Reactions to Refugees

July, 2014

Lincoln -- Traveling between Berlin, Washington, and Lincoln provides exposure to three markedly different perspectives on refugees.

In the last post, I noted the demonstration in Berlin in support of refugees and asylum-seekers, most of whom come from Africa and the Middle East. Hundreds of Berliners marched in support of allowing the refugees to remain in their neighborhood in a former school building, and for providing them with papers to allow them to work and remain in Berlin. This is the opposite of NIMBY.

In the Washington area, the Maryland governor assembled a meeting of fifty religious and non-profit groups with experience in handling refugee children. Maryland is working with federal officials to find the right temporary match between communities, service agencies, and the refugee children coming from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

In Lincoln, the Nebraska governor has demanded to know the identity of any individuals or groups who would be taking in refugee children. With glee, other Nebraska federal, state, and local elected officials joined in the condemnation of allowing any of the refugees into the state for however long. Press releases warned of diseased children infecting communities. Nothing about sending them back on the MS St. Louis, but if that ship were still afloat, such a proposal would not have been surprising.

Doubtless sovereign countries have a right and need to control their borders. I think the amnesty provided in the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act was a mistake. But it is striking how different locales react to the challenges presented by refugees, and how people define themselves by their reactions.