Salvaging Detroit — By Giving It to Syrian Refugees?

migrant-sharing plan
Photo: Associated Press

So thoroughly have decades of Democratic rule annihilated the city of Detroit that most big-picture suggestions for saving the city involve literally giving it away. Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, long ago proposed repopulating the city with immigrants. Now Stanford University poli-sci professor David D. Laitin and former New York City Housing Development Corporation president Marc Jahr offer a more specific suggestion in a New York Times editorial: give Detroit to refugees from the Syrian civil war.

“Detroit, a once great city, has become an urban vacuum,” Laitin and Jahr write. “Its population has fallen to around 700,000 from nearly 1.9 million in 1950. The city is estimated to have more than 70,000 abandoned buildings and 90,000 vacant lots. Meanwhile, desperate Syrians, victims of an unfathomable civil war, are fleeing to neighboring countries, with some 1.8 million in Turkey and 600,000 in Jordan.”

The authors propose resolving two “social and humanitarian disasters” by bringing 50,000 fresh Syrian refugees into Detroit. This would involve dramatically raising the number of Syrians the United States plans to accept, setting up infrastructure to process immigrants out of camps in Jordan and Turkey, expediting background security checks, and footing some $1.5 billion in resettlement costs.

Syrian refugees would make a good fit for Detroit, according to the authors, because the city has a history of serving as a “melting pot of religions, ethnicities, and cultures;” there is already a vibrant Middle Eastern immigrant community in the area to receive them; and Syrians are a particularly industrious group, as demonstrated by the many business ventures they have already established in refugee camps.

The authors note that the Arab community in the Detroit metropolitan area was, as of 2003, majority Christian (58 percent, vs. 48 percent Muslim) with solid median income and a high degree of entrepreneurial energy. They don’t explicitly state whether their proposal would involve screening Syrian refugees for similar characteristics, to make them as compatible as possible with the existing community.

Unfortunately, Laitin and Jahr whistle past the immense social-services cost of ushering in fifty thousand impoverished refugees, and their idea for setting them up with homes and businesses involves reactivating the same subprime-mortgage doomsday engine that nearly wiped out the financial system of the entire planet in 2008. Fifty thousand loans to Syrians in Detroit could not do that kind of damage under even the worst-case default scenario, of course, but the financial risk to institutions and taxpayers is staggering.

Successful resettlement efforts, both in United States and abroad, are cited in support of the Syrians-to-Detroit idea, but problematic relocation plans go unmentioned, such as Uruguay’s recent decision to reject male Syrian refugees due to their alleged propensity for domestic violence (Uruguay ultimately halted the program benefiting Syrian refugees entirely). Generations of mass-immigration activists, across the Western world, have underestimated the challenge of assimilation, and there is no sign of them learning painful lessons any time soon.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Syrian refugees are fleeing a country torn asunder by both civil war against the Assad regime, and savage battles between rebel factions. It is the womb from which ISIS emerged. Most of the other effective rebel factions are affiliated with al-Qaeda. It is probably possible to skim fifty thousand people free of terrorist connections from the refugee population, but it won’t be easy, especially if it is supposed to be done quickly. If U.S. immigration authorities try to avoid the sectarian Muslim issue by expressing a preference for Syrian Christian refugees, all hell will break loose.

The Times op-ed includes a nasty little dig at people who take immigration law seriously, describing resistance to uncontrolled mass immigration as purely a function of partisan politics: “Finally, some will call this plan politically dead on arrival, given skepticism toward immigration, particularly in the Republican Party. But it’s worth noting that the 2003 study of the community found that two-thirds of respondents said they had voted for George W. Bush in 2000; refugee populations with traditional social views and a knack for entrepreneurship are not going to make Michigan less of a campaign battleground.”

“Skepticism toward immigration?”  There’s not very much of that, on either side of the partisan divide. Skepticism toward illegal immigration is an entirely different matter.  On that subject, we are already dealing with a gigantic alien population, which nearly all Democrats and many Republicans are eager to grant amnesty, plus access to expensive social benefits to. Why should we need to import another 50,000 people, when we have millions of “new Americans” ready to go?

Instead of spending $1.5 billion to process and transport a host of Syrians to Detroit, why not incentivize the existing hard-working alien population of the United States to move there and revitalize the city with their high-voltage entrepreneurial energy? It would cost a great deal less than $1.5 billion. Both legal citizens and “undocumented Americans” would be entitled to ask why such a vast sum should be spent on foreigners in foreign lands.

Or have we been misled about the value of the untapped asset represented by the existing alien population on U.S. soil? Our elites grow very angry at anyone who questions that value, or seeks to compute the social-services cost of the illegal immigrant population, but nothing they do suggests they actually consider illegal aliens to be a priceless under-utilized resource. They don’t seem very keen on the untapped potential of legal, native-born citizens, either. The solution to every economic need, from Silicon Valley to the corrupt, socialist wasteland of Detroit, lies in imported labor.

Of course, if we work with our existing under-employed population to provide labor and entrepreneurial energy for Detroit, we won’t be doing anything for those Syrian refugees. But 50,000 people is a tiny fraction of the population in those Jordanian and Turkish refugee camps — less than three percent of them, by Laitin and Jahr’s count. Meanwhile, a vast surge of refugees from Libya — a nation whose dire straits the current Administration of the U.S. government is directly responsible for — is heading toward Europe. Libyans fleeing the bloody hell of post-Qaddafi Libya are arguably more of an American responsibility than the victims of Bashar Assad, ISIS, and al-Qaeda.