Welcome foreigners to Georgia

Refugees who arrive legally to the United States are facing strong but quiet opposition from some Georgia politicians.

The short message: “Refugees drain more resources than they add to Georgia and, moreover, too much diversity is a drag on civic structure.”

As a full-time resettlement professional, you can assume I would disagree. But the reasons why a conservative, evangelical Christian like me would do so may surprise you.

You might think I’d make an argument about economics, something about the reality that refugees are a net gain for the economy of Georgia. In my experience, refugees don’t “steal” jobs or perpetuate wage depression. Refugees fill jobs that, typically, American citizens will not consistently do at any wage — jobs that have not been eliminated by automation and require supervisors who are locals.

You might think that as a conservative, I’d be perturbed by “out-of-control” spending to care for refugees in Georgia. Let’s tone down the vitriol: Pointing the finger at U.N. refugees as asignificant cause of budgetary woes is a straw-man tactic. It overlooks everyday governmental mismanagement you can read about in any town newspaper.

The average refugee who receives general government assistance spends six months on support before finding employment, versus more than 4.5 years for the average Georgian. And, according to the Council of Refugee Serving Agencies, 28 percent of new Georgia businesses created last year were started by immigrants and refugees.

You might think as someone from a town of 2,000 with one red light and four-digit phone numbers, I’d fear that diversity increases subsidized housing and foists “foreign ways” and crime on “our” culture. Butat the several dozen complexes where our refugees are placed, not a single one is subsidized housing. After an initial 90 days of refugee resettlement aid, they pay rent just like I did there.

Refugees arriving in 2013 experience cultural orientation and integration training that our great-grandparents at Ellis Island — or even refugees 20 years ago — did not have. The vast majority take it to heart. Refugees in my neighborhood are statistically less likely than me or my neighbors to wind up in trouble with the law. When they do, their community structures often provide accountability to get them back on track.

The reason why I, a Georgia voter and evangelical conservative, want to continue to welcome more refugees to join my community is because it is good — not just good for business, or the future, or America, but because it is righteous to welcome the foreigner and alien as though they were one of our native-born. It is the right thing to do: to help give the vulnerable a voice and a vocation, to help them join our community in a way that restoresthe dignity of self-sufficiency.

Southern hospitality is one of many things that make Georgia great. I hope my church friends and I will have the privilege of sharing that greatness with more refugees for many years to come.

Brian Bollinger is director of employment services for World Relief Atlanta.