“Americans aren’t getting up and going where the jobs are, anymore.”–Charles Murray, Conversations with Bill Kristol
“If you want to live, get out of Garbutt.”–Kevin Williamson
To explain why Americans aren’t moving to where the jobs are, look no further than The Newcomers, an excellent book about a year in the life of South High School’s ELL program, peopled by refugees and illegal immigrants from every pocket of the world.
Let me tell you how good Thorpe’s book is: she believes that we should bring in millions, or at least hundreds of thousands, of refugees every year. She inserts herself constantly into the story, bleating platitudes about the magical qualities of people who simply happen to come from another country. A truly admirable African family of ten move themselves off subsidies in a matter of months, while their two high school kids RFEP-ed in less than a year. An almost certainly mentally ill Iraqi woman turns down or loses most of the jobs she’s offered, buys two cars when she still can’t make the rent, and barely parents her two daughters who skip school every week, until she nearly kills one of them in an at-fault wreck in one of the cars she couldn’t afford–but hey, that’s ok, because, you know, Medicaid will spend millions on the daughter’s recovery.
But to Thorpe, these families are equally adequate for the real purpose of the refugee program:
[Mark and I] did agree on one central thing: that to live in comfort in the developed world and ignore the suffering of strangers who had survived catastrophes on other parts of the globe was to turn away from one’s own humanity. In spending time with refugees, Mark found a kind of salvation, and I experienced something similar while mingling with the kids.They affected all of us this way….The students and their families saved each of us from becoming jaded or calloused or closed-hearted. They opened us up emotionally to the joy of our interconnectedness with the rest of the world.
At some point while writing this piece, I saw a comment characterizing the romantic, narcissistic mindset driving the left on immigration. (edit: thanks to my own commenters who pointed me to the source)
Immigrants are sacred not because they save us, but because their presence gives us the chance to show how we can save them.
We are the agents; they are helpless and can do nothing without our grace.
That captures Thorpe’s mindset beautifully.
So I’m recommending Thorpe’s book despite vehement disagreement with her savior-complex political and philosophical values, despite the relentless shilling of a refugee and immigration policy I find extremely harmful.
Thorpe is irritating, but thorough. Her rhapsodies on the mystical value of shared culture is as easily parodied as Wordsworth is on spades, but deeply reported narratives here and abroad, the vivid classroom descriptions, and (most importantly), the in-depth look at the expensive and relentless support the refugees received are worth the near-epileptic eye-rolls her misty-eyed romances induce.’
Moreover, Thorpe does a better than average job at classroom action. She nails the details of an ELL class. Like the teacher in her story, I had a class suddenly explode in size (from six to eighteen in less than six weeks). My students ranged from highly motivated to utterly disengaged. Some barely showing up? Check. Others making almost unimaginable progress in a year? Check. Not really teaching English, just giving them enrichment while they absorb the language from their environment? Check. Students who are tagged as English learners when in fact they have sub-90 IQs and have acquired as much English as they’re going to? Check. ELL classroom actually the entire community, as the students are insulated from the rest of the school? Check. She really captures the essential nature of ELL classrooms.
But classroom narratives are incidental to Thorpe’s primary mission of selling her readers on the Great Good Work the refugee program accomplishes. She doesn’t shrink from revealing just how much time, money, resources, and boatloads of free stuff are lavished on uneducated refugees with huge families of varying motivation who just show up here and qualify for incredible bounty.
Before the bell rang for their next class, Mr. Williams beckoned to his seven teens and asked them to follow him into a large walk-in closet on the far side of the room. Inside, neatly arranged on wire shelving, the students beheld pasta, rice, lentils, beans, cans of vegetables, boxes of cereal, and individually wrapped protein bars. …Although their own daughter had graduated the previous spring, Jaclyn Yelich and Greg Theilen had nonetheless spent the past several days stocking these shelves….
“This is the food bank,’ Mr. Williams announced. “You can come here on Friday afternoon and take home bags of food.”….As he prepared to go home himself, Mr. Williams saw his students line up and wait their turn…They walked out of his room carrying recycled plastic bags bulging with beans, lentils, rice, all the staples.
A few chapters later, Jaclyn “proudly reported” that they were now giving grocery bags to sixty students, and by the next calendar year they were serving eighty families per week, and had moved from just beans and lentils to fresh produce and toiletries, including feminine products.
Thorpe also reveals, perhaps less consciously, how many liberal jobs are dependent on an abundant flow of refugees–while giving detailed accounts of the refugee swag bag:
Troy was a caseworker with the African Community Center, a local nonprofit that was part of a national refugee resettlement agency known as the Ethiopian Community Development Council–one of the nine agencies that partners with the federal government to resettle refugees in the United States…Troy had found this particular assignment more perplexing than most because the family was large and were processed as three separate cases…. [The two oldest children] Gideon and Timote had “aged out” of the original application….
Right away, Troy handed [all four adults] each a $20 bill. This was pocket money, to use as they liked…..The following day, Troy would visit the family to check on them….and then he would hand every adult another $100 in cash. …Refugees were given a one-time cash grant from the federal government upon arrival of slightly more than $1000 per person, administered by the resettlement agency. They could also qualify for any assistance program open to a legal resident of the United States, depending on their income level. But they were expected to become self-sufficient within a short time. …By the time a refugee family walked into their new home, a case worker had to have secured appropriate housing, arranged for bedding [which must be new] and furniture, provided basic cooking utensils, cleaning supplies, and groceries, and prepared a warm meal of food that the family would find familiar.
Then Troy explained to the new family that they’d qualify for TANF, foodstamps, and Medicaid. Some would receive funds from another refugee cash assistance program. Troy had already expedited the benefits, so they’d get the money in seven days. He then spent hours with the parents explaining how rent worked, how food stamps worked, how TANF payments would come onto the same card as food stamps and how to go get a money order using the card.
Thorpe clearly implies that Trump’s victory will start economic hard times for the non-profits:
Over at the African Community Center, frustrated staff members, including Troy Cox, confronted something they had almost never seen: an empty bulletin board–no more Arrivals Notifications. Trump had suspended the entire refugee resettlement program for 120 and capped the number of refugees…
The only Republican other than Trump making an appearance is an evangelical Christian named Mark:
It struck me as notable that my liberal friends who planned to vote for Hillary Clinton and thought they were pro-refugee were not logging many volunteer hours with [refugee] families–but Mark was, every single week.
Liberals like Troy get paid by government grants to help refugees. Conservative Christians like Mark volunteer for free.
Oh, that’s not fair. There were plenty of free services offered by liberals: in-class therapy, Goodwill teacher aides, and the aforementioned foodbanks. All tax-deductible, of course, and often covered by federal grants.
Eager to see the dismal lives her beloved pet refugees led before salvation, Thorpe visits a Ugandan refugee primary school with 1,606 children in eleven rooms. The school’s one redeeming virtue is it’s free, unlike the rare Ugandan secondary schools, which cost a great deal of money most can’t afford.
Thorpe goes through the numbers: The camp has 2 doctors who see 2,183 patients a month. Women get raped at the rate of about one a day. Where refugees live in homes with “no electricity, no appliances, no running water, no heating, no light switches, no glass windowpanes, and no doorknobs.” Where houses are made of dark mud. She does not call the refugee camp a “hellhole”, but she thinks it very loudly.
She eagerly seeks out relatives of the African refugee family of Methusella (the star achiever in her tale). After finding a family uncle, she finally goes to a crowded refugee high school with an indifferent administrator who, with prompting, produces Stivin, Methusella’s cousin and close friend. But her stint at interconnectedness doesn’t go as planned.
I took out my iPhone to show him the same pictures…His face clouded as I described how well his relatives were doing in the United States….The American classrooms in my photographs had wall-to-wall carpeting,glass windows, colorful chairs, shelves of books, and carts filled with laptop computers. The classrooms at his school had concrete floors, no lights, and no windows. There were no books and no computers. I was showing Stivin a glimpse of a paradise to which he had not been invited.
I told him that his cousin Methusella said hello.
…”Tell him to work hard and send me money for a school uniform!” Stivin replied, in a slightly bitter tone.
Silly Stivin. Didn’t he realize his responsibility in this conversation? He was to be awed and grateful to the generous American who came all this way to show him how much her country was doing for Methusella. He was supposed to thank Thorpe for caring enough to seek him out, show him the wonderful life that people like Helen have insisted that America provide for a lucky few of the millions wanting a different life. Poor Helen. All the way to Uganda and no warm fuzzies for her effort.
Thorpe calls her behavior careless. I call her behavior devastating, unthinking, and cruel.
Mark Krikorian and others suggest that it’s cheaper and much more equitable to help refugees where they are. I’m all for that, even given the likelihood that much of the money will end up as bribes and graft. But when refugee programs combine with the “family unification” program, we end up “resettling” hundreds of thousands more. Perhaps we should simply stop giving refugees the idea that leaving their own country and sitting in camps for years on end might possibly lead to the equivalent of a lottery win, and force them to stop hoping for a rescue to unimaginable luxury. Maybe they’ll stop trying to escape and start the horrible, painful process of fixing their own countries.
Besides, we have our own people to help.
So before I finish connecting the book review to the title of this piece, let me forestall an inevitable rejoinder from immigration romantics. I grew up outside the US. My education, employment (both in technology and teaching), and community has been in wildly diverse environments. I have only lived one year of my life in a town that was over 50% white, and have spent many of the past 30 years in towns that more than 50% Asian. In my life as a tech consultant, easily 50% of my co-workers over the years were immigrants. With the exception of my ed school, which was about 70% white, I have attended and taught at schools that were 30% white or less, one that was 70% Hispanic. I’ve liked it fine. I’m so unused to being in a room full of whites that I double take and get nervous.
Thorpe, who was First Lady of Colorado for several years, grew up in a white suburb of New Jersey. When she married her now ex-husband John Hickenlooper, they eschewed the governor’s mansion, sticking to their Park Hill home, in an area not particularly affluent and particularly African American–the kind of place that prides itself for being diverse but really isn’t. Her innocent awe suggests she isn’t experienced enough to categorize immigrants by ethnicity. She’s an accurate reporter, but just a visitor. If I’m cynical about romantic vapors about immigrants and refugees in particular, I’ve earned the right. And not for nothing, but I’ve personally helped one hell of a lot more immigrants, refugees and otherwise, than Thorpe ever has visiting immigrants when she gets book deals for doing so.
As a group, would be immigrants have only one universal shortcoming: they aren’t American. We owe our fellow Americans the resources, staffing, and opportunities we lavish on immigrants, refugee or otherwise.
While Thorpe goes into considerable detail about the cost of relocating and settling refugees, she never mentions the fortune we spend educating all these first and second generation immigrants–some of whom become exceptional, most of whom need welfare just like mom and dad do.
Scratch the surface of every happy story report of a region that welcomed immigrants, refugees or otherwise, to “revitalize” its economic doldrums, and you’ll see a mention of the tremendous cost of educating new refugees. Immigrants cost much more to educate than native English speakers. They have smaller classes. They have lots of teacher’s aides, often hired from the immigrant community–another jobs program. Sometimes, immigrant parents become unhappy with the local schools so they use public dollars to set up an immigrants only charters, or perhaps they’ll attend one of the many public schools using tax dollars to run ESL-only schools.
Thorpe describes the refugees’ work: dishwashers, factory jobs, meatpacking plants. She sees it as a selling point: look, the refugees are working, providing for themselves. Without refugees filling these jobs, perhaps the employers would be forced to pay more. I’m certain rents would be much lower. Perhaps natives–black, white, Asian, Hispanic–would be able to take the jobs as dishwashers and meatpackers and make a living with additional government aid. If every immigrant job was automated away with no net improvement in citizen employment, we’d still be saving a fortune in education and Medicaid from the refugees that don’t become self-sufficient and their descendants.
In another piece on these undeserving American poor, Kevin Williamson suggests that housing policy would encourage the worthy to relocate. While it’s certainly true that Americans are reluctant to relocate to expensive cities, Williamson neglects to mention that immigrants resettling to cities to provide cheap labor are driving up housing costs. And the immigrants’ housing is cushioned by support organizations hunting down the apartments, furnishing them, and handing out ready cash.
To say nothing of the fact that employers in high-immigration areas use network hiring, create immigrant “job ghettos”, and are actively biased in favor of immigrants over citizens.. Then, of course, refugees come over with their entire families, all of whom are unemployed with no work history. American citizen families are more complex. Fathers might not want to leave their children after a divorce, or a girlfriend might have a good job that a move would put at risk.
But these circumstances and their increased risk could be mitigated by organizations reaching out to depressed areas of the US, finding jobs, helping entire family systems to move. Who not use all these funds to encourage Americans to relocate?1 Start some government programs to find apartments and give some cash to help out workers relocating from Kentucky or Compton or Detroit. Even if Americans had the same failure rate, same welfare use, they’d be cheaper to educate than immigrants.
Alas, Thorpe could only find salvation in getting a hefty advance for writing a book about low-born immigrants who grovel at her proxied generosity. Troy can only find joy helping people he sees as helpless and entirely ignorant of American ways, so they can thrive under his tutelage. The progressives volunteering in foodbanks are well-meaning only so long as they feel like Great White Saviors.
The entire script of sacred immigration is based on uplift. The only way to save America’s soul is to pay to transport thousands of uneducated immigrants, those “huddled masses”, send them to American schools at taxpayer expense, find them living quarters that increases the demand for housing and drives up costs, spend thousands of hours helping them find and, best case, keep low-paying American jobs. That last bit, of course, is why business has become so relentlessly progressive, or as Ross Douthat puts it, signed on for the Peace of Palo Alto.
When Charles Murray, Kevin Williamson, and others wonder why the hell American workers don’t move, why not instead ask why the hell we spend so much time and resources importing unskilled workers with scores of children who cost a fortune to educate, when we could be spending that money supporting American workers to relocate?
Helen Thorpe’s book answers Murray and Williamson’s questions posed at the beginning of this piece. Americans don’t move to where the jobs are because immigrants, refugees or otherwise, get there first. Immigrants aren’t better than Americans. They’re just more sympathetic to elites with a savior fetish and more affordable to employers who want cheap labor. And so they benefit from entire public and private infrastructure that uses taxpayer dollars to help those immigrants provide cheap labor and burden our educational system while locking out Americans who need a second, fourth, or eighth chance.
1I looked for such programs and couldn’t find any. Maybe some exist. If so, we need more.