Mary Poole of Soft Landing Missoula opened her Feb. 25th opinion (“Facts show Missoula can safely welcome refugees”) by asserting that her subject is “surrounded by a lot of misinformation.” She followed that with her own barrage of misleading information.
For example, on the subject of vetting prospective refugees for the dangers they may pose to us, Poole highlights the “18- to 24-month multi-step process” that’s involved. But as Kelly Gauger of the State Department’s Refugee Admissions office explained last October, “We’re not spending 18 months doing security checks. … At any given time, we’ve got something like a quarter-million people churning through the system.” In other words, it’s like everyone’s experience at the Motor Vehicle Department—you wait in line for an hour, yet your own business takes just a few minutes.
Poole also thinks that the vetting agencies have matters well under control, quoting FBI Director James Comey that “we have gotten much better as an intelligence community at … checking our databases in a way that gives us high confidence.” That’s a very incomplete picture, though, as Comey testified to the House Homeland Security Committee in October: “We can only query against that which we have collected. And so if someone has not made a ripple in the pond … on a way that would get their identity or their interests reflected in our databases, we can query our databases until the cows come home, but nothing will show up because we have no record of that person.”
Beyond the specific matter of refugee resettlement, today’s U.S. government demonstrates seemingly universal incompetence, from Transportation Security Administration airport screeners’ 95 percent failure rate at intercepting test contraband to the slack immigration vetting of San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik to the Environmental Protection Agency’s flooding Colorado’s Animas River with orange, toxic mine waste. So who believes that, with hard-to-investigate refugees, suddenly the feds will perform?
Then there’s the matter of International Rescue Committee’s specific designs on Missoula; Poole reports that IRC considers the city a good candidate to absorb about 100 refugees per year. What the enthusiasts at Soft Landing—and the Missoula County commissioners, who support the idea—might not realize is that, once it’s started, they’ll have zero control over the process. That’ll be up to the State Department and IRC.
In the experience of many small cities around the country (e.g. Amarillo, Texas; Springfield, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire), the resulting local impacts can be daunting and onerous. After a spell, they find their schools and social-services agencies begging for relief from the influx.
Consider the ordeal of Lynn, Massachusetts, a city of 90,000 just north of Boston with a school district serving 15,000 students. Lynn’s schools took in about 500 students from Central America between 2011 and 2014. One might think such an increase in school population of “only” 3.5 percent wouldn’t be a big deal, but that’s not how it’s worked out for the city.
As Mayor Judith Kennedy told an audience at the National Press Club in August 2014, her health department had to curtail inspection services to afford the surge in immunizations needed by the schools’ new arrivals. She had to end an effective, gang-suppressing community-policing program to free up resources for the schools. With many of the arrivals illiterate in any language, the schools needed many more classroom aides along with interpreters. (The school district’s website broadcasts the availability of translation services in Arabic, Creole, Khmer and Spanish.) Altogether, Kennedy had to shrink every other department’s 2015 budget by 2 to 5 percent from its 2014 level to accommodate a 9.3 percent increase in school funding.
(Lynn’s influx includes—besides refugees—illegal aliens and ordinary immigrants, but all three categories of arrivals from third world countries impose comparable burdens on taxpayers.)
Such costs for translators and interpreters are an unfunded mandate the national government levies on states and localities, applicable to court proceedings, too. The requirement is open-ended. For example, in 2014 Manchester, New Hampshire, got in trouble with the feds in a school-expulsion case by failing to provide an interpreter for Dinka, the language of South Sudan.
For these and other reasons, Montanans might view Soft Landing’s proselytizing for refugee resettlement with great skepticism.