Two Other Minnesota Cities Celebrate Diversity

Previous posts have discussed the positive impacts of immigrants on the southwestern Minnesota city of Worthington (Micropolitan Pop. 20,500 (2018)).  Now two other Minnesota outstate cities (southeastern Austin and northwestern Roseau) have joined the chorus.

Austin, Minnesota[1]

The city of Austin, population 25,190 (2018 est.) is the county seat of southeastern Mower County bordering Iowa to the south. It is the corporate headquarters of Hormel Foods Corp., a Fortune 500 company that grew out of the town’s small late 19th century butcher shop owned by George A. Hormel. In early January this year the county board gave its unanimous consent to resettlement of refugees.

“From 1% minority population in 1980 to 31% today, . . . [Austin’s] transformation has been profound. Immigrants from six continents call Austin home. Schools count more minority students than white students, with 48 different languages being spoken in classrooms. A medley of ethnic dining options and food markets surround the Spam Museum along Main Street downtown.”

The city’s high school basketball team, the Packers, has helped draw this diverse community together. For example, the winning last-second basket in a recent game was scored by Agwa Nywesh, an Ethiopian-American born in Austin.  “Hundreds of students storm the court and took “turns hugging him. White kids, and African kids, and Asian kids, and Hispanic kids. Rich kids, poor kids. All celebrating. The big victories, they bring people together.”

The high school’s soccer program is also successful, becoming a state-tournament regular. “Hold up a mirror to this team and Austin’s diversity stares back. The roster includes a mix of white, Hispanic, Karenni and African players, and one teammate from Poland.”

In its “swelling school district, 37% of students speak a primary language other than English, double the statewide average. One in 12 children here was born outside of the United States, and many more were raised speaking their parents’ native language.” In response , “cultural liaisons were hired to be ‘success coaches’ for students of different ethnic communities. Santino Deng, the success coach for the African community, describes his job as ‘like 9-1-1.’”

Adjusting to these changes was not easy. According to the city’s mayor, Tom Stiehm, at first “you have that big blank space in your head and we just have a tendency to fill it with negative things. Once I got to learn the community and learn the people,” he changed. “It’s the wave of the future. You can either ride that wave or you can drown. I tell people, it doesn’t matter what you like. This is going to happen, and you better acclimate yourself to it.”

“A Welcome Center opened on Main Street, and Taste of the Nations events offered foods from different cultures, including hot dish from the ladies at the Lutheran church. The Hormel Foundation, which pours more than $9 million annually into Mower County with many initiatives, partnered with the YMCA to create a kid-friendly membership: $1 per year, per kid. One night, more than 700 kids — many of them Sudanese — checked into the Y within a four-hour period.”

“City leaders have begun including new voices in high-profile settings. The City Council established a rotating, honorary seat that goes to a leader from an immigrant community. That person doesn’t vote but serves for three months sitting alongside the city attorney and police chief at meetings.”

“Over time, immigrant families found their footing, becoming permanent citizens, taxpayers, homeowners, neighbors. Their kids filled schools, and immigrants opened businesses downtown.”

All of this prompted the state’s main newspaper, the StarTribune, to salute Austin in an editorial. “At a time when so much public discussion about immigrants and immigration is negative — with overblown, fear-inducing narratives about criminal activity, building walls and keeping people out — a Minnesota town is demonstrating how new Americans can strengthen a community.”

 Roseau, Minnesota[2]

The city of Roseau, population 2,660 (2018 est.), is the county seat of Roseau County bordering Canada. A predecessor of Polaris Industries started its history there in 1954 with a prototype of a snowmobile, and the town still has the company’s main manufacturing plant for snowmobiles, all-terrain-vehicles (“ATVs”) and other products along with the company’s R&D.

Roseau, however, has an aging, declining population like most other small communities in the state and as a result has a major challenge in meeting Polaris’ demand for workers. Steve Hine, a research economist for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, said,  “There aren’t enough young people being born in Roseau County and staying in Roseau County to meet the needs of an expanding company like Polaris.”

A year ago Polaris hired a Puerto Rican recruiting firm to find a partial solution for a plant that consistently has about 70 job openings — and could add 70 more jobs if it could find the workers. In so doing, the company recognized that Puerto Rico might be a ready source of workers as it was suffering from hurricanes and more recently earthquakes and as its residents were U.S. citizens.

