Photo: Governor Bill Lee/flickr

The Tennessee Governor Bill Lee overcame opposition and decided to continue allowing refugees into the state. Liam Glen writes on the meaning of the move and the flaws in anti-refugee rhetoric.

Bipartisanship is a rare sight in modern American politics. But some good news came when Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee decided to authorize refugee resettlement in the state despite objections from other members of his party.

Among others, Lee joins the Republican governors of New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Utah in his decision. The issue was opened up after a September executive order that allowed state and local governments to refuse to participate in resettlement programs.

This follows a trend with the current administration, which has allowed a record-low number of refugees into the country. But decisions like that in Tennessee show that others are not so willing to go along with this agenda.

The Economic Debate

When someone leaves their country due to persecution, war, or violence, it is difficult to argue from a moral standpoint that they should not be allowed to resettle elsewhere rather than languishing in refugee camps or returning to their home countries. It is for this reason that religious groups are typically the strongest supporters of refugees.

But, of course, in political discourse it is cool and edgy to dismiss morality and consider human society as existing solely for mutual self-interest. In that case, the only thing that matters is the effect that accepting refugees will have on local communities. 

Opponents question the costs and benefits of taxpayer-funded programs supporting foreign nationals. At its most extreme, this argument presents the US as a country on the edge. If a several thousand more people are let in, it would threaten Americans’ access to scarce resources. The country would risk, as stated in the conservative website FITSNews, “sliding into the same third world oblivion these refugees are fleeing.”

But the actual workings of the economy are far more complex. It is not a zero-sum game. Definitive answers for issues like this are always difficult to come by, but there is a strong case that, while refugee resettlement usually puts a financial strain on social services, it takes only a few years for them to take jobs, support  themselves, and contribute to the economy by consuming goods and paying taxes.

The International Security Priority

For many, however, priority is on security. Politicians and commentators –and especially the current president – have been hard at work over the past years drawing a connection between ISIS and Syrian refugees.

But this is an extraordinarily poor argument. To start with, people from Syria and other countries where anti-American terrorism is a major presence account for a small minority of total refugees coming into the US. And by definition, refugees are those who are fleeing the violence rather than those causing it.

In theory, it is possible that a terrorist may pose as a refugee to sneak into the West. But this would require masterstroke of luck in sneaking past the complex screening process and being one of the very few who are actually chosen for resettlement. Such a scheme would be a very poor gamble.

In fact, accepting refugees is a boon for international social and economic stability. When a large number of people enter a single country, as Syrians have in Lebanon, it creates tension. But larger and wealthier countries like the US have far more room.

When Angela Merkel changed EU rules to allow more Syrian refugees to come into Germany, it was interpreted as a historic act of magnanimity. But in fact, it mainly served as a pragmatic way to take pressure off of countries like Italy and Greece, which were unable to adequately care for the influx of new arrivals. 

Anti-refugee animus can only be interpreted as a form of fearmongering. Or, in the case of the Trump administration, which has considered going as far as taking zero refugees, a way to show its utter disdain for the rest of the world. But while fear may rise and fall as events unfold, the current trajectory suggests that the equilibrium is on the side of acceptance. 

Liam Glen

Liam Glen is Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. He is studying Political Science with minors in Sustainability Studies and Conflict Management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill....