Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ohio Governor on Iraqi Immigrants

Our newly elected Governor drew criticism this week when he said he didn't think any of the 7,000 Iraqi refugees President Bush plans to bring to the United States should be sent to Ohio. He has subsequently said he wishes he could retract his comments.

I wish he hadn't wimped out on this one. I'm hoping that Stickland will be an effective governor, and I've liked what I've seen up to this point. Ohio, and particularly Columbus, is already home to a substantial immigrant population, and it is straining our public assistance and school systems.

I watched a documentary recently about the effects of Somali immigrants on the little town of Lewiston, Maine (Columbus has one of the two largest Somali communities in the United States, along with Minneapolis). Lewiston once had a decent factory-based economy based primarily on the lumber industry. Today, Lewiston is struggling, with many of the sawmills shut down. On top of that comes a large population of Somalis who receive US government assistance, far in excess of the unemployed workers of Lewiston says the townspeople.

There, as is the case here, the Somalis are are well-organized, family-based Muslim community. They know how to reap the benefits of the government assistance programs, and the locals feel they are being pushed out of the way. It is breeding a troubling level of discord in this little town.

In another posting, I wrote about my concerns that the local Habitat for Humanity program seems to be yet another public assistance program which has been taken advantage of by the Somalis and other African immigrants. If you go by the house our group built last year for an west African family, you'll see two DishTV satellite antennas on the side of the house. This is the setup required by DishTV for a high-definition TV setup. I have to admit feeling taken advantage of.

So Governor Strickland -- please don't be sorry for your remarks. You said what I feel, and I suspect many others in Columbus would say. Our state has its own needy to care for, and our communities cannot take the stress of the concentrated and well-organized groups of immigrants right now. We're an old-economy state that needs its resources to make the transformation to the new economy. Let's welcome our Iraqi friends to areas where the new economy is already underway (e.g. Silicon Valley, Seattle, Florida).