This recruiting effort has been successful. “On a recent weeknight, some 150 people crowded into Polaris’ fancy new lobby to celebrate the newcomers. A Puerto Rican made 80 pounds of pork butt. The manager of Roseau’s town ball team recruited Puerto Rican ballplayers. One Puerto Rican couple danced merengue. It was the biggest turnout Roseau’s Civic and Commerce Association has ever had.”

One of the newcomers, Ricardo Rojas, had been “a successful network systems engineer for a health insurer in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the mortgage on his $345,000 house was paid off, and his daughter was attending private school. Then he got laid off, . . . [and he] struggled to find steady work. . . . [His] home value plummeted. Jobs became even more scarce.” Now the job at Polaris “was a lifeline: double the pay of a manufacturing job back home, with full benefits, plus a better education for his 14-year-old daughter, who wants to be a doctor.”

Another Puerto Rican newcomer, Edwin Colón Pérez, “had worked at a medical manufacturing company in Puerto Rico, where he made $10.81 an hour. But production plummeted after the hurricane. Colleagues were laid off. Pérez has two children, 5 and 10, so he jumped at the opportunity to work 12-hour night shifts on Polaris’ manufacturing line, where he bends pipes in tube fabrication. He was excited to live in a place the high school principal describes as ‘Mayberry in the ’60s.’”

More generally, the Puerto Ricans “have filled the town’s housing — in apartments, in rental houses, in converted church basements — and brought diversity to this generations-long Scandinavian outpost.” They also “work at the AmericInn and at the bakery at Super One Foods. One Polaris employee hopes to open a restaurant featuring island specialties like mofongo and alcapurria. The wife of another hopes to start a school dance team. They worship at churches and drink beers at Legends Sports Pub and Grill. At a high school lip-sync competition, a new student rapped in Spanish a song he’d written. The 500 students erupted in applause.”

Rev. Steve Hoffer, pastor at Roseau Evangelical Covenant Church, welcomes the Puerto Ricans to the town. Along with six other churches, his church collected donated furniture and bedding, winter coats and used cars for the newcomers and bought plane tickets for families while Polaris paid for travel and temporary lodging for each worker. Said Pastor Hoffer,  “This is a win-win-win for everyone. This is a win for Polaris because companies up here in the northwest corner of Minnesota have a hard time finding employees. It’s a win for our community because it helps broaden the overall perspective of our town. There’s a world of people out there with very different experiences than people who have been here their entire lives. And it’s a win for the folks who are moving here, because this is an economic opportunity they simply didn’t have in Puerto Rico.”

Comments

These two towns remind one of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s recent consent to resettlement of refugees. In his letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, the Governor said, “Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge. Our state has always stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home.” Moreover, he said, “Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. They are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors.” (Emphasis in original.)[3]

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[1] Austin, Minnesota, Wikipedia; Mower County, Minnesota, Wikipedia; Mower County Online; Hormel Foods Corp.;Minnesota Counties’ Actions on Refugee Resettlement, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 15, 2020); Scoggins, Austin’s True Colors, StarTribune (Feb. 23, 2020); Editorial, A salute to Austin—a welcoming Minnesota town, StarTribune (Mar. 2, 2020).

[2] Forgrave, Puerto Rican connection brings workers, diversity to Roseau, StarTribune (Mar. 7, 2020); Flores, Photography: Puerto Rican families make their home in Roseau, StarTribune (Mar. 8, 2020); Roseau, Minnesota, Wikipedia; Roseau County, Minnesota, Wikipedia; Roseau County, Welcome; Polaris Inc., Wikipedia; Polaris Industries, Inc.

[3]  Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 14, 2019).

 

Are Developed Countries Decadent?

Yes, provocatively says Ross Douthat, a conservative New York Times columnist, in a recent lengthy column that deserves reflection by us all. [1}

Introduction

He starts with the assertion that in the 21st century the U.S. and other developed countries “are aging, comfortable and stuck, cut off from the past and no longer optimistic about the future, spurning both memory and ambition while we await some saving innovation or revelation, growing old unhappily together in the light of tiny screens.” In other words, we “really inhabit an era in which repetition is more the norm than invention; in which stalemate rather than revolution stamps our politics; in which sclerosis afflicts public institutions and private life alike; in which new developments in science, new exploratory projects, consistently underdeliver.”

