By Drew Patrick
It seems like over the past few years that more and more people are having strong opinions over refugees. Weather that seems to be linked to the presidential political cycle, the More knowledge being learned about it this topic, or actual experience you can definitely see the difference in the world. however with that being said a lot of misinformation is being given. The most obvious misinformation that has been given has been in terms of politics. Many refugees do not have a voice in politics and with immigration laws running on this misinformation their voice is not being heard. These people have been relocated to Erie and that’s a big change. Many people outside of these communities have fear. They watch news on how there have been some terror groups who have hidden inside the blanket of being a refugee. Many refugees enjoy the safety of the United States, however just like when visit somewhere else, you just want to be safe at home.
Erie is one of the largest refugee resettlement areas in the country. This is helped by Erie’s relatively low Cost of living. According to the Pennsylvania Refugee Resettlement Program, 526 refugees from 17 countries were recorded as arriving in Erie County from January through November of last year, 19 percent of the 2,772 refugees who have resettled in the state during that time period.
Most people think of Syrian refugees when they think of refugees anyway but the truth is that most refugees are not from Syria. Over one-third of the refugees come from the East Asia section of the world.But another third of the refugees come from the African continent. And a quarter of Refugees come from the China, Vietnam and, Indonesia area of the world. When we look at Pennsylvania alone Syrian refugees are actually 8th down on the list. Most of the Pennsylvania refugees are actually from the Himalayan area, with Bhutan having the most refugees in Pennsylvania. That is followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo which is has the second most refugees from that country. The first Middle Eastern country on the list is Iraq in 6th place. Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz stated that he believes most of the Syrian refugees where young men. This is however just not true. Of the Syrian refugees an overwhelming number of them are women and children.
Now that we know where the majority of the refugees come from, let’s talk about politics. Erie Pennsylvania seems to be a hotbed for Refugees the Little Italy area of Erie has become that hotbed for “New Americans.” A lot of misconceptions on the refugee population includes of course, money. Erie received a lot of the refugees not on accident. They returned the preferred community status and receive federal money through the Office of refugee resettlement to welcome the refugees in Erie. The cost of living, housing and transportation were among the better options. Not a penny came out of the Erie budget to help these refugees. So in terms of money Erie has done a very good job of not completely attacking the taxpayer for these refugees.Through the organization is where most refugees coming over get set up for their jobs.
Looking at the political landscape in Pennsylvania to go along with that, Pennsylvania currently has a Democratic governor in Tom Wolf. Despite this most of Congress, House of Representatives and shove it, all Republican. Many of those Congress Republicans are not in support of the refugees due to fear. Hear that stems from the 2015 Paris attacks where some of the culprits were refugees to the country. This fear has completely clouded judgement that many Congress members think about the refugees. With this political climate so cloudy most refugee related issues never get salt as Pennsylvania seems to be stuck in a stalemate when it comes to talking about this issue. The biggest evidence of this is the way Pennsylvania has handled its state budget. With constant bickering and fighting between Congress and the governor, a budget has struggled to be passed for 2015 and seems to be struggling to pass a 2016 budget as well. Wolf stated that during this time of crisis with Syria and their refugees that Pennsylvania would still participate in letting Syrian refugees into the country. He was met with almost immediate backlash from the Republican representatives in the House And many of them signed petitions to get this decision overturned. So far Wolf has stayed true to his word and has not turned his back on letting refugees into the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Many people have heard that in this day in age the United States is taking in more and more refugees from different countries. This however is false as in 2009 The ceiling for amount of refugees allowed into the country was 800000, with 75000 being reported.Those numbers have shrunk significantly since 2009 and last year the ceiling was 70000 and was matched by reported refugees, this according to Immigration policy.com. Also 2013 was the first year that the United States reached that ceiling number with 70000.
But who represents the refugee population in Pennsylvania? That’s a hard question as there are no representatives or senators in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who were refugees. So where is the voice for these New Americans? Expecially on the local Erie level. Erie City Council consists of seven members as well as three members who are elected( which includes Mayor). Of these members the ones that mostly deal with issues that involve new Americans are Casimir Kwitowski Who served on the Little Italy revitalization process, Melvin Witherspoon who deals with the Erie Housing Authority, and Sonya Arrington, Which part of the Erie Human Relations Committee as well as the Multicultural Center. However, the Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Network is the most pertinent voice in Erie. But even these Erie people and organizations struggle to encapsulate all New Americans.
With Political turmoil at an all time high it’s the innocent refugees who suffer.