The state that loves refugees

Despite the recent turmoil in Rutland, Vermont owes it to itself to take a good, hard look at the benefits of welcoming the world’s growing numbers of refugees. We have excess capacity in our schools, and refugees’ families could fill many of the empty classroom seats while bringing diversity to our communities. It’s not just the right thing to do, it would also give a boost to the state’s economy. Vermont should lead the way—like we did with same-sex marriage and equitable education funding.

The PBS Newshour ran a segment recently about Utica, New York, and how refugees have helped to revive that city. According to the broadcast, Utica lost nearly a third of its population when factories closed and the city fell on hard times. Now about one out of four Utica residents is a refugee, and the city is on the rebound.

Rutland’s plan to promote Syrian refugees last year ran into opposition, but Chittenden County has been welcoming people from Sudan, Somalia, and other war-torn countries for years. It’s time to think seriously about how to promote resettlement in other parts of the state. Chittenden County already has strong job growth, and school enrollments in Burlington are increasing. It’s the rest of the state that needs the help.

In this Trump era of xenophobia, it’s important that our kids gain a balanced understanding of the world. One of the best things we could do for them is to let them experience more races, nationalities, cultures, and languages in their communities.

Last year Vermont again ranked first in the number of current and former Peace Corps Volunteers per capita. The Peace Corps is as much about exposing Americans to the rest of the world as it is about helping the so-called underdeveloped world. By welcoming refugees in towns across the state, we could give Vermont kids—and adults—a greater sense of appreciation and tolerance for our global community.

Vermont has been struggling with a declining school-aged population for almost 20 years. The latest response has been to close schools through school district consolidation. Surely we can be more creative and take a more positive view of the future. The state needs to develop an active campaign to promote itself and recruit young, industrious families.

The PBS Newshour reported that Utica bills itself as “the town that loves refugees.” Vermont could distinguish itself by rejecting the notions that the world is a dark and dangerous place and that all foreigners are terrorists, and declare ourselves the state that loves refugees. If we did, we’d benefit our economy, our children, our communities, and ourselves.

Posted by Jack Hoffman on July 17, 2017 at 10:59 am

3 Responses to “The state that loves refugees”

  1. Kate Robinson says:

    And let’s not forget that, as we are an aging state, there will be a declining number of people to take the jobs and start the businesses that are the engine of any strong economy. Public Assets’ and others’ studies show the growing need in Vermont–one that is only going to increase–for ambitious, energetic, hard-working, well-trained and educated young, and not-so-young, adults to meet this demand. With the lure of urbanization strong for some current young Vermonters, why not draw on those ‘longing to breathe free’ to take the often well-paying jobs that need filling? The idea of creating a program for refugees and immgrants at one of the state colleges that would teach English intensively and provide other job-readiness training has been floated and could pay off for years to come.

  2. Spoon Agave says:

    For quite a long time I have enjoyed, appreciated and learned from the many commentaries and analyses that have emanated from Public Assets. For the first time, after reading this piece on refugees, I am looking askance. It brought this reaction because the subject, perhaps more so than most things discussed here, requires a good bit of examination. Surely Public Assets is aware of the historical exploitation of vulnerable groups of people. Surely they can recognize that refugees might very likely fall into that category.
    It may very well be that Utica has benefitted from their ‘open door’ policy, or attitude. If so it is good to hear of that and very reasonable to suggest that Vermont could benefit in the same way. But Public Assets should have accompanied its opinion with some reassuring data. The gist of the recommendation to Vermont is that once we establish an appropriate concentration of refugees companies will notice and surely respond by creating jobs and provide good wages for these new residents.
    Among other things Utica is located within a major commercial and industrial corridor. Going back to the Erie Canal it has a two hundred year history as a link in a major economic chain. Regeneration is a “natural” there. That condition does not so obviously exist in Vermont. For instance, how large of a concentration of refugees is necessary to realize the results you assume? Given the lack of analysis this is one time a Public Assets suggestion feels overconfident and hasty. You’re argument needs to be more convincing. More worthy of Public Assets.

  3. This is a great idea, Paul. Do you know about CVRAN? We are a rather new organization in Washington County area working on refugee issues. We have a facebook page and some sort of web contact, I believe I forwarded your message to our president, Diane Fitch. The organization is Central Vermont Refugee Action Network if you are trying to find anything about us. I am not good at doing links!
    I saw the Utica piece on VPT, I think and was thinking the same thing!

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