Magazine article Newsweek

Donald Trump's Fears about Syrian Refugees and ISIS Fall Flat; in Baltimore, Syrian Refugees Are Living Proof of Donald Trump's Limited Immigration Policies

Magazine article Newsweek

Donald Trump's Fears about Syrian Refugees and ISIS Fall Flat; in Baltimore, Syrian Refugees Are Living Proof of Donald Trump's Limited Immigration Policies

Article excerpt

Byline: Emily Cadei

The men Donald Trump has been warning us about are sitting in a classroom in Baltimore. "When you look at that migration, you see so many young, strong men," the Republican presidential nominee said a campaign rally in April, lamenting the waves of refugees pouring into Europe. "You don't see that many women and children."

There are 16 men here, almost all of them recently arrived from Syria. They're sitting at rows of Formica tables in a windowless office in Highlandtown, a gentrifying corner of the city. These men do not look like the desperate people washing up on the shores of Greece and Italy--they're dressed mostly in jeans and crisp, collared shirts and watch attentively as a young woman with a blond pixie haircut writes slowly on a whiteboard.

"There are two different kinds of bank accounts," explains Danielle Corcoran, an instructor with the nonprofit group International Rescue Committee (IRC). She pauses as an interpreter translates her words into Arabic. "One kind is a savings account, and one kind is a checking account. Does anyone know the difference?" Several of the men volunteer answers.

This is "Welcome to America 101." It's a one-week, 30-hour crash course for newly arrived refugees, teaching them the basics of living in the United States. Aside from personal finance, the lessons tackle public transportation, grocery shopping, paying rent and going to the doctor. This week's class is all men because their wives went through this same orientation program the week before. "We find the women respond better if they don't have their husbands around," explains Kevin Meadowcroft, senior program manager.

Under the aegis of the State Department, contractors like the IRC run refugees through a gantlet of programs for eight months. By the time they've been in America for a year, they are expected to speak basic English, hold down a job and cover virtually all their expenses. It's a ridiculously compressed timetable, with limited resources behind it. Yet with the help of nonprofit groups, community leaders and religious organizations, IRC has eased the transition for more than 3 million refugees who've entered the U.S. since 1980, when Congress authorized the program. Meadowcroft says roughly 95 percent of the refugees in Baltimore are self-sufficient by the time their services end. Other programs across the country report similar success.

While Muslims are a relatively new class of U.S. immigrants, a 2007 Pew Research Center survey found they are "decidedly American in their outlook, values and attitudes." Yet Trump and other critics claim integration won't work with this latest crop of Syrians, 8,000 of whom have entered the country in the past few months. Refugee status, Trump warns, is a potential "Trojan horse" for jihadis. And even if they're not terrorist infiltrators, he claims Muslim migrants do not assimilate in the United States. Implicitly, Trump is suggesting that a system that has folded many waves of migrants from different backgrounds and religions into American life over the centuries has reached its limit.

But has it? The test will come in places like Baltimore, where hundreds of Syrians have arrived this summer to start their new lives -- and prove Trump wrong.

"Right now, it's bad stuff back there," Khaldoun Alhalabi tells me through an interpreter. Alhalabi is a balding, heavyset 36-year-old man from Homs, Syria, but he has the bright, animated eyes of someone still young. As he's describing the atmosphere in his hometown, which was decimated in a government siege, he makes the whistling sounds of artillery fire and gestures with his hands to mimic the explosions of shells. Alhalabi and his family of six eventually fled to neighboring Jordan. "There," he says, "we were humans without identity."

Since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, Jordan has taken in 650,000 Syrian refugees, while Turkey and Lebanon have been even more deluged. …

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