Georgia among leading states in taking in refugees

Georgia ranked eighth among states for the total number of refugees it received in the fiscal year ending in September at 2,710, according to a federal report released Tuesday.

That is up 8 percent from the year before. But it is 810 fewer people than originally proposed by resettlement agencies.

The U.S. State Department confirmed earlier this year that it had limited the number of refugees coming to Georgia, based partly on requests from Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration for sharp cuts. State officials have cited state and local taxpayer costs associated with taking in the refugees, school budget shortfalls and other concerns.

Deal has continued to push the Obama administration on the issue. In a letter he sent President Barack Obama in July, Deal said Georgia has received a “disproportionate number of refugee placements over the past few years.”

Last month, the governor’s administration sided with Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson in opposition to resettling 150 refugees there. The Democratic mayor said resettlement officials had not reached out to enough people in her community early enough to discuss the plans.

Local resettlement agencies are pushing back, saying refugees create a net gain for the state by working and paying taxes and attracting millions of dollars in federal aid to Georgia. Many have created businesses in the Atlanta area.

Advocates also point out that Georgia’s eighth-place ranking for refugee resettlements hews closely to its ninth-place ranking among states for the total size of its population at 9.9 million. Texas took in the largest number of refugees last fiscal year at 7,466, followed by California, 6,379; Michigan, 4,651; New York, 3,965; Florida, 3,613; Arizona, 3,052; and Ohio, 2,788.

In all, 69,909 refugees were resettled nationwide in fiscal 2013, up 20 percent from the year before. The largest numbers came from Iraq, 19,487; Myanmar, 16,299; and Bhutan, 9,134.

To resettle in the U.S., refugees must first demonstrate they were persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, political opinion, race, nationality or membership in a particular social group. They are given health screenings to ensure they don’t bring contagious diseases, such as tuberculosis, into the U.S.

Federal and state agencies work with private resettlement organizations, which determine where refugees should be located. Factors include where relatives reside and the availability of jobs, affordable housing, public transportation, English classes and interpreters.

The federal government provides refugees with funding that partially covers the cost of rent, furniture, food and clothing. Private contributions supplement that funding. Refugees may work in the U.S. They are required to apply for permanent residency after a year and are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship after five years.

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