I am a citizen of Montana and reside in Flathead County. I have followed the issue of refugee resettlement with great interest and concern and have watched the effect it has had in Europe as well as in major cities and metropolitan areas across the United States. It is my observation that unlike legal immigration of the past, where immigrants have properly assimilated into the American culture and American way of life, the current wave of refugees from various overseas countries have swept into our nation bringing with them their national identity, cultural conditions and demands for care provision according to their foreign way of life under policies and guidelines that can be described as inconsistent with the American values.
On Feb. 1, I attended the Rally Against Refugee Resettlement in Missoula as I remain concerned for the effect resettlement efforts can have in our state. Of greatest concern is whether there is comprehensive vetting of any refugees to prevent nefarious individuals from infiltrating our state. To the best of my knowledge and according to a variety of sources in local, regional and federal law enforcement agencies, there is simply not a method that can meticulously vet refugees from nations that do not possess a method for tracking and documenting their own citizens. While it may be unfortunate for the refugees seeking to escape their nations of origin, I believe it is a priority of our local, regional and national elected officials to prohibit resettlement of refugees from any nation until the communities into where the refugees are placed can be assured that all refugees have been painstakingly vetted by all necessary levels of law enforcement. Security of our communities, regions and our nation must come first.
Along with the issue of security and safety is the potential financial burden our local communities and our state will be required to bear for ongoing support and maintenance for the refugees. After receiving federal support for anywhere between one and four months following their arrival in our country, the burden of financial support then falls onto the local communities and state entitlement programs. An analysis of refugees who have recently arrived in the United States put together by the Center for Immigration Studies in November 2015 states, “… that each Middle Eastern refugee creates a cost of $64,370 in the first five years on average. Per-refugee costs include $9,230 spent by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). They also include $55,140 in expenditures on welfare and education for the first five years. While the costs for ORR and PRM are only in the first year, welfare and education costs persist for many years. At the household level, the five-year cost is $257,481. It should be clear that what drives these costs are the initial expenditures by ORR and PRM and the very high use of welfare by Middle Eastern refugees.”
It is my belief that security of our communities and nation is our highest priority, indeed supported by the Constitution of the United States. While I do have compassion for those individuals genuinely seeking refuge from crises in their nations of origin, I cannot place my compassion for these refugees over the need to protect and secure our homeland, both our nation and our local communities. Until such time that a comprehensive and meticulous vetting process supported and approved by all levels of law enforcement agencies is established, I believe the risk is too high to bring refugees into our communities.
I further believe that the financial burden and expense refugee resettlement poses to taxpayers of our state and our nation is excessive considering that many Americans are already in need of support through our social assistance and entitlement programs like welfare, food stamps, health care, housing, insurance not to mention our education systems and other social programs necessary to allow Americans to succeed. Our current level of taxation to support existing social and educational programs for Americans in need is a significant burden for many taxpayers. To extend similar social assistance to refugees could push many American families to the breaking point financially. It is unfortunate that refugees do not have available social assistance programs to support them in their countries of origin. Yet, just as the United States cannot police the world, we are also unable to provide social assistance to the world. It is not a matter of lacking compassion or mercy, it is simply a matter of numbers and available financial resources. As Americans I believe we ought to take care of our own citizens first before extending that same level of support to refugees from other nations.
In conclusion I ask the question, is opposition to refugee resettlement really a matter of emotional, angry, racist, xenophobes refusing to extend support to individuals in need, or is it actually a matter of substance and concern regarding security, safety, finances and expenses? I believe it is the latter and I hope that people in Montana on both sides of this issue choose to debate this topic in a rational manner without name calling, criticism or accusations and instead choose to discuss the substance and facts of the issue.
Janet Walters lives in Lakeside.
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