Refugees and the Transforming Landscapes of Small Cities in the US
Pablo Bose, Geography and Global Studies, University of Vermont
Over the past thirty years, immigrant settlement in the US has followed new patterns. Instead of settling exclusively in gateway cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, in recent decades they have been arriving in other areas – in secondary and smaller cities, in rural regions, and in new locations throughout the South, Midwest, and Northeast. While much of the extant literature has focused on economic and family-based immigrants – especially Latino labor migrants – in this paper I look at officially resettled refugees. Like other immigrants, they too have been arriving in newer destinations, yet refugees have much less control over their initial placement and are instead settled through the priorities of the US Refugee Admissions Program, a partnership between the federal government and a number of non-profit agencies. In this presentation, I explore the rationale behind such a trend by looking both at placement data and by drawing on a number of interviews with resettlement officials with the federal government, state authorities, and resettlement officials. In particular, I examine the idea of refugees as an instrument of urban renewal for smaller cities – as a way of providing new workers, an improved tax base, and population diversity for regions suffering from economic decline, an aging population, and youth out-migration. I contextualize the arrival of refugees in smaller cities in the US within the current moment of rising racism, xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment across the country as well as existential threats to the refugee program itself.