This is an overall depiction of “decadence,” which Douthat defines as “economic stagnation, institutional decay and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development .” This “stagnation is often a consequence of previous development.”

He then expands upon this opinion by examining current economic, social and political factors.

Economics

“The decadent economy is not an impoverished one. The United States [for example] is an extraordinarily wealthy country, its middle class prosperous beyond the dreams of centuries past, its welfare state effective at easing the pain of recessions, and the last decade of growth has (slowly) raised our living standard to a new high after the losses from the Great Recession.”

But, Douthat says, the U.S. and other developed canopies are not dynamic. “American entrepreneurship has been declining since the 1970s. . . . [There is] a slowdown, a mounting difficulty in achieving breakthroughs [in science and technology].”

One of the sources for this assertion was a 2017 paper by a group of economists, “Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?” These economists asserted, ““We present a wide range of evidence from various industries, products, and firms showing that research effort is rising substantially while research productivity is declining sharply.”

Another source was Northwestern University economist, Robert Gordon, whom Douthat describes as “one of the most persuasive theorist of stagnation.” Gordon had concluded, “the period from 1840 to 1970 featured dramatic growth and innovation across multiple arenas — energy and transportation and medicine and agriculture and communication and the built environment. Whereas in the last two generations, progress has become increasingly monodimensional — all tech and nothing more.”

Society

“America is a more peaceable country than it was in 1970 or 1990, with lower crime rates and safer streets and better-behaved kids. But it’s also a country where that supposedly most American of qualities, wanderlust, has markedly declined: Americans no longer “go west” (or east or north or south) in search of opportunity the way they did 50 years ago; the rate at which people move between states has fallen from 3.5 percent in the early 1970s to 1.4 percent in 2010. . . . Nor do Americans change jobs as often as they once did.”

“Those well-behaved young people are more depressed than prior cohorts, less likely to drive drunk or get pregnant but more tempted toward self-harm. They are also the most medicated generation in history, from the drugs prescribed for A.D.H.D. to the antidepressants offered to anxious teens, and most of the medications are designed to be calming, offering a smoothed-out experience rather than a spiky high.”

“[P]eople are also less likely to invest in the future in the most literal of ways. The United States birthrate was once an outlier among developed countries, but since the Great Recession, it has descended rapidly, converging with the wealthy world’s general below-replacement norm. This demographic decline worsens economic stagnation; economists reckoning with its impact keep finding stark effects. A 2016 analysis found that a 10 percent increase in the fraction of the population over 60 decreased the growth rate of states’ per capita G.D.P. by 5.5 percent. A 2018 paper found that companies in younger labor markets are more innovative; another found that the aging of society helped explain the growth of monopolies and the declining rate of start-ups.”

“Sterility feeds stagnation, which further discourages childbearing, which sinks society ever-deeper into old age — makes demographic decline a clear example of how decadence overtakes a civilization. For much of Western history, declining birthrates reflected straightforward gains to human welfare: victories over infant mortality, over backbreaking agrarian economies, over confining expectations for young women. But once we crossed over into permanent below-replacement territory, the birth dearth began undercutting the very forces (youth, risk -taking, dynamism) necessary for continued growth, meaning that any further gains to individual welfare are coming at the future’s expense.”

        Politics

“From Trump’s Washington to the capitals of Europe, Western politics is now polarized between anti-establishment forces that are unprepared to competently govern and an establishment that’s too disliked to effectively rule.”

“The structures of the Western system, the United States Constitution and administrative state, the half-built federalism of the European Union, are everywhere creaking and everywhere critiqued. But our stalemates make them impervious to substantial reform, let alone to revolution. The most strident European nationalists don’t even want to leave the European Union, and Trump’s first term has actually been much like Obama’s second, with failed legislation and contested executive orders, and policy made mostly by negotiation between the bureaucracy and the courts.”

