I support resettling refugees in St. Louis County (“St. Louis County weighs Trump refugee edict,” Dec. 22).
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I volunteered in refugee resettlement, mostly with helping people learn English. Then, in January 1985, I was hired to teach English as a second language to adult immigrants and refugees at the Duluth Adult Learning Center. I remained in that position until I retired in 2010. During those 25 years, I met more than 2,000 people from more than 60 different countries. They had a mix of immigration statuses. Some were refugees, some political-asylum candidates, some sponsored immigrants, and some Sanctuary Movement folks waiting to enter Canada. There also was the occasional undocumented person.
During those years, the local agencies that worked with refugee resettlement were Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, and Temple Israel, in conjunction with many local faith groups.
Refugees are given limited federal government support, designed to help them get on their way to financial independence. They are thoroughly vetted where they are before they are given refugee status and allowed to apply to immigrate. They are responsible for repaying their transportation costs.
In a position to watch these folks begin new lives in a new country, I was constantly amazed at the values they brought to the process. They were always anxious to become full citizens, independent, and well-educated. They prioritized hard work, strong families, education, learning English, and following the rules and customs of their new country while working to achieve their own American dream.
I heard many, many first-person stories of what it was like to be in a position where the best option for survival for you and your family is to become a refugee. The stories were wrenching, heartbreaking, and filled with desperation. No one wants to leave their country, their language, their friends, their extended family, their culture, their food — everything familiar — and start anew in a different, strange country. But for refugees, it is their best chance to survive. And so when they come, their motivation to succeed is very high.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calculated that the net fiscal impact of refugees was a positive $63 million during the 10 years previous to 2017. In Minnesota, the American Immigration Council found that in 2014 (the most recent year for which figures are available), immigrant-led households contributed $2.2 billion in federal taxes and $1.1 billion in state and local taxes. Refugees are not a long-term drain on finances.
We can find former refugees in all walks of life. The last time I was in the hospital, my phlebotomist was a former refugee from the Vietnam War. There are a number of refugee-founded restaurants in this area. The young Hmong woman elected to the St. Paul City Council in November was born in Duluth where her family first settled.
The people I worked with have become educators, military members, doctors, lawyers, judges, nurses, and bakers; they are homeowners, business owners, employees, and employers. I watched as they worked hard to find their own American dream. They brought so much to the fabric of our communities.
It would be a shame to not welcome them. It seems to me, as a person of faith that people desperate to survive should be welcomed and aided in their struggle as a tenet of faith.
For all these reasons, I support accepting refugees for resettlement in St. Louis County.
Bea Larson of Duluth retired in June 2010 after 25 years teaching English to immigrants, refugees, and applicants for political asylum through the Adult Basic Education program of the Duluth public school district.