In the week – God, has it seriously only been a week? – since President Donald Trump signed his despicable, potentially illegal Executive Order (EO) kneecapping the refugee resettlement program and temporarily suspending all entry from seven Muslim-majority countries, I’ve seen a lot people sharing memes, videos, and posts similar to the ones above and below.
These items express faux outrage that refugees, who are apparently storming into this country, according to the Tweeter-in-Chief, are taking food and shelter away from homeless Americans, particularly veterans.
I know I shouldn’t treat these entreaties as sincere, because they aren’t. Most, if not all, of the people sharing this type of content have never met a refugee. They don’t view refugees as human beings worthy of dignity and respect. They instead caricature them, as our President does, as barbarians at the gates who are somehow uniquely violent and dependent.
Because I’m a glutton for punishment, let’s take these claims at face value. Because, when you do that, my God do they fall to pieces.
During the first seven years of the Obama administration (FY 2009-2015), the United States government spent an average of $1.47 billion per year (page 11) on Migration and Refugee Assistance, once you subtract out the money spent on Overseas Contingency Operations (OCOs); OCO spending is essentially money spent abroad to stem the flow of migrants/refugees at the source by helping to address the push factors driving people to flee their homes.
For FY 2016, the State Department estimated the federal government would spend a total of $1.48 billion, while this number was set at $1.54 billion for FY 2017. We know that, due to this EO slashing the number of refugees the US intends to resettle by more than half from 110,000 to 50,000, this latter number for FY 2017 will necessarily decrease.
But here’s the thing – the US is the wealthiest country in the history of the world. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. Refugees are not preventing the federal government from spending money on homeless veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has invested billions to tackle the homelessness among veterans since 2009. In FY 2017, for instance, the VA allocated $1.6 billion – more than the government would have spent on refugee resettlement – on programming for homeless veterans. Fortunately, this investment is paying dividends, as the VA estimates that homeless rates among veterans have fallen by at least one-third since 2010. This is excellent news, though much work remains. But if you only decided to care about homeless among our military veterans as a justification to support this EO, refugees aren’t the problem. You are the problem.
The same sentiment holds if you are only raising budgetary concerns now, but never said a word when Republicans forced President Obama to implement sequestration, which cut discretionary funding to the VA. Or if you don’t seem to object to Congress forcing the Department of Defense to spend money on technology and materiel the military doesn’t want. If you said nothing about the $1.4 billion spent on defunct and unnecessary Abrams tanks since FY 2015, refugees aren’t the problem. You’re the problem. The same goes for the $30.7 billion spent since FY 2015 on the F-35, which President Trump scored via tweet about during the transition.
If you supported a candidate for President who grandstanded to avoid a primary debate by claiming he was hosting a grand fundraiser for veterans, then only donated money to veterans groups after the Washington Post called him out on it, refugees aren’t the problem. You are the problem.
Perhaps you supported President Bush’s ill-conceived adventure into Iraq, which destabilized the Middle East and set the stage for the growth of ISIS. This war is one of the major drivers of the current refugee crisis and many of the ongoing challenges our veterans face. If so, refugees are not the problem. You are the problem.
Do you support the President’s intention to repeal the financial reforms enacted under Dodd-Frank? You know, the reforms put in place to help guard against the financial crisis that precipitated the Great Recession? That Great Recession that was built upon a housing bubble that left thousands of people homeless? If so, refugees are not the problem. You are the problem.
But we haven’t really even begun talk about homelessness writ large yet. Homelessness, at least among non-veterans, is not an issue that the federal government addresses. It’s tackled primarily at the local level, where your vote and your input is even more important.
So, do you vote in local elections? Do you vote for candidates who support effective policies to tackle homelessness, chiefly those that seek to actually provide affordable rental units directly to homeless individuals? If not, refugees are not the problem. You are the problem.
Do you support local officials and nonprofit organizations that provide housing, whether temporary or permanent, to homeless individuals regardless of whether or not they have substance abuse issues? Or do you force homeless people to go through treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues before gaining access to housing support? If so, refugees aren’t the problem. You are the problem.
Perhaps you voted for a Republican governor that refused to expand Medicaid in his or her state. Do you support the current effort by Congressional Republicans to turn Medicaid into a voucher program, which would slash benefits and prevent people from taking advantage of it at the times it is most needed, like during recessions when homeless rates increase? What about Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which expanded mental health coverage to millions of Americans? That same ACA which bent the cost curve for healthcare expenses, which are the single largest reason for personal bankruptcies in the US? If so, refugees aren’t the problem. You are the problem.
One of the myriad causes for homelessness in many cities is the rising cost of housing. There are a number of factors that affect housing prices, but none is more important than supply. We can help to mitigate price spikes by building more, denser housing units. Even if these units do not sufficient include low-income units – which they should – they can relieve stress on other properties, opening them up for new residents. But local residents, particularly homeowners who stand to benefit from ever-increasing property values, often fight these types of projects. Others still promote zoning restrictions to ensure that “those people” cannot live in their neighborhoods.
Are you a NIMBYist? Do you support exclusionary zoning policies like minimum lot size, height restrictions, and mandatory parking minimums? If so, refugees aren’t the problem. You are the problem.
It’s a time-tested American tradition to blame the Other for our problems. If we don’t have enough money to solve all of our social issues, it must be the fault of the last person through the door. But that’s bullshit, and you know it’s bullshit.
Refugees are entitled to our help, support, and investment. They earned it with their blood, sweat, and tears. We have an obligation to defend, support, and care for them. That does not mean that we are unable to protect other vulnerable populations, like military veterans and homeless children. It never has, and, hopefully, never will.
So stop pretending otherwise. If the people sharing these stupid memes want to know whom to blame for our homeless population, maybe they should look in the damn mirror for once.