        Douthat’s Conclusion

“Complaining about decadence is a luxury good — a feature of societies where the mail is delivered, the crime rate is relatively low, and there is plenty of entertainment at your fingertips. Human beings can still live vigorously amid a general stagnation, be fruitful amid sterility, be creative amid repetition. And the decadent society, unlike the full dystopia, allows those signs of contradictions to exist, which means that it’s always possible to imagine and work toward renewal and renaissance.”

“So you can even build a case for decadence, not as a falling-off or disappointing end, but as a healthy balance between the misery of poverty and the dangers of growth for growth’s sake. A sustainable decadence, if you will, in which the crucial task for 21st-century humanity would be making the most of a prosperous stagnation: learning to temper our expectations and live within limits; making sure existing resources are distributed more justly; using education to lift people into the sunlit uplands of the creative class; and doing everything we can to help poorer countries transition successfully into our current position. Not because meliorism can cure every ill, but because the more revolutionary alternatives are too dangerous, and a simple greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number calculus requires that we just keep the existing system running and give up more ambitious dreams.”

“The longer a period of stagnation continues, the narrower the space for fecundity and piety, memory and invention, creativity and daring. The unresisted drift of decadence can lead into a territory of darkness, whose sleekness covers over a sickness unto death.”

“So decadence must be critiqued and resisted . . . . by the hope that where there’s stability, there also might eventually be renewal, that decadence need not give way to collapse to be escaped, that the renaissance can happen without the misery of an intervening dark age.”

This Blogger’s Conclusion

The societal facts cited by Douthat are well known, and this blog has commented about the economic challenges presented by lower birth rates and aging populations of the U.S. [2] and of his home state of Minnesota. [3] Therefore, this blogger has been and is an advocate for increasing U.S. welcoming  refugees and other immigrants in accordance with the U.S. history of immigration, which should be an U.S. advantage over other countries. [4] Douthat, however, does not mention immigration. Nor does he mention the high costs of raising children in the U.S. as a deterrent to having children. This blog also has discussed declining birth rates and aging populations in Japan, China and Cuba. [5]

This societal situation is also shown by recent U.S. declines in important international socio-political indices: freedom of the press, human development, level of corruption, income inequality, global peace and social progress. These may well relate to Douthat’s thesis.[6]

I agree with Douthat’s assessment of the political scene at least in the U.S. In fact, I believe that the U.S. Constitution is obsolete in so many ways, especially in its anti-democratic U.S. Senate which gives greater weight to land than to people, its filibuster rule, its Electoral College for electing the president and to the difficulty of amending that document.

Douthat’s discussion of current economic conditions presented new facts and analyses for this blogger. As a result, I will be studying Douthat’s forthcoming book, examining the paper by Robert Gordon that is hyperlinked in the column; finding and reading the paper by an unnamed group of economists that is discussed in the column; reading the over 1,000 comments on the column published by the Times; and searching for other opinions on these issues.

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[1] Douthat. The Age of Decadence, N.Y. Times (Feb. 9, 2020). He will expand on this topic in his book: The Age of Decadence: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success (to be released Feb. 25, 2020). An earlier column provided a slice of his analysis in discussing the second decade of our current century: The Decade of Disillusionment, N.Y. Times ( Dec. 28, 2019).      

[2] ] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: More Warnings of the Problems Facing U.S. Aging, Declining Population (Aug. 14, 2019); Implications of Reduced U.S. Population Growth (Jan. 10, 2020); U.S. Needs Immigration To Keep Growing and Maintain Prosperity (Feb.16, 2020).

[3] ] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota’s Challenges of Declining, Aging Population (Oct. 2, 2019); Slower Growth Projected for Minnesota Population in the 2020’s (Dec. 29, 2019).

[4] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Another Report About U.S. Need for More Immigrants (Aug. 25, 2019); Japan Shows Why U.S. Needs More Immigrants (Sept. 1, 2019); Prominent Economist Says Cuts in U.S. immigration Threaten U.S. Economy and Innovation (Oct. 12, 2019); Immigrants Come to U.S. To Work (Jan. 31, 2020); U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments (Feb. 2, 2020); U.S. Needs Immigrants To Keep Growing and Maintain Prosperity (Feb. 16, 2020).

