Recently, Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon introduced a bill relating to refugee resettlement. The stated intent of the Refugee Resettlement Notification Act is to make Nebraskans safe. Sadly, the bill won’t make Nebraskan safer; it is simply another piece of bureaucratic red tape and largely symbolic.
Refugees are the zombies of the world who lost everything, watched merciless mass murders, survived atrocities, wrongful imprisonment, death, rape, torture and witnessed or were forced to participate in gruesome human rights violations. For them, because of this context, safety and security is not just an abstract. It is the reason they fled from their homes and families and risked their own lives. Some left behind successful businesses; others abandoned luxuries and professional careers to seek refuge in a foreign land. They embarked on a journey not knowing what to expect but on the prospect that generous, kind human beings will help them to salvage their lives.
Brewer’s bill mandates the creation of an unnecessary database to track refugees, which will not make Nebraskans safe. This approach mirrors the Muslim registration rhetoric we have been hearing from the Trump administration. Further, the bill is redundant, requiring, for example, that personal data be collected of those refugees who access state benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid. This information is already accessible through the Department of Health and Human Services, and the State Refugee Coordinator’s Office. The senator’s intent, through this bill, is transparent: Rather than to make Nebraskans safe, as he claims, it is aimed at making the lives of refugees even more challenging.
The bill states that refugees pose “potential future security risks.” However, according to the CDC and world life expectancy, “terrorist attack” is not even among the top 50 leading causes of death in the state of Nebraska. The public is much more threatened by the paranoid schizophrenic with an automatic weapon than by starving refugees.
Beyond the heated political rhetoric, the bill is not practical, because refugees have the right to relocate anywhere in United States upon resettlement. Many refugees never seek services from resettlement agencies after moving to Nebraska as secondary immigrants, hence, it is impractical to track them. Ironically, the bill does not make a legitimate connection between accessing public benefits and the safety of Nebraskans.
The bill is also bad for business. Our state relies on refugees to perform the menial labor that most of the labor force will not touch. A significant portion of the thousands of employees who work in meat plants in Omaha, Hastings, Nebraska City, Grand Island, Lexington, Sioux City, Schuyler and other small rural cities are refugees.
According to U.S. Census Bureau, immigrants comprise about 8 percent of the state’s workforce. In addition, according to the American Immigrant Council, spending by refugees and other immigrants “accounted for $1.6 billion worth of total production in Nebraska’s economy and generated roughly 12,000 jobs for the state in 2006,” according to a study from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.”
Are they stealing jobs from other Americans? No! Ask a plant operator and they will tell you they are fortunate to have anyone willing to do this grotesque, demanding work. Are these refugees sucking benefits from the system that could be used for other Americans? No! In aggregate, refugees add far more to the economy than they receive. They pay millions of dollars in federal, state and sales taxes. Refugees belong here. They work hard. They ask for nothing except safety and security and are thrilled in a society where the rule of law prevails. And they deserve to be appreciated by the honorable senator, instead of being racially or ethnically profiled. Nebraska has a long history of welcoming refugees and aiding the most marginalized members of our communities; this bill is a direct contradiction to this principle.
As co-chair of Omaha Refugee Task Force, a member of the refugee community and a “working class” American, I am determined to work closely with elected officials to educate the public — and our elected officials — about refugee resettlement. I look forward to working with Sen. Brewers and his colleagues in helping the Legislature to make informed decisions that will benefit all Nebraskans, including these vulnerable and underrepresented taxpayers.
Dekow Diriye Sagar, a former Somalian refugee, is a former lecturer at the University of Kansas and is now program coordinator at the International Center of the Heartland. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Lutheran Family Services.