Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How Appalachia Needs Syrian Refugees

The refugee "debate" is backwards.  The question isn't which state will take the risk and spend the money to help refugees; the question is which state gets to enjoy the economic, social and moral power that refugees and other immigrants have brought to this nation from the beginning.

Appalachia needs all the immigrants it can get.

Dee Davis of the Daily Yonder:

Rural America is falling further behind. Farms don’t need farmers. Manufacturing moved offshore. And the rate of rural kids living in poverty is worse than it is in the inner cities.

Here’s a solution. Let’s take in the Syrian refugees. Make them rural Americans. As many as we can feed.

I live in a small town. The billboard says welcome to Whitesburg, Kentucky, population 1,534 friendly people plus two grouches. We are losing industry, businesses and people with alacrity. We are losing alacrity too. Small towns often struggle to hang on to critical mass to keep a tax base or to have enough tuba players for the school band. In small towns everyone is necessary. Not even the grouches are expendable.

We’ve got room here for more folks. Rural downtowns have empty buildings where dime stores and haberdasheries once catered to customer needs.
 In the Appalachian Mountains, Syrians, Lebanese, Persians and Palestinians came in throughout the 20th-century booms and stayed through the busts. They were coal miners and merchants and soldiers in the great wars. This nation welcomed strangers then, and strangers pitched in. Steve Jobs’ people were Syrian. eBay’s Pierre Omidyar is Iranian. There is an upside to an open-door policy.

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But why should rural people be scared of new neighbors now? This is no time to buckle. Sharing the future with people who want to be here cannot be as daunting as preserving a present that’s straining under the load. The Statue of Liberty’s plaque plainly states: “The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”
That sounds like a plan. And it’s a more thoughtful rural policy than any we have now.

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