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Influx of refugees would affect needy Oregonians

The work of Medical Teams International — the Tigard-based group that aids, among other refugees, Syrians who have fled to Greece and Lebanon — merits Oregonians’ support. What does not, however, is the view of Jeff Pinneo, the group’s CEO, that many of those refugees should be brought to America (“Syrian refugees need our help,” News-Times, March 2).

One major reason: destitute Syrians, some 10,000 of whom the Obama administration hopes to resettle in the United States this fiscal year, would compete for the jobs and housing needed by our own poorest citizens. Given Gov. Kate Brown’s recent statement that Oregon “will ... open the doors of opportunity” to those refugees, a good number of them may come here — to a state in which some 16 percent of residents, as the U.S. Census Bureau estimated recently, already lives in poverty. LaMountain

How would Syrian refugees impact those neediest Oregonians?

For many in our state, well-paying, full-time work remains elusive. Earlier this year, the Oregon Employment Department reported that 200,000-plus state residents were unemployed, “marginally attached to the labor force” or “employed part-time for economic reasons.” In Washington County, wrote Pamplin Media’s Peter Wong earlier this month, “40 percent of ... jobs are either low-wage or part-time.”

But local refugee-assistance groups, among them the taxpayer-subsidized Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, work aggressively to place refugees into local jobs. Would it be fair to needy Oregonians, who lack the advocacy and support networks new refugees have, to import Syrians to compete with them for decent livelihoods?

Also consider: Our region is gripped by an affordable-housing crisis. In Portland last year, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported, “the Portland Housing Bureau ... found the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment was $1,182.” The city has a shortage, OPB noted, of some 24,000 units “affordable to the lowest-income renters” (those available for $750 a month or less).

Every night in Portland, The Oregonian reported last month, some 1,900 people sleep on sidewalks, in doorways and under bridges.

And yet, according to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, in a recent five-year period close to a quarter of refugees received housing assistance. Do low-income Oregonians need an influx of poor Syrians to vie with them for affordable shelter?

And what of Oregon’s schoolchildren? Late last year, the state legislature’s Joint Special Committee on Public Education Appropriation determined that the 2015-17 elementary and secondary State School Fund, at some $7.4 billion, was almost $1.8 billion short of the amount needed “to reach the state’s educational goals.” Why, then, should we import Syrian children, most of whom would need expensive supplemental English instruction, to siphon off education dollars needed by the state’s American children?

“Since 1975,” notes the Oregon Department of Human Services, “tens of thousands of refugees have resettled in Oregon.” Accepting more today, however, would harm many of our youngest and poorest fellow citizens. Let’s applaud Pinneo’s help for refugees abroad, but resist his suggestion that we bring them here. Instead, let’s work to improve the lives of our own neediest — the fellow Americans to whom we owe our first and foremost responsibility.

Richard F. LaMountain, a Cedar Mill resident, serves as vice president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform.