Refugees are not a drain on the economy or a threat to security

Refugees are not a drain on the economy or a threat to security
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June 20 marks World Refugee Day, a day to recognize the strength, resilience and stories of millions of refugees across the globe who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict and persecution. 

In the United States, refugee resettlement has been associated with border control, fiscal policy and the power of the executive branch. However, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is under attack like never before.

In September 2019, advocates across the United States took action to respond to an executive order requiring state and local officials to provide written consent for refugees to be resettled in their jurisdictions. Though 42 governors provided consent supporting refugee resettlement, one governor did not. 


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) spoke out against the resettlement of refugees in his state, saying, “the state and nonprofit organizations have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here, including refugees, migrants and the homeless…” Abbott failed to understand that the solutions here can be “both/and.”

America can be both strong and compassionate. We can protect our borders from terrorists and those seeking to do harm while also welcoming refugees, who come with a respect for America’s laws and values. We can promote solutions to address issues that plague our communities, such as systemic racism, homelessness and food insecurity. We can support our veterans, empower women and minorities and combat the opioid crisis without doing so at the expense of another. 

People have echoed the same concerns about refugee resettlement since before the passage of the Refugee Act in 1980, but little evidence from the last 40 years supports their claims. A top concern from critics of refugee resettlement is that refugees are a drain on the economy and social benefits. Yet, countless studies have shown that refugees are not a fiscal burden to the United States. 

What America has seen from resettling refugees includes: economic growth, creation of refugee owned businesses, diversity in our communities, places of worship, schools and increased international cooperation because of an understanding that outside of political borders, we are all members of one humanity.

Another frequently mentioned concern is that refugees could be a security threat to Americans. Prior to World War II, America turned away thousands of Jewish refugees due to concerns that they might be criminals or spies, a speculation about refugees that exists today. Yet, there hasn’t been a single deadly terrorist attack in the United States perpetrated by a refugee since the beginning of the resettlement program in 1980. 

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, America has witnessed refugees rising to the occasion on the frontlines by providing childcare, medical assistance, serving in grocery stores and many other services essential to helping America progress. More recently, refugees are also standing alongside Americans to protest racism and advocate for those who are oppressed in their communities. 

Solutions can be “both/and” not only because America is a land of opportunity with the capacity to meet the needs of the vulnerable, but because empowering the marginalized — the refugee — is what makes our country great.

Laura McCarter is a Refugee and Immigration Policy advisor for Bethany Christian Services.