Current INS figures reveal an influx of Somali refugees to our nation over the last two years. While there have historically been similar safe harbor-seeking migration trends globally, the recent Somali trend is a "crash course" in American identity politics--the dual-pronged dilemma of an increasing emphasis on multi-culturalism and the negative impact of an overly generous nanny state.
The Somalis have found their chosen home in northern states with general welfare benefits. Maine, with its carte-blanche welfare program available to all comers for a minimum of five years, became a natural fit. The burgeoning crisis caused the small Portland suburb of Lewiston, home to 1,200 Somalis (out of a total population of 36,000), to make national headlines. Claiming resources were being sapped "financially, physically and emotionally," Mayor Larry Raymond plead for the migration to cease altogether.
Similar Somali migration patterns have occurred in other seemingly unlikely U.S. communities such as Holyoke, Massachusetts, and most recently in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, increasing demands for welfare, and English-as-a-second-language and special-ed curricula. Those burdens coupled with affordable housing shortages have left these small communities reeling with resource depletions and budget deficits. With an additional 12,000 Somalis expected to arrive on our shores in 2003--many to join relatives already here--the burden will only continue to surge.
To stem the rapid resource drain, struggling local communities have been willing make critical program cuts to fit dwindling budgets rather than accept federal grant assistance tied to continuing refugee assimilation mandates. In the Holyoke case, City Council passed a resolution asking the federal government to rescind its $1 million three-year grant to resettle the Somali immigrants.
For more than a decade a large segment of the Somali population has abandoned a life mired in the chaos of their east African nation for Kenyan refugee camps. Despite the flood of aid from the U.S. and other UN nations, the harsh life in these camps has been made more desperate by the rampant use of drugs such as khat, a local amphetamine, and homemade alcohol. In addition, tuberculosis, malaria and HIV infection are also prominent problems in the camps.
A recent study revealed over 80 percent of Somalis that had sought refuge in Denmark had TB. Similar reports are difficult to find here in the United States, but studies in Canada show nearly identical results. Approximations given by various health organizations agree; the Somali-Ethiopian-Kenyan region has areas with up to 90 percent TB rates. Given the communicability of tuberculosis, coupled with the close living spaces overcrowded families share both here and in the camps, the health crisis is severe.
Khat use among new arrivals has led to problems, as well. The Partnership for a Drug Free America warns “compulsive use may result in manic behavior with grandiose delusions or in a paranoid type of illness, sometimes accompanied by hallucinations.” A recent trade ban between Kenya and Somalia caused a shortage in the smuggled amphetamine, sending thousands into painful withdrawals and leading to increased violence in the area. Many suggest the largest cause of khat related violence isn't from its abuse, but from the addictive withdrawals that accompany it and the black market that has grown up around it. Illegal to posses in America, the Somali underground has taken advantage of its rarity and unfamiliarity to local law enforcement to move the product with impunity within the communities where they have settled.
The options the displaced Somalis face are simple: stay and be kept in the hellish limbo of the refugee camps or follow many of their friends and relatives to America and get on the federal dole. Unlike the past generations of immigrants who saw America as an opportunity to carve out self-sufficiency free from an oppressive totalitarian state, famine, or economic devastation, the already dependant Somalis see an opportunity to exploit generous entitlements.
Refugees connect with state-based government and non-profit liaisons while in the Kenyan camps. These conduits assist the refugees through the INS process to bring them stateside.
The first stop for any Somali refugee is Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services' (BCIS) immigration center in Clarkston, Ga., a small Atlanta suburb. From there they follow a traditional Somali practice called “sahan"--the sending of scouts to find rain in their home country--only here they find entitlement friendly cities in liberal states. As Abdullahi Abdullahi, president of the new Somali Community Development Organization in Clarkston told Newhouse News Service, "Maine is crazy cold, but the welfare system is much better."
With the size of the traditional Somali family averaging seven people, housing shortages and over-crowding are a huge burden on the local communities. In Maine, many towns are looking to avoid the problems of Lewiston and have placed a cap on new housing development. In Portland, they estimate an additional 4,200 housing units will be needed this year just to keep up with demand, which has also driven up rent and housing costs.
While Lewiston and Holyoke are becoming less welcoming, Minnesota’s Twin Cities have become the newest entitlement havens. Local Somali liaisons help them make the transition to American life. Though resources are currently more abundant, they face escalating refugee migrations from a dozen other nations. Hmong, Russian and Mexican refugees have all carved out sections of the cities for themselves, all for the same reason--easy access to taxpayers’ money. To make matters worse, special interest racial identity warriors have adopted the Somalis as political pawns.
As of now, an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 Somalis live in Minnesota, making it the largest home for the refugees. Local "advocate" Omar Jamal, of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, an advocacy group in St. Paul, was charged in Memphis, Tennessee, last April with filing false INS documents to gain entry into the country. Because of his community standing, he used race and the voice of the antiwar movement to claim victim status against the false filing charges. Publicly vocal in his disagreement with the war in Iraq, he links the charges with that protest, and seeks to have the case moved to St. Paul, where a more agreeable jury pool would await him.
