the community, his opinion of the newcomers has changed. He simply wants Clarkston to be better prepared, to have adequate resources to address an earlier influx of refugees before new ones arrive.

Q: Why did the number of arrivals have to be curtailed?

A: The government was not giving the refugees already here time to assimilate to the lifestyle. The refugees would come to the city asking for resources, and we had no revenues. I asked the government to slow it down, to cut the faucet off so we could fix the pipe. Once you do that, we can put the water on and let it flow. Things have gotten 10 times better. This has given us a chance to breathe.

Q: How is the city’s relationship with the resettlement agencies?

A: We were having a problem with the city not being in communication with the resettlement agencies. Now, we are swapping resources back and forth with each other. It makes for a better relationship. I want the refugees to stay here, open businesses in Clarkston and raise their families.

Q: You didn’t always feel that way.

A: I had that same attitude, “Oh, God, they are going to take our jobs.” It’s not like that. They are just like American citizens. They have a dream. Where’s the best place to make your dream come true but the United States of America? I could spank myself. I am a product of a pastor’s son, and my father always told me to look at people for what they are, not who they are. I was looking like a racist, really. I was ashamed of myself. I have spoken to and told the refugee groups that, too. I did a total flip-flop.

Q: Why the about-face?

A:I began learning about the degradation and constraints they came from. State officials told me I needed to see the refugee camps. Two or three years ago, I went to Kenya. It was deplorable. People told me they had been living in camps 10 and 20 years. I couldn’t believe it. They were getting their heads and hands cut off in front of their children.

Q: How has the slow-down affected Clarkston?

A: The infrastructure is stable. Cutting the flow is giving us a chance to breathe and concentrate on the refugees here, getting them to be self-sustaining people.

Welcome all refugees

By Brian Bollinger

Refugees who arrive legally to the United States are facing strong but quiet opposition from some Georgia politicians.

The short message: “Refugees drain more resources than they add to Georgia and, moreover, too much diversity is a drag on civic structure.”

As a full-time resettlement professional, you can assume I would disagree. But the reasons why a “conservative, evangelical Christian” like me would do so may surprise you. You might think I’d make an argument about economics, something about the reality that refugees are a net gain for the economy of Georgia. In my experience, refugees don’t “steal” jobs or perpetuate wage depression. Refugees fill jobs that, typically, American citizens will not consistently do at any wage — jobs that have not been eliminated by automation and require supervisors who are locals.

You might think that as a conservative, I’d be perturbed by “out-of-control” spending to care for refugees in Georgia. Let’s tone down the vitriol: Pointing the finger at U.N. refugees as a significant cause of budgetary woes is a straw-man tactic. It overlooks everyday governmental mismanagement you can read about in any town newspaper.

The average refugee who receives general government assistance spends six months on support before finding employment, versus more than 4.5 years for the average Georgian. And, according to the Council of Refugee Serving Agencies, 28 percent of new Georgia businesses created last year were started by immigrants and refugees.

You might think as someone from a town of 2,000 with one red light and four-digit phone numbers, I’d fear that diversity increases subsidized housing and foists “foreign ways” and crime on “our” culture. I know that at the several dozen complexes where our refugees are placed, not a single one is subsidized housing. After an initial 90 days of refugee resettlement aid, they pay rent just like I did there.

Refugees arriving in 2013 experience cultural orientation and integration training that our great-grandparents at Ellis Island — or even refugees 20 years ago — did not have. The vast majority take it to heart. Refugees in my neighborhood are statistically less likely than me or my neighbors to wind up in trouble with the law. When they do, their community structures often provide accountability to get them back on track.

The reason why I, a Georgia voter and evangelical conservative, want to continue to welcome more refugees to join my community is because it is good — not just good for business, or the future, or America, but because it is righteous to welcome the foreigner and the alien as though they were one of our native-born. It is the right thing to do: to help give the vulnerable a voice and a vocation, to help them join our community in a way that restores dignity of self-sufficiency.

Southern hospitality is one of many things that make Georgia great. I hope my church friends and I will have the privilege of sharing that greatness with more refugees for many years to come.

Brian Bollinger is director of employment services for World Relief Atlanta.

4 comments Add your comment

[...] an first 90 days of refugee resettlement aid, refugees pay rent just like he did. A blog at the Atlanta Journal Constitution has the [...]

SAWB

May 2nd, 2013
3:14 pm

While encouraging legal immigration is a good thing it does seem we could do a better job of encouraging these newcomers to settle in more wide-ranging areas. The impact should be more evenly dispersed throughout the Nation instead of concentrated in a few areas. This would minimize the economic and social impact that the newcomers might bring and promote assimilation.

Anon

May 2nd, 2013
3:13 pm

Not to excuse his original position but I do commend Mr. Ransom for being honest about his change of heart. It is impossible for us to imagine the hell these people come from and the vast majority of them are good people who simply want to provide a safe life for their loved ones. I may be the minority but I’d happily pay more in taxes to prevent these people from losing the opportunities they find here. In the modern world these people should not have to suffer such inhuman conditions. We are all family.

Bernie

May 2nd, 2013
12:03 pm

The Refugees in Clarkston have been around quietly, for Many Years now. They are Law abiding and productive members of the Community. The parents work, own and operate legitimate businesses. They contribute to the area economy and have been the kind of Model Citizens any Community would desire.

Unfortunately, Governor Deal and The Republican BIGOTED and the CLOSE MINDED approach to the whole issue of Immigration has clouded his already misguided Judgement.

A Very Sad State of Affairs for All of the Citizens and Businesses of Georgia, when a State leader takes such a stand.

This is the kind of Thinking and Wrong Kind of Leadership Georgia can and should Do without in 2014 and going Forward!

Georgia has had Governors in the Past with similar Biases. These Politicians of YESTERDAY, should be told in No uncertain TERMS, this kind of Leadership is Wrong Headed, unacceptable, and will not be Tolerated by the Voters of Georgia, ever Again!

Just as in the case of the prom in Wilcox County. Governor Deal’s Backwards, Yesterday thinking, would not allow for the Leadership and support those students needed from their State Leader.

We as Citizens of Georgia Deserve BETTER!