Room at the Table: 7 Perks of Welcoming Refugees

Room at the Table: 7 Perks of Welcoming Refugees November 24, 2015

Repeat after me: Not all Muslims are extremists; the U.S. Government ALREADY does rigorous screening on all immigrants to our shores; and you are more likely to be crushed by a piece of furniture in your own damn house than to be killed by a terrorist. But. If you are reading my stuff, you probably already know this. And you are probably sick and tired of  trying to convince other people.

But listen. Step away from the ‘unfriend,’ ‘block’ and ‘unfollow’ buttons. If you begin to filter all of the backward and ignorant people from your life, your world will get small pretty quickly. And you know who wants us living in small little worlds? Terrorists.

Instead, continue to engage. Continue respectfully submitting rational information from reasonable sources. It might be rejected. It might be met with hostility or scorn. But at least you tried–and if you try, and another friend tries… it will eventually get more difficult for them to beat the drum of xenophobia if there are people around them refusing to march in time.

That said–when someone truly believes that all those scary mid-easterners are coming to bomb us in our sleep, it is profoundly hard to convince them otherwise. What might be more helpful is a counter-narrative; another thread of conversation that does not dwell in the semantics of complex religious and economic systems. I’d like to see more communities engaging, not in debate about whether refugees are ‘safe,’ but a dialogue about the unique qualities and contributions that immigrants of ALL kinds can bring to a region.

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In the spirit of Thanksgiving–in recognition of all that we have, and all that we have to offer–here are some good reasons for making more room at the table for those fleeing violent persecution.

1. The economic boom of diversity. Bringing new residents to town, helping them gain access to education and employment –it’s a great boost for tax dollars and the state and local economy. But more than that–it promotes cultural diversity in areas that might be pretty homogenous otherwise. And multi-cultural cities tend to have better trends in tourism. Which, clearly, is also good for the economy. Think about it–where do people flock for leisure travel? New York, Los Angeles and Chicago? Or… Mississippi?

2. Problem solving. Putting up a “no immigrants allowed” sign at the edge of town means that you will find yourself, in the years to come, surrounded by all the same people. Maybe that sounds fun and awesome to some but, seriously, what a drag. Bringing new demographics to an area brings new life–and new minds to put to work solving our biggest challenges. Somewhere in a Turkish refugee camp might be sitting the kid who could grow up to cure cancer, end poverty, and/or save the planet. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather that kid was safe and going to school in my town than hiding out in a bunker somewhere.

3. Raising Kids Who Aren’t Assholes. Diverse communities tend to produce youth who are more adept at empathy. I read a piece on this recently, and it turns out my 99.99% white high school pretty much RUINED ME FOR LIFE. Don’t let the same happen to your children! Surround them with people from different racial, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds to ensure that they grow into decent human beings who aren’t afraid of their own shadows and voting for Donald Trump.

4. Interfaith dialogue is important to the future survival of the human species; not to mention the success of your local food pantry, homeless shelter, and other benevolent organizations that depend on local faith communities working in cooperation. If “interfaith” in your town means that the Baptists and the Methodists occasionally show up at Denny’s for breakfast at the same time, then welcoming a few Islamic families to the coffee circle could really liven things up. Not to mention expand the potential for serving the poor in your own backyard.

5. Good restaurants! My neighborhood is *pretty* ethnically diverse, in the grand scheme of things. But I tell you what, there is still an Applebee’s or an Olive Garden on every corner. What I wouldn’t give for a few more hole-in-the-wall, mom and pop joints that specialize in exotic cuisine from interesting places. With kids working the register and loud family gatherings happening in the corner. Those kinds of places are important, but they can only be found in cities that make an effort to welcome strangers. #andtheirawesomefood #urbanspoonit

6. Thwart extremists’ recruiting efforts. The modus operandi for these kinds of groups is “join us or die.” Those are not choices. That is a life of terror, and it’s the life that refugees are seeking to escape. Removing as many people as possible from that environment means that the base of potential extremists will begin to dwindle. Give them a house, a job, an education–a few more life choices than ‘kill or be killed’ –and that is the best “war on terror” we can possibly hope for. All else ends in armageddon. If your city or region wants to “do our part to fight terrorism” — then cut terrorists off at the source. Such an approach will also counter their narrative of “the West hates Muslims,” which is their other favorite party line. Bringing in refugees is, all around, a good move for the cause of world peace. We all SAY we want world peace, when it doesn’t cost us anything… This is an epic opportunity to act on that spoken desire.

7. Strengthen the bonds of community. Of course, there is the obvious reason for welcoming the stranger–it’s the right thing to do. Our faith requires it; our status as citizens of the free world requires it; and ultimately, our humanity demands it. Cities that work together to create a safe place for those seeking refuge will ultimately find their common humanity bolstered in unimagined ways. Ways that will feed much more than the economy and the local food scene, but the very heart and soul of a shared place.

Scoot over. For real, there’s room.

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