[5] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Japan Shows Why U.S. Needs More Immigrants (Sept. 1, 2019); Japan Implements New Law Allowing Increased Immigration (Sept. 15, 2019); Cuba’s Aging and Declining Population Continues (Dec. 13, 2019); Continued Demographic Squeeze on Japan (Dec. 26, 2019); “The Chinese Population Crisis” (Jan. 21, 2020); Cuba’s Low Birth Rate, Increasing Emigration and Declining Population (Feb. 3, 2020).

[6] Declining U.S. Rankings in Important Socio-Poltical Indices, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 19, 2019).

Blowback on Two Decisions on Refugee Resettlement 

Two Republican governors, Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas and Greg Abbott in Texas, reached opposite decisions on refugee resettlement. Hutchinson said, “yes;” Abbott, “no.” [1] Both have received blowback.

Arkansas[2]

In Arkansas, some GOP state legislators said they unpleasantly were surprised by Hutchinson’s decision to consent to resettlement and asked him to appear before a legislative committee to explain and justify his decision.

The Governor did that on January 13 and emphasized that his decision was buttressed by the U.S. “acceptance of refugees who have aided overseas U.S. military personnel and [the U.S.] heightened . . .level of security screenings” and by the likelihood that fewer than 50 refugees will likely come to the state’s northwestern Washington County under this program. He also told the committee, “Each of you are leaders in your community. You’ve got a choice to make: You can create fear or you can help resolve fear. I challenge you to help resolve fear, have the facts, and to talk about those.”

Another point by Hutchinson was the “cost-benefit analysis conducted by the Trump administration that found refugees contributed $63 billion more in state and federal taxes than they received between 2005 and 2014. He noted that refugees are typically eager to go to work and become self-sufficient. “I believe . . . it’s a positive thing that we bring immigrants to our country, that they benefit to us in terms of their work and their paying taxes.”

Hutchinson also personally introduced to the committee “a Congolese refugee, who after nearly two decades in a refugee camp in Kenya now lives in . . . [the state] and works as a certified nursing assistant at a senior living facility, and a refugee from Afghanistan who fled his native country after his life became endangered for helping U.S. authorities.”

After the hearing, Republican state Sen. Trent Garner, who had requested the meeting, said, “This isn’t an issue to create fear. This is about legitimate security concerns and having a major change happen and people not being informed.”

On the other hand, “refugee advocates said they were heartened by Hutchinson’s remarks and hoped they would help the public understand resettlement better.” According to Emily Crane Linn, executive director of Canopy Northwest Arkansas, a nonprofit refugee resettlement agency, “I hope that as people ask questions and as they learn the truth, they will come to feel the same way I do about this program, that it is part of what makes this country great, it’s part of what makes our state great and it’s absolutely something that should continue.”

Texas[3]

Governor Abbott’s decision was criticized by at least three faith-based organizations: the state’s Roman Catholic bishops, the Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the last  of which was discussed in the prior post about the decision.

The Texas Catholic Bishops said the Governor’s decision “is deeply discouraging and disheartening. While the . . . [Conference of 16 bishops] respects the governor, this decision is simply misguided. It denies people who are fleeing persecution, including religious persecution, from being able to bring their gifts and talents to our state and contribute to the general common good of all Texans. The refugees who have already resettled in Texas have made our communities even more vibrant. As Catholics, an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien. We use this occasion to commit ourselves even more ardently to work with all people of good will, including our federal, state and local governments, to help refugees integrate and become productive members of our communities.”

Governor Abbott “has cited his [Catholic] faith to support anti-abortion and other conservative policies. But on the issue of refugees, he sharply diverges from the official positions of his church ― and the example set by Pope Francis.[4]

The Episcopal Church “condemns Gov. Abbott’s decision to reject refugee resettlement in 2020. Texas has long served as a strong partner in the work of welcoming some of the most vulnerable individuals in the world to peace, safety, and a bright future. Texas Episcopalians have also given generously of their time, talents, and treasure to help our refugee brothers and sisters rebuild their lives in the Lone Star State.” The statement added the following:

  • “Texans have long been known for their southern hospitality and generosity of spirit. Additionally, many Texans are people of strong faith who take seriously the Gospel call to welcome the stranger and to help those who are fleeing religious persecution and violence. The Episcopal community in Texas shares these values.”
  • “Refugees bring immense value to communities throughout Texas. They have invigorated the economy, brought innovation to small towns, and made communities stronger through their contributions to public life and cultural institutions. Refugees in Texas are students, entrepreneurs, dedicated employees, customers, elected officials, and community leaders – just like us. They are us.”

