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Editorial: Buffalo’s welcoming hand to refugees is a model for other cities to follow

If more validation was needed about Buffalo’s big heart and the benefits it confers, America’s ambassador to the United Nations has provided it.
Buffalo is not only a welcoming city, Samantha Power observed during a visit here Tuesday, but it is an example for other areas to follow. “Our country has a lot to learn from this ‘City of Good Neighbors,’ ” she said.

Not only that, she said in commenting on data she found in The Buffalo News, but the city has benefited economically from the 14,000 refugees it has taken in over the past 15 years. Call it enlightened self-interest.

Staff writer Jerry Zremski has written extensively in recent weeks about Buffalo’s burgeoning population of refugees, beginning with a report centering on his trip to Burma. Absorbing them is a challenge for Buffalo – and for the refugees who come here – but it is also the sort of thing for which all residents, on this special American weekend, can give thanks.

Among the points that Power emphasized were the benefits that Buffalo’s refugee population confer on the city that adopted them. Specifically, she noted that job growth and business growth on Buffalo’s West Side and in its Black Rock/Riverside areas outperformed growth throughout Erie County in recent years. It’s a fact and, as Power noted, “The facts don’t lie.”

Understandably, federal policy on refugees has become an issue, especially as it deals with populations arriving from Syria, parts of which have been overtaken by ISIS, a particularly virulent terrorist organization. Many, including President-elect Donald Trump, say they fear that terrorists are slipping in with those who are simply looking to escape an impossible way of living.
But those fears are based on a false foundation, Power said. Refugees – all of them – are scrutinized in a way no other foreigner is. “It is hard to imagine a more difficult way to get here than posing as a refugee,” she said. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, of course, only that it is radically unlikely.

And that is an important point to remember as the country chooses whether to close the borders to people such as Ayman Janno, who arrived earlier this year from Syria with his wife, Avin Rasho, and their two young children. There, life was about escaping barrel bombs, chlorine attacks and bunker bombs. “We are so lucky to be in the cold of Buffalo,” he told the ambassador.
Buffalo’s refugee population has also played a role in its revival. These people work hard. Some open businesses; almost all help those who come after them.

Even more fundamentally, though, they are here. The city has been losing population for decades, but refugees have helped to stem the losses. “It’s one of the largest resettlement communities in the Northeast and we had heard a lot about the entrepreneurship of the refugee community here,” Power said.

That, of course, has been the story of immigrants to the United States. They provide a workforce, contribute to the culture, bolster tax rolls and produce new generations of citizens.
Some say the election was, at least in part, about turning back the clock and once again making America the province of white people and, more specifically, white men. It won’t happen. That demographic train has left the station. But stories such as Power heard in Buffalo show why it shouldn’t happen, even if it could.

America is at its best when it strives to live up to its own advertising: the home of the brave, the land that was made for you and me, the lamp that is lifted beside the golden door. We can, and should be careful, but as was reaffirmed this week by America’s U.N. ambassador, we should never turn our backs on who we are.

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