Across the globe, war and sectarian violence on a scale unimaginable to Americans born since 1865 has scattered 22 million refugees to makeshift camps and emergency housing hundreds or thousands of miles from their homes. More than half — a population greater than twice the size of metro Detroit — are children.
Each year, the United Nations certifies less than 1 percent of all refugees for resettlement in its more stable member nations. Over the last decade, the United States has accepted the largest number of these referrals — more than 70,000 a year, on average. Southeast Michigan has been a favored destination, welcoming more than 21,000 refugees, the overwhelming majority of them from Iraq or Syria, since 2007.
There is no evidence that this influx has jeopardized the physical well-being or employment of the region's Michigan-born residents, and a great deal to suggest that it has done exactly the opposite.
But neither of those salient facts dissuaded the Trump White House from announcing that it would cut the number of refugees permitted to resettle in the United States by half this year, the lowest number since U.S. presidents began fixing an annual limit in 1980.
Like many of his claims about immigrants, Trump's assertion that refugees pose a special risk for the communities that succor them is a lie contradicted by virtually all the data available, much of it collected and certified by the U.S. government.
The freshest data is contained in a study released this month by researchers at the University of Michigan and the advocacy group Global Detroit. It makes a convincing case that the refugees who have flocked to southeast Michigan over the last decade are victims, not carriers, of terrorism, and that they have created jobs, not stolen them from native-born Michiganders.
A few of the more significant data points:
By the most conservative estimate, the more than 21,000 refugees resettled into Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties since 2006 are generating $229 million in economic activity and 1,798 new jobs every year. When more optimistic multipliers are factored in, the estimates grow to $295 million and 2,311 jobs.
Three-fifths of the region's refugee households own their own businesses; 39 percent own two businesses or more. Refugees are more likely to be college-educated and self-employed than their native-born Michigan neighbors. After 25 years of residency, the income of the average refugee household eclipses that of the average U.S. household.
The biggest beneficiary has been Oakland County, which has welcomed 11,245 refugees — 32 percent of Michigan's resettlements over the last decade, and a proportionate amount of the economic windfall such refugees represent. A little something for L. Brooks Patterson to reflect on the next time he has a notion to regurgitate anti-immigrant propaganda unworthy of the prosperous, well-educated county he oversees.
The robust resettlement of refugees (who end up in Michigan more often than all but three other states) is almost single-handedly responsible for stanching the state's overall population loss. Michigan was the only state to lose population in the last federal Census, but has added 64,000 foreign-born residents since 2010.
The assertion that this economic bounty has come at a dangerous cost to public safety is a pernicious but persistent myth. As a class, no group of people seeking to enter the United States is more thoroughly scrutinized. The typical refugee spends nearly two years clearing the myriad security hurdles to resettlement, which include vetting by eight federal agencies employing six security databases, four biometric security checks and at least three in-person interviews.
Not that proving a refugee represents no threat to anyone is a ticket to resettlement in Michigan, or anywhere else in the U.S. Among the tiny minority who make the cut, Global Detroit points out, preference is given to "women and children at risk, survivors of violence, those with medical needs, or those waiting to be reunited with their family."
So it's not as though the decision to resettle refugees in Michigan was taken by shrewd policymakers eager to stabilize the state's population and spur economic development. It was a fundamentally humanitarian impulse — one that just happened to work out as well for the benefactors as it did for the beneficiaries.
Today, that quintessentially American generosity has been supplanted by a new regime of intolerance, and a demagogue-in-chief who stokes the flames with fear and falsehoods.
But make no mistake: If we persist in slamming the door on refugees fleeing war and persecution, we in Michigan risk forfeiting our prosperity as well as our humanity.
You may contact Brian Dickerson at the Detroit Free Press (TNS) by email: [email protected]