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Five Mores States Have Consented to Refugee Resettlement (Jan.7, 2020); Texas “No” to Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 11, 2020).

[2]  Field, Arkansas governor defends refugee decision, urges legislators to ‘help resolve fear,’ Ark. Democrat Gazette (Jan. 14, 2020); Assoc. Press, Arkansas Governor Defends Decision to Accept New Refugees, N.Y. Times (Jan. 13, 2020).

[3]   Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, Texas Catholic Bishops respond to Governor Abbott’s decision to turn away refugees (Jan.10, 2020); Kuruvilla, Texas Catholic Bishops Denounce Governor Abbott’s Decision To End Refugee Resettlement, HuffPost (Jan. 13, 2020); Burke, Every Catholic bishop in Texas is slamming Gov. Abbott’s decision to bar refugees, CNN (Jan. 13, 2020); Episcopal Church statement on Texas Gov. Abbott’s decision to reject refugee resettlement (Jan. 11, 2020).

[4] See Pope Francis Reminding Us To Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate Refugees and Migrants, dwkcommentaries. com (Jan. 1, 2020)..

Continued Demographic Squeeze on Japan  

For 2019 Japan’s population declined by 512,000, the latest sign of the country’s increasing demographic challenges due to declining births (less than 900,000 in 2019, the lowest figure since 1874) and increasing deaths (1.4 million in 2019, the highest since the end of World War II).[1]

Fewer births mean there will be fewer young people entering the workforce to replace retiring workers and support them as they age. This “poses a serious threat to Japan’s economic vitality and the security of its social safety net.”

Moreover, there is no anticipated end to Japan’s declining population. Its “government estimates that the population could shrink by around 16 million people — or nearly 13 percent — over the next 25 years.”

To try to meet this challenge the Japanese government has attempted to increase the fertility rate “by increasing incentives for parents to have more children and reducing obstacles that might discourage those who want to.” But so far that has not been successful for at least the following reasons:

  • First, “marriage is on the decline. The number of marriages dropped by 3,000 year-on-year to 583,000 [in 2019], part of a steep decline over the last decade.”
  • Second, “more people in Japan are putting off childbirth — or not having children at all — either to take advantage of economic opportunities or because they worry that economic opportunities do not exist and feel that they cannot afford children.”
  • Third, parents with younger children face difficult challenges. “Demand for day care in the country far outstrips supply, making it difficult for working women to juggle careers and children. And working men who want to take advantage of the country’s generous paternity leave can find themselves stigmatized by an entrenched cultural belief that a man’s place is in the office, not in the home.”

As noted in another post, Japan is attempting to increase the number of immigrants, contrary to long-standing Japanese norms against immigration. It also is promoting the use of robots to supplement its shrinking workforce.[2]

Other countries are facing similar problems. South Korea has an even lower birth rate than Japan. And China and the U.S. also have declining birth rates.[3]

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[1] Dooley, Japan Shrinks by 500,000 People as Births Fall to Lowest Number Since 1874 (Dec. 24, 2019)  See also Japan Shows Why U.S. Needs More Immigrants, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 1, 2019).

[2] Japan Implements New Law Allowing Increased Immigration, dwkcommentaries.com Sept. 15, 2019).

[3] Impact of Declining, Aging Rural Populations, dwkcommentaries.com (May 22, 2019); Other Factors Favoring More U.S. Immigration, dwkcommentaries.com  (May 17, 2018); The Importance of a Growing U.S. Population, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 27,  2017).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Senators Oppose U.S. Reduction in Refugee Admissions for Fiscal 2020 

As reported in a prior post. President Trump has reduced the number of refugee admissions to the U.S. for Fiscal 2020 (October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020) to 18,000.

