The increase of Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees fleeing war torn countries is raising debate in this nation over how many the US should allow in. But refugees are nothing new for the United States. According to information from the US Department of State, since 1975, more than three million refugees have arrived in all 50 states in America. Currently in South Dakota refugees arrive in Sioux Falls and Huron. Officials are looking into making Aberdeen a direct resettlement site. One history professor who says both immigration and fear of immigration have always been a part of America’s story.
Doctor Steven Usitalo is a history professor at Northern State University. He says there’s no empirical evidence that refugees and immigrants take an economic toll on the country, or pose a security risk. But he says those arguments have been used for decades. He says prior to the civil war, Catholic immigrants from Ireland were seen as the major threat. He says time seems to change perceptions, as people interact with each other.
Usitalo says anti-immigration arguments provide a simple solution to complex problems.
“Who is to blame for my job loss,” Usitalo says. “Who is to blame for the idea that crime is increasing, even though my criminal justice colleagues tell me and statistics prove it that crime in the US has actually been on a long term decline, and there’s no statistical evidence to show that immigrants are disproportionally prone to crime, involved in crime. But nonetheless, it’s fear. And you have to lash out at somebody, right?”
Usitalo says the anonymity of internet comment sections allows people to be more revealing of racial views. He says recent political movements have increased the intensity of arguments.
Usitalo says for two centuries, the US has been open to immigration.
“So we’ve always been a land of change, and it’s enriched the country,” Usitalo says. “So, I think anti-immigrant arguments, and I don’t want to make this too provocative, but anti-immigrant arguments, if there’s anything that’s un-American, that’s what I see as un-American, because you’re denying American history if you take that particular point of view.”
Previous coverage of the call to allow more refugees in Aberdeen brought a large negative backlash on-line. Aberdeen Mayor Mike Levsen says he doesn’t read Internet comment sections.
“Let’s not make a bigger deal out of this than it is. They’re just people,” Levsen says.
Levsen says if Aberdeen did become a direct resettlement site, he expects refugees would arrive in small numbers.