LONSBERRY: Don't Put Afghans in Rochester or Syracuse


   Don’t put any refugees in Rochester.

               Or Syracuse for that matter.

               As tens of thousands of Afghan refugees stream into the United States, the impulse will be to do with them what has been done with so many from around the world who have come before them – dump them in impoverished and crime-riddled inner-city neighborhoods.

               It happens in Rochester, and it happens in Syracuse.

               And it’s no good. It simply moves these displaced people from one broken society into another. It hurts them, and it potentially hurts their families for generations, consigning them to America’s dysfunctional underclass.

               This may be painful to hear, but it’s true.

               If you go through some neighborhoods in Rochester and Syracuse, you see newly arrived people, sometimes in traditional dress, who have been plopped down by big-money non-profits in places where their prospects for safety and success are harshly limited. In places where, in both cities, such newcomers have been the targets of crime committed by their new neighbors. In places where, given the dearth of prospects for anyone, there often is harsh resentment for the refugees by their new neighbors.

               Dangerous streets, hostile neighbors, broken schools, dysfunctional culture. Trash-strewn streets, crude graffiti, no jobs, separated from the larger mainstream American society.

               It’s no good.

               And it makes a mockery of the notion that we are being charitable and doing these people a good deed. They have come to us in need, and we have ill served them. We have put them in places where the natural process of acculturation will lead them into behaviors and expectations that will be ruinous for them and society.

               To be honest, the cities of Rochester and Syracuse are not successful at providing hope and opportunity for the people – native born or immigrant – who already live there. Both cities have some of the worst concentrations of impoverished people of color in the entire country. Those people, those Americans, are in dire need themselves, and are poorly situated to be the foundation around which newly arrived families try to build new lives in a new country.

               There’s no doubt about it, it would be irresponsible and cruel to put Afghan refugees in either Rochester or Syracuse.

               In the suburbs and rural communities surrounding Rochester and Syracuse, however, it would be a wonderful idea. The Central New York, Finger Lakes and Western New York regions which look to Rochester and Syracuse as their hub cities are replete with communities where Afghan refugees would fit and flourish, where solid schools and solid values offer opportunity and promise – and a warm welcome.

               Across the region, there are literally scores of communities where thousands of Afghans could comfortably build American lives. And where these refugees, as they get their feet under them, could in turn build and strengthen those communities with their hard work and family values. They would at least have a chance to pursue their American dream unhindered by the social pathologies which afflict so much of urban Rochester and Syracuse.

               And the process of acculturation – the natural patterning of one’s life after the lives of the people who surround you – will more likely lead to functional and self-supporting outcomes, which will further empower the newcomers to achieve their American dreams.

               The single largest piece of this is the difference between the Rochester and Syracuse city school districts and the suburban and rural districts which serve the rest of the region. The weakest of the regional schools offers better opportunities to earnest students than either of the city districts, and suburban districts near both cities are among the best in the nation.

               And the argument that the city is the only place refugees can afford to live is false. Communities across the region have affordable or subsidized housing, if people need it for a time. And the New York EBT card is accepted everywhere – including at suburban and rural stores which have better food at far-better prices.

               The instinct to help is strong in upstate New York. All across the region there is compassion for the people of Afghanistan and a desire to welcome and embrace those who have fled that country. There is also a large government/non-profit industry that handles such refugees. Those things can combine for good.

               But they will largely go for naught if we dump these refugees into impoverished neighborhoods of Rochester and Syracuse, both of which are going through record stretches of violent crime.

               These are frail transplants, and we should put them in fertile soil.

               That means the suburbs and the region.

               Not the cities.

               It is not compassion to move people from one warzone to another.


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