Now a group of 10 Democratic U.S. senators have voiced opposition to that reduction. They are Senators Amy Klobuchar (MN), Cory Booker (NJ) and Kamala Harris (CA)—all of whom are candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020—plus Senators Richard Blumenthal (CT), Christopher Coons (DE), Richard Durbin (IL), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Mazie Hirono (HI), Patrick Leahy (VT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI).[1]

First, they say the new quota “could effectively—and perhaps intentionally—damage our long-term capacity to resettle refugees” in the U.S. The new quota “could effectively end” the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program by “starving the infrastructure built by resettlement agencies” that helps “refugees integrate into U..S. communities.” Already because of previous reductions in this quota by the Trump Administration, “approximately 100 offices operated by “ such agencies (as of April 2019) have closed.

Second, “the administration’s allocation of refugee admissions among particular categories of individuals could render it impossible to meet even the depressed cap of 18,000 refugees.” One example is the 4,000 for Iraqis, where because of lengthy U.S. security checks very few already are being admitted. Another example is the 7,500 allocated for others appears to exclude individuals referred by the U.N.

Third, another threat to the continued operation of refugee resettlement is  the President’s executive order’s stating “that refugees may only be resettled ‘in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees. . . . This requirement undoubtedly cause disruptions and disputes in the refugee settlement process—which, incidentally, already includes a consultation process with state and local officials. Moreover, permitting state and local jurisdictions to drive refugee policy subverts over a century of binding Supreme court precedent . . . that immigration policy . . . is uniquely within the purview of the federal government.”

They concluded, “We are facing the most significant displacement and refugee crisis in modern history. Reaffirming our historic role as the world’s humanitarian leader in this moment is not just about promoting our values. It is about protecting our security interests.”

The senators, therefore, requested a briefing about the new, lower quota. in their joint letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan.

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[1] Letter, Senators Blumenthal, et al. to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan (Nov. 6, 2019); Senator Feinstein, Feinstein, Harris, Leahy Lead Judiciary Democrats Urging Briefing Following Latest Trump Admin Move to Restrict Refugees (Nov. 6, 2019); Senator Harris, Harris, Leahy Lead Judiciary Democrats Urging Briefing Following Latest Trump Admin Move to Restrict Refugees (Nov. 6, 2019); Rao, Senator Klobuchar, other senators oppose reduction in refugees, StarTribune (Nov. 10, 2019); Senator Leahy, Harris and Leahy Lead Judiciary Democrats Urging Briefing Following Latest Trump Admin Move to Restrict Refugees (Nov. 6, 2019).

 

Voters Approve  School Bond Referenda in Worthington, Minnesota  

On November 5, the voters  in the Independent School District of Worthington, Minnesota approved, 1,780 to 1,644, a $ 33.7 million school bonding proposal to construct a new intermediate school with additional $5 million funding from the District’s general fund. The voters also approved, 1,760 to 1,662, the district’s proposal to refinance $14 million in debt so that agriculture property becomes eligible for tax credit.[1]

This outcome was attributable, in part, to a get-out-the-vote effort led by a local group, Seeds of Change. It mobilized “immigrant families, whose children sit in the majority of the desks in those crowded schools, . . . door knocking, phone banking, translating ballots into some of the 37 languages their neighbors speak.” One of these volunteers, “Aida Simon, who works several days a week as a translator at the crowded middle school her children attend, . . . said the election result made her feel like she belonged in Worthington. ‘It felt like this is my town, my community. I’m going nowhere,” she said. “This is where I’m going to raise my kids and I’m going to invest all I have.’”

The District’s Superintendent, John Landgaard, said, he was “thrilled” that the vote will allow the needs of the students and staff to be met. “Supporting our kids is important.” Similar thoughts were voiced by the chairperson of the District’s board, Brad Shaffer. These approvals came after four other bonding proposals had been defeated, 2016-2019.

Background on these schools and bonding proposals was set forth in a lengthy article in the Sunday StarTribune before the voting.[2] It noted, “As recently as 20 years ago, more than three-fourths of Worthington’s residents were white. Today, 60% are people of color, as well as 70% of the students in the school district. Much of the shift stems from the rush of immigrants who arrived here seeking work, many of them finding it at JBS Pork, a slaughterhouse on the edge of town that employs 2,400 workers.”

