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June 23, 2016

Fleeing Violence, Refugees Live Into America’s Promise

Families who have been forced to hurriedly flee their homeland because of genocide or persecution have little ability to bring their belongings with them or prepare for life in a new country. Yet over time, a large majority of refugees to the United States, and to Virginia, are able to learn English, obtain jobs or start businesses, buy homes, and become citizens, according to a new report from the Fiscal Policy Institute and Center for American Progress.

There are around 3 million people with refugee or political asylum status living in the United States. That’s about 1 in every 100 Americans. Among the 3 million are about 500,000 Bosnian, Burmese, Hmong, and Somali refugees. The largest national surveys, such as the American Community Survey, do not ask about refugee status, but because there are relatively few non-refugee immigrants in the United States from these four groups the report was able to look at the long-term experiences of these groups as a proxy for the experiences of refugees in the United States.

Virginia is home to about 8,300 refugees from these four groups, including about 3,100 Somali and 3,500 Bosnian refugees. These Virginians, like other such refugees nationwide, have become settled members of their communities – working, learning English, and earning citizenship. For example, wages for refugees living in Virginia are similar to wages for other Virginians with the same educational attainment. And more than three-quarters of Virginians from each of these groups who have been in the United States for at least 10 years are U.S. citizens.

The United States admits relatively few refugees each year and provides only short-term economic assistance. Most workers and families rise to this significant challenge, despite often facing barriers to employment. Many take low-wage jobs at first, but over time are able to find employment that better matches their skills, or even start their own businesses.

Despite some fears and harsh rhetoric from politicians, including a raft of antirefugee bills introduced during this last session of the General Assembly, refugees contribute to our country’s economy and make our communities stronger. Let’s not be the generation that turns our back on Lady Liberty’s promise.


Levi Goren

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