Writer: Sachika Shah advocates for the resettlement of refugees, highlighting their economic and social benefits
On January 27, 2018, President Trump put into place the travel ban, suspending the United States’ refugee resettlement program at a critical time when the number of displaced people worldwide was 68.5 million. The results were deeply problematic: a majority of the countries continuing to host refugees are underdeveloped and don’t have the necessary resources to help all refugees. As a developed nation, it is the United States’ responsibility to help those in need, whether or not they are American citizens.
Three years ago, I met a refugee family from Syria at a dinner our high school hosted for refugees in our community. Their story devastated me. The mom shook my hand, introduced herself, and proceeded to tell me how, one night in Damascus, she and her family were forced to leave everything in the middle of the night and flee because of a shooting. There are millions of people with stories like this. They have tried to escape homes surrounded by poverty and war in order to look for security and peace. This conversation helped me understand my responsibility as a US citizen to use my opportunities and privileges to help those who struggle to get any food on their tables and any money in their pockets.
This experience led my sister and me to form a nonprofit organization called Teens4Refugees. We wanted to educate other young people about the refugee crisis. It was shocking to see the number of kids in our community who were passionate about making a change, but who couldn’t find a place to start. Our organization began as a way for adolescents to educate themselves and others through articles about current events.
As the organization grew, we partnered with the Yale Refugee Project, which helps resettled refugees in New Haven find homes, and started to expand our educational content. However, we saw that there was a lot more we could do, and we wanted to take direct action. After starting two chapters in New Providence and Mumbai, we started working with refugee families. We held clothing drives, raised $250 from a blood drive, held book sales, and were interviewed by Columbia professors writing an article on young activists advocating for immigrants, which let us reach higher authorities that could help our organization expand and have a more influential role.
Out work continues. Every Saturday, we tutor and play with the children at the Saturday Morning Fun Club. When I walk into a room full of refugee children who are playing catch, doing their homework, and laughing, I am uplifted to see their joy despite the hardships they have gone through.
Talking to their mothers always reminds me of the hardships behind their children’s smiles. It was apparent that, at first, the adults felt scared to talk to us, afraid someone was going to take away the little they finally had. They whispered, so their kids wouldn’t have to hear the misfortunes of their lives. Inspired by their strength, I want to strive to use what I have to give others what they need. These refugees parents wanted to give their kids the childhood every parent wants their child to have: one filled with education, food, a home, and laughter.
Unfortunately, many Americans misunderstand the impact refugees have on the nation’s economy. Contrary to what many believe (that accepting refugees hurts our economy), refugees actually help our economy grow. A study conducted by William Evans and Daniel Fitzgerald at Notre Dame University showed that it takes approximately $15,000 to resettle a refugee, but in the long term (20 years) refugees pay about $21,000 more than citizens in taxes. Moreover, children who came to the US when they were 13 or younger went on to graduate high school and attend college at similar rates to kids born in the US, as William Evans and Daniel Fitzgerald also demonstrated in their study mentioned above. On average it takes around $10,000 per year to educate kids (around $130,000 will cover education for all grades K-12), but eventually these students will pay far more in taxes over 40+ working years. While it is a difficult process to integrate refugees, the economic rewards outweigh the public costs.
Due to strict laws such as the “extreme vetting” process, it is harder for refugees to enter the US than many other countries. Our refugee resettlement programs receive funding based off of the number of incoming refugees. Therefore, given recent political events, it has become much harder for these resettlement agencies to provide proper support. Current refugees in the US are getting less help, hindering their ability to contribute to the economy. If enough funding is put into assisting refugees to overcome language and cultural barriers, get jobs, and start their new lives in the US, then the long term benefits to our economy will show.
Given this situation, what can you do?
Change starts with educating people about a problem. In order for people to help others, they must know who they are helping and why. Words are power. It is important for teenagers and adults to be aware of the worldwide refugee crisis. After understanding this problem, there are many avenues you can take to directly help refugees. You can volunteer at a local resettlement agency. You can donate any amount of money by going to the UNICEF USA website. Teens4Refugees, among many other programs, gives people the opportunity to directly meet refugees and make positive differences in their lives. We’re founded on the belief that we can use our words to help everyone see the benefits of resettling refugees.