At a rally in Minneapolis President Donald Trump touted a change in federal policy giving states and cities a level of veto power over refugee resettlement in their jurisdictions.
Not surprisingly, given Trump’s polarizing nature, this change was met with no small amount of blowback.
“Trump’s executive order requires state and local governments to consent in writing before people can arrive, meaning a state could ban refugees even when a city is prepared to welcome them, and vice versa,” the Washington Post reports.
North Dakotans are familiar with this debate. Our state has taken in more refugees per capita than just about any other state in the union according to this March 2019 report from the Department of Homeland Security:
This rate of resettlement has created some tension in state and local government. School districts struggle to provide resources for refugee students, things like language classes and translators. County governments grapple with organizing their social service programs to accommodate new neighbors who often have unique needs.
Yet when local officials speak out about these challenges, they get attacked. Fargo City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn was widely pilloried, called a bigot and worse, for asking after data about the costs of resettlement to local government. When a state lawmaker – former Rep. Chris Olson, a Republican from West Fargo – attempted to pass legislation facilitating data collection on refugee resettlement opponents insulted him in floor speeches.
It would be bigotry (or nativism or xenophobia or whatever term you want to use) to oppose refugee resettlement because you don’t like the refugees. Because you don’t want to welcome people who maybe look differently, or act differently, or come from a different cultural background than you.
But how is it bigotry to want to understand the real social and policy impacts of resettlement? One could argue that a better understanding of those things could serve refugees better.
Many of our more myopic friends on the left aren’t interested in that level of nuance. You’re either accepting of the status quo, or you’re a racist. Which, unfortunately, is kind of their rote argument in every facet of politics.
You’re either left-wing in your politics, or you’re an ignorant bigot.
The thing is, that attitude doesn’t serve refugees well either. If the goal is to bring refugees into our communities so they can find peace and prosperity, ramming resettlement down the throats of the people who are already here is going to make the process harder.
Choice is always better than force. Our government can make people do a lot of things they don’t want to do, but things work a lot better when people choose to do those things.
What President Trump is proposing is giving states and even local governments a choice. Supporters of refugee resettlement should embrace that. Sure, some local government and perhaps some entire states will choose to opt-out of resettlement. But others will opt-in. What’s more, those state and local governments can use the power of that choice as leverage to get more cooperation from the feds when it comes to resettling refugees.
Personally, I support refugee resettlement. I want our country to be a place where those suffering in other parts of the world can come and find happiness. I think those people, and the experiences and culture and knowledge they bring with them, enrich our communities.
But if we want resettlement to be as successful as it can be, states and cities need a choice. They need to opt-in. The status quo, where resettlement happens with little input with locals, and any sort of objection is treated as something akin to organizing a Ku Klux Klan rally, is counterproductive.