The Rock Island County Board takes a lot of flak. Some of it is deserved, some not. But last week it sent a message we hope reverberates through the Quad-Cities.
The board, on a 24-1 vote, gave permission to resettle refugees in the county.
The county’s action was prompted by President Trump’s executive order last year requiring that state and local governments give their permission before refugees could be welcomed here.
The move is part of the president's effort to make it harder for refugees to enter this country.
This fiscal year, the White House capped the number of refugees who could come to the U.S. at 18,000, down from 30,000 the year before.
In 2016, the ceiling was 85,000, as the U.S. sought do its part along with other nations to deal with a worldwide flow of people fleeing war and oppression.
Fortunately, a district judge has blocked the president's order because it gives local officials veto power over what is a federal prerogative. But it's not clear whether the private agencies that are challenging the executive order will end up victorious.
That's why what Rock Island County did is so important. If local permission is eventually needed, it's there.
Just as importantly, the county sent a message it won't succumb to fear and false claims.
Refugees add to the Quad-Cities, just as they add to communities around the United States. They work, their kids attend school — they join us to worship. They are us.
Over the past five years, 764 refugees, mostly Congolese and Burmese families, have resettled here, according to World Relief, the Moline-based resettlement agency.
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We have heard inspiring stories of their efforts to start new lives here. And we are inspired by those who have dedicated themselves to helping our new neighbors integrate into the Quad-Cities — to find jobs, housing and other basic necessities, like a driver's license or daycare.
Critics of Rock Island County complain these families are drain on resources.
The bulk of the evidence we've seen says the opposite.
A widely-cited 2017 study by two researchers at Notre Dame, found that refugees who enter the country between ages 18 and 45 start slowly, but after six years they actually work at higher rates than the native-born population. And after 20 years, refugees paid more in taxes than they received in benefits.
The benefits that refugees do get are largely covered by the federal government, so the idea that they would put a significant burden on county resources is false. (In fact, the number of refugees resettled in Rock Island County over the past five years only amounts to half of 1 percent of the county's entire population.)
Laura Fontaine, the director of World Relief, said she was grateful for the support of the county, as well as other public officials, like the mayors of Rock Island and Moline.
We believe leaders all throughout the Quad-Cities should add their voices to this welcoming chorus.
World Relief has resettled refugees only in Rock Island County over the past 10 years, but it is now looking across the river, too. So, Scott County stepping up to affirm that it, too, is welcoming of refugees — that it, too, is willing to assert the ideals of a country that has throughout its history welcomed those fleeing oppression — would be a powerful statement.
We would note that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, along with the governors of 30 states, has already given permission.
So far, only the governor of Texas has refused, and in that state, economic development officials worry about the message this sends. We think that if Iowa government leaders are truly worried about a worker shortage, which we hear all the time, they would welcome refugees. That's hardly the main reason for doing so, but add it to the list.
As we noted, a judge put Trump's executive order on hold, so for the moment local permission is not needed to resettle refugees in the Iowa Quad-Cities.
We hope the administration's executive order will be rejected, but that is in the hands of the courts.