twin cities' refugees
by Melinda Bak
Different from an undocumented worker or a legal immigrant, a refugee is a person who has fled across international borders for fear of persecution, writes the United Nations.
An undocumented worker enters the country with the hope of a better life (whether that be through illiicit trade or jobs in the workforce). 23% of Minnesota's population is undcoumented; that's 100,000 individuals, or nearly 2% of the state's population (statistics from the American Immigration Council, see full report).
An immigrant, on the other hand, is someone who has left their country by choice and is seeking a new residence. Nearly half of all immigrants in Minnesota are naturalized U.S. citizens. Immigrant-led households in the state paid $2.2 billion in federal taxes and $1.1 billion in state and local taxes in 2014.
A refugee feels the need to flee their home in order to survive. While Minnesota is home to 2% of our country's population, we are home to 13% of our nation's refugees. That means that we have the largest refugees per capita of any state in the nation.
Today, 1 in 12 Minnesotans are foreign-born. In 1920, that number was about 1 in 5. Today, that totals about 457,200 residents, or 8% of the state's population. Half of Minnesotans who are foreign-born are also naturalized citizens. Check out the naturalization test at right - how'd you do?
While many of Minnesota's foreign-born population are naturalized U.S. citizens, many others still struggle with the language. Back before World War 1 started in 1914, 70% of Minnesota's population were immigrants; that means that in the last century, 7 out of every 10 Minnesotans were either foreign-born or had at least one parent born outside the United States. And then, as now, it was often the children who learned the language, helping to translate for their parents. Learning a second language as an adult is tough; most of us require support (as in a friend) to master a new language.
"In 2015, the largest groups of foreign-born Minnesotans were born in Mexico (about 67,300); Somalia (31,400); India (30,500); Laos, including Hmong (23,300); Vietnam (20,200); China, excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan (19,900); Ethiopia (19,300); and Thailand, including Hmong (16,800). These estimates do not include U.S.-born children of these immigrants," writes the Minnesota State Demographic Center. Behind English, the most common languages spoken Minnesota are Spanish and Hmong.
When refugees arrive at Twin Cities' airports, many not speaking the language, nonprofit sponsors and social service agencies (VOLAGS, VOLuntary AGencies contracted with the State Department) are there to welcome them and help them get settled into homes (see a list of the Minnesota VOLAGS). These agencies and their volunteers provide initial coaching, medical, and legal support.
But, at the end of three months - before most refugees can speak the language, navigate transportation or get a job - the sponsorship comes to an abrupt end and refugees are on their own.
Like any Minnesota resident, refugees are free to apply for taxpayer-funded government aid. After 20-years, they're more likely (than the average citizen) to still be receiving aid, according to a 2017 Notre Dame study on the economic outlook of refugees. While the direct cost for settling a single refugee tops $107,000, according to Notre Dame professon W. Evans, after 8-years the average refugee has begun repaying those costs (with taxes). And, after 20-years, they have not only reimbursed the government for their expenses, but they have paid in another $21,000, said Evans.
During earlier immigration waves, much of this cost was offset by the engagement of local faith communities who volunteered in significant ways; walking with refugees for several years, ensuring that new neighbors could successfully navigate school, grocery shopping, language, healthcare, and land a job. While Minnesota accepted more than 4000 refugees in 2015, more than 6000 in 2016, that number was down to just over 2000 in 2017, and is predicted to be about 1300 in 2018. Still, many of the prior years' arrivals need friends who can help with language and job skills.
In Minnesota, 48% of adults have an associates degree or higher. Among foreign-born Minnesota residents, that percentage is 36%. However, among the refugee population - most of whom have spend two-decades in a refugee camp without formal schooling - 1 in 4 lacks a high school degree; statewide individuals without a high school degree number 6% (compared with the refugee rate of 25%). In addition, many refugees who arrive with advanced degrees are required to retrain to meet US standards. Adults who are cut off from resources and outside support after 90-days are often at the mercy of their children to explain what is required for them to be a good neighbors, citizen, parent, potential employee. The odds of success go way up when these tasks aren't left to children, when faith-filled adults see the need and become part of the solution.
LEARN MORE about how you can take action and make a difference across faith boundaries. You can be the difference in a refugee's success here in Minnesota.
interfaith | twin cities - content notes
Threefaiths chooses events and resources based on the organization's desire to build interfaith bridges among the Abrahamic faiths: Jews, Christians, Muslims.
We acknowledge that our own work, as well as that of those listed here, often falls short of God's desire for us; we are open to ways we may continually improve.
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