Free on bond, Jamal has become the Al Sharpton of the Twin Cities' Somali community, garnering support as the population grows and the “victimization” continues. He continues to represent and advise other Somalis on gaining citizenship. He has been vocally critical of cash-strapped local police who have been trying to maintain order in the Somali community. Last year, when a Somali man walking down a main street wielding a machete and crowbar was shot by local police, Jamal appeared on local television claiming that the city was becoming a “slaughterhouse” for local immigrants.
Jamal has intervened in cases of Somali violence in schools against Native Americans and native born blacks, excusing their bullying as the result of coming from a near structureless society to one as culturally different and litigious as America. At the same time he calls for raising the number of refugees allowed.
Somali criminal deportation hearings have been stymied as their benefactors argue there is no organized government for them to be turned over to, thus suspending all deportations pending court review. Around 2,000 Somali deportees are in holding awaiting the court's decision, further sapping tax dollars. Activists such as Jamal have called for an end to deportation for his people all together.
As spokesperson Phil Steger of Friends for a Nonviolent World (the financial backer of Jamal's group) has said, "Somalis are one of the most traumatized immigrants groups to come to the U.S. from a country ravaged by civil war, disease, starvation, intertribal fighting." Tribal violence and posse mentality often spring up among the new Somali populations, who find themselves caught in the special interest political crossfire and ill-equipped to deal with the cultural transition to American life. Actual reports of violence in Somali communities are rare as they are often not reported to the police. However, Holyoke City Councilor Kevin Jourdain has noted just such a link within his city’s fastest-growing minority. “There's a disproportionate level of crime with people below the poverty level,” he said. “People don't want to be always surrounded by that kind of climate."
Another disturbing practice, shrouded in a wall of silence by Jamal and other immigration proponents is female genital mutilation, or FGM. As Catherine Hogan, the founder of the Washington Metropolitan Alliance Against Ritualistic FGM told Atlantic Monthly, "When you wrap this issue in the cloth of culture, you just can’t see what's inside. This is a clear case of child abuse.”
Although the state-based community liaisons have begun discouraging these customs and traditions to refugees both in this country and at the Kenyan camps, Somalis have been loathe to abandon them altogether. "We don't warn (immigrant) families that we consider this child abuse,” Hogan claims, thus it continues among Somali populations in the United States.
Even in the other countries where FGM is the norm, the rate of girls who have been circumcised does not approach the numbers among the Somalis. Ethiopians screened through INS show a rate of about 90 percent, while Somalis are 100 percent. Multicultural agitators like Jamal, while paying lip service to the need to end the practice, undermine the effort by reinforcing the “victimization” mentality in newly arrived Somalis, thus further preventing their assimilation into the American culture.
As the equal-opportunity race hustlers gain ground, white supremacist groups have also taken advantage of the Somali problem for their own political benefit. Groups such as the National Alliance have used the rise in African immigration to these traditionally white enclaves to bolster their membership, influence and revenue, as fringe elements within their group foment violence and hatred at the local level. While the authorities in these host communities have to deal with the cultural differences their new residents have ushered in, they also see a rise in crimes against the refugees. A recent beating death of a 66 year old Minnesota Somali man was called a hate crime by community leaders.
In an open letter posted on National Alliance’s website describing their outrage, they claim, ''there is a deliberate campaign to corrupt and pollute the whitest areas of America as quickly as possible.'' They blame a Jewish conspiracy to undermine white supremacy and warn against the “dusky aliens invading” their communities. In addition to calls for racial "purity," National Alliance and its corollary groups further exacerbate the situation by mentioning “undesirable” cultural differences the Somali population poses.
Citing female circumcision, 13-year-old brides and their unfamiliarity with other modern Western cultural ideas, the National Alliance’s anti-Semitic rhetoric has hurt the case against further immigration far more then it has advanced their cause. The backlash has played out in Maine, where local residents, labeled “diversity mongers” by the National Alliance, have begun expressing sympathy for further immigration.
These extreme supremacist groups provide ammunition to professional victim groups like the Somali Justice Advocacy Center to use against mainstream efforts to stave off immigration. In Minnesota the Steele County Coalition for Immigrant Reduction has begun a campaign to reduce legal immigration and deport those here illegally. Its founder, Paul "Revere" Westrum, has opened branches throughout the area and warned local politicians that they are “watching” their handling of the issue.
Jamal sees their presence as threatening, fearing that it will lead to racial profiling of Somalis, despite the group's claims that it's not the immigrants themselves they stand against, but the economic impact that they cause. "This is not an anti-immigrant group. It's not anti-immigration, and this has nothing to do with race," Westrum says, "The group is nothing more than trying to cut back on immigration."
Regardless of which side is closer to the truth, the differences represent legitimate government and societal concerns begging to be addressed.
Clearly, the ongoing siren song to recent arrivals from these liberal communities will only cause them to reach a critical mass and deplete local resources sooner. It diminishes the likelihood of assimilation achieved by early 20th century immigrants. It also expands the entitlement class locally while enlarging both the local and national economic burden. Additionally, it provides fodder to sustain professional group identity "leaders" and their opposite numbers in fringe hate groups.
Unless lawmakers realistically acknowledge the devastating consequences of current immigration policy, local resources will continue to be depleted rapidly and the composition of the nation’s heartland will shift toward the Third World. Unlike the mass resources needed to combat other internal problems like homeland security, immigration policy reform requires only the simple, sober, political will to enact needed changes.