In what ways did Iowa play a unique role in welcoming refugees in the past? What surprises you about Governor Robert D Ray? How does this welcoming legacy continue today?
Iowa played a unique role in the reception of Vietnamese refugees in that it was the only state to actively offer asylum to these people (McCarthy, 2015). In many cases, other states either refused to provide accommodation or did so reluctantly. Governor Robert D. Ray’s position was bold and unique, as he did not lose any votes from such a generous offer (McCarthy, 2015). Instead, the refugees integrated into the Iowan communities and contributed to its economy. Nowadays, the hospitality of Iowans is still there, though not quite as prominently.
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What valuable roles do refugees play in our economy (see Storm Lake article in particular)?
Refugees play an important part in the economic life of the Iowan community. In the 21st century, the American economy has to compete with enterprises across the world. Fierce competition and tapping into foreign labor markets drives wages down. Migrants keep the enterprises of Storm Lake competitive by working harder than locals, for less money (Cohen, 2017). Although such a situation upsets some people, the majority realizes that migrants did not drive the wages down; it was the destruction of unions and the mass exodus of enterprises to countries abroad (Cohen, 2017).
How has the welcoming legacy changed (according to the author)? What kinds of barriers to integration exist for refugees in Iowa today? What is at the root of this change?
The welcoming legacy changed due to government action rather than people being less welcoming of new faces trying to make a living. The lack of government support is the primary barrier, as was shown in the case with Burmese migrants in 2007 (McCarthy, 2015). Social services have been transformed and underfunded, making it that refugees can no longer integrate into the community as seamlessly as they did before. Without support for languages, social security, employment, and medical care, migrants feel ostracized and vulnerable in a new country (McCarthy, 2015).
Do you agree that Iowans have a welcoming spirit and sense of openness to newcomers such as refugees? Why or why not? I recognize that there is no easy answer to this question– you might even see both sides! In order to avoid generalizations, refer to news stories online (include link) or to personal experiences.
The issue of hospitality towards refugees is a complicated matter for the state of Iowa. On the one hand, its people have always been compassionate towards people in need and willing to lend a hand, just as they did in the case with the Vietnamese refugees in 1979 and the Burmese refugees in 2007. However, kindness and compassion are often at odds with personal benefit and self-preservation, which always comes to play once large foreign communities try integrating into a new society. McCarthy (2015) noticed that the amount of resources available to the Vietnamese in 1979 is significantly higher than that available to the Burmese people.
While that could be taken as a sign that Iowans have become less tolerant and hospitable towards refugees, there is a different side of the medal to the story as well. The US economy during 1970s-1980s was growing, with wages earned by an average worker being enough to support a middle-class lifestyle (Cohen, 2017).
However, due to the mass exodus of American companies, the destruction of labor unions, and government catering to the desires of big businesses, the wealth of the average American plummeted greatly. The average wages for a meat plant in Storm City remained the same as they were in the 1980s, instead of growing three times the amount (Cohen, 2017). Lack of employment, low wages, and the increasing number of migrants over the years have created a difficult economic situation and reduced the amount of money the state and individual counties received from tariffs and taxes, which could have been spent on programs to help assimilate refugees.
McCarthy (2015) claims that Iowan voters believe the government is not doing enough to help Burmese refugees the way they helped the Vietnamese 27 years ago. In other words, Iowans did not lose their welcoming spirit and their sense of openness to others. They just became poorer than they used to be during the golden age of America.
Cohen, P. (2017). Immigrants keep an Iowa meatpacking town alive and growing. New York Times. Web.
McCarthy, C. (2015). Response to refugees in Iowa has changed in 40 years. Iowa Watch. Web.