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Opinion: Why Texas businesses are welcoming Afghan refugees

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By Glenn Hamer

There are now almost 10,000 Afghan evacuees at Fort Bliss — all of them crucial allies to the American military during its heroic 20-year fight against the Taliban. In the coming weeks and months, the federal government will work to find them permanent homes across the United States. These refugees risked their lives in Afghanistan to help our armed forces and deserve nothing less than a chance to restart their lives in the United States.

Glenn Hamer

As a representative of the Texas business community, I’m hoping many will be able to start their new lives right here in the Lone Star State.

In addition to fulfilling our commitment to helping those who helped us, there are practical reasons to support their resettlement here. Texas is already home to more than 10,000 Afghan immigrants, including more than 1,300 refugees who settled here between 2002 and 2018.

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Four of our cities — Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Austin — are among the top 30 destinations for Afghan refugees. For Texas businesses, that’s an especially good thing, because refugees gravitate toward industries that are most in need of workers. About a fifth work in manufacturing, according to New American Economy, while 14% work in health care and 10% work in retail — all sectors where a lack of job candidates is currently hampering business growth.

Many were also helpful in keeping the Texas economy going during the initial phase of the pandemic. There are at least 13,500 refugee health care workers in Texas, for instance, including 2,500 nurses and 1,000 doctors and surgeons. There are also almost 15,000 refugee food-supply workers working across our state to keep groceries stocked and food on our tables.

They make regular economic contributions like all of us: as of 2018, Texas’ 218,000 refugees collectively paid over $1.8 billion a year in state, local, and federal taxes.

Young Afghans play a game of basketball at Fort Bliss’ Doña Ana Complex in New Mexico on Oct. 27. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Maxwell Bass, 24th Theater Public Affairs Support Element)

Above all, though, refugees come to this country with a powerful desire to build a better life for themselves and live the American Dream. They’ve been through terrible tragedies and they’re both incredibly grateful, and incredibly determined to work hard, adapt, and contribute to their new homes. 

In El Paso, immigrants are 150% more likely than U.S.-born residents to start their own business — and refugees, the single most entrepreneurial group in America, are more likely to become entrepreneurs and job creators.

Refugees also become citizens at much higher rates than most other immigrants, and work hard to create safe and stable communities.

Cities that welcome refugees often see dramatic reductions in violent crimes and property crimes. One community near Detroit saw crime rates fall more than 77% after welcoming in 4,500 Iraqis. In Decatur, Georgia, crime rates fell more than 62% after the community opened its doors to just under 6,600 refugees from Burma, Iraq, and Bhutan.

As a community, El Paso has stepped up to support the brave Afghan evacuees who supported our troops over the past two decades, collecting donations and ensuring the families in Fort Bliss get the help they need. That’s a sign of the generosity of spirit that makes Texas great. 

But we also have strong practical reasons to go further, and support Afghan refugees’ long-term resettlement in our communities. As president & CEO of the Texas Association of Business, I can confidently say that it is in our interest to welcome these evacuees to the Lone Star State home.

Glenn Hamer is president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.

Cover photo: An Afghan evacuee volunteer teaches at the school at Fort Bliss’ Doña Ana Complex in New Mexico on Sept. 25. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Khalan Moore, 24th Theater Public Affairs Support Element)

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