Although some residents had resisted spending more money on the schools for these newcomers, “Many residents praise the new arrivals, noting the economic and cultural vitality they bring to the city. At least 50 local businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores, auto shops and accounting firms, are owned by immigrants. Downtown houses several Mexican restaurants, Asian and Hispanic food markets, and stores selling imported goods. And each day around 4 p.m., after the early shift has let out at JBS, families stream into Panaderia Mi Tierra, a Latino bakery, where they pluck pastries from glass cases.”

“In the downtown, all the storefronts are full and it’s busy,” said Sharon Johnson, a lifelong resident who owns a downtown jewelry store and also serves as director of community education. “The cultures we are exposed to through music and food and art have really made this a wonderful place to live.”

“Bill Keitel owns Buffalo Billfold Co., a leather goods shop, and also owns rental property. “As a landlord, if I didn’t have these immigrants, my property values would plummet — as would everybody’s,” he said. “I look on them as our salvation, not our problem.”

Although many farmers in the school district opposed the bonding, one of them, Matt Widboom, voiced support. He said, ““It’s a lot [of money], but it’s an investment.” The county (Nobles)  and Worthington are among the few places in rural Minnesota that are rapidly growing, and education will be a key to sustaining the growth. “There are two jobs for every person in Nobles County. We don’t have the people to fill the jobs. We need to retain these kids.”

Congratulations to Worthington for welcoming these immigrants. [3]

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[1] Sobotka, All area school referendums approved by voters, The Globe (Nov. 5, 2019); Sobotka, UPDATED, District 518 voters approve all three referendum questions, The Globe (Nov. 5, 2019).Brooks, After all-out push, students get a ‘yes’ vote on Worthington schools, StarTribune (Nov. 6, 2019); Miller, Minn. town split over immigration agrees on sixth try to expand overcrowded schools, Wash. Post (Nov. 6, 2019.

[2] Reinan, Worthington, Minn., schools a test of immigration policy, StarTribune (Nov. 3, 2019).

[3] See also these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota’s Challenges of Declining, Aging Population (Oct. 2, 2019); Worthington’s Mayor Defends His City (Oct. 3, 2019); Immigrants’ Stories from Worthington Minnesota (Oct. 21, 2019).

 

Immigrants’ Stories from Worthington, Minnesota 

A previous post reviewed the Mayor of Worthington Minnesota’s defense of its large population of immigrants. Now, Andrea Durate-Alonso, a resident of that town and an American daughter of Mexican immigrants, has created an inspiring online collection of stories by the immigrants in that town. [1]

Her collection, entitled “Stories from Unheard Voices,” was prompted by her desire to debunk Donald Trump’s calling Mexican immigrants criminals and “rapists” in his 2016 presidential campaign. It documents an ”oral history” of the town’s immigrants: “Why did they come here? What are they escaping from? And how do their journeys shape the lives of their children?” Her interviews focus on individual experiences and empower the immigrants and their children to own their narratives and “feel human, to feel like they’re more than just undocumented, they’re more than just . . .immigrant[s]. They’re . . . actual human being[s] with feelings, with . . .emotions, who are more than just these other identities that they have.”

One of her interviewees, Elizabeth Coriolan, a Haitian-American, said it was a struggle for her to live in the town. “We have such a diverse environment around us in so many cultures. We can appreciate their art, their food, their language, their people, but in the same sense we hide them just so the Caucasians don’t feel uncomfortable.”

Another woman, named Teresa, left Mexico so her daughter could undergo surgery for a cancerous mole. She stayed, she said, “One comes to work, to fight, to get ahead to help also the family that one has in Mexico. I am already old, but my children here have a great future.”

Collecting these stories also has enabled Duarte-Alonso to re-evaluate her own life. “As a light-skinned Latina, she said she had privileges growing up.” Yet some said she was not “black enough” to be a Latina while others said she was not “white enough” to be white.

Duarte-Alonso was born in Dodge City, Kansas and with her father later moved to Worthington, after which she attended St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. There she obtained a scholarship which helped fund her creation of this website.

Conclusion

Muchas gracias and felicitaciones, Andrea! Great idea to create this important contribution for  the people of Worthington, the State of Minnesota, the U.S., and the home countries of these human beings. I wish you every success as you continue your life’s journey!

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[1] Feshir, ‘Unheard Voices’ in Worthington now have their say, MPR News (Oct. 21, 2019); Stories from Unheard Voices (2019).