The Federal Government Cautions Incoming Afghan Refugees Against Moving To California
Both liberals and conservatives could take some lessons from the U.S. State Department's list of cities that it recommends Afghan refugees relocate to.
The federal government has some helpful advice for Afghan refugees trying to start a new life in America: for the love of God, do not try to rent an apartment in California.
Many of the Afghans who have been airlifted out of their country in the wake of the Taliban's takeover will be able to come to America under the U.S. State Department's Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which provides visas to translators who worked with U.S. forces and helps place them in a new city once they get to America.
SIV participants who opt to receive resettlement benefits can also choose to be relocated to one of 19 cities identified as having "reasonable cost of living, housing availability, supportive services, and welcoming communities with volunteers and resources."
These cities include several in Texas (Houston, Austin, and Dallas), the Mountain West (Salt Lake City and Denver), the Southeast (Raleigh-Durham and Atlanta), and a couple of lower-cost cities in the Mid-Atlantic (Philadelphia and Baltimore).
Noticeably absent from the list are any cities in California.
Indeed, the State Department's website explicitly warns arriving Afghans against trying to move there, saying that "some cities in California are very expensive places to live, and it can be difficult to find reasonable housing and employment. Any resettlement benefits you receive may not comfortably cover the cost of living in these areas."
Six out of the 10 most expensive cities to rent a one-bedroom apartment are located in California, according to an August report from rental listing website Zumper.
The Washington D.C. metro area—which was ranked the sixth most expensive city in the Zumper report—is also singled out by the State Department as a particularly expensive place that incoming migrants should avoid unless they have friends or family who will be able to assist them financially.
Ultra-expensive New York City—the traditional entry point for past waves of immigrants coming to America—is also left off the State Department's list. The much more affordable area of Northern New Jersey, in contrast, is a recommended destination for Afghan refugees.
One reason for that is that northern New Jersey is much friendlier to new housing development. The Big Apple has added about one unit of housing for every 3.6 jobs from 2009 to 2018, according to one city report. Northern New Jersey, meanwhile, has managed to add more housing units than jobs.
The State Department's list of refugee-friendly cities is mostly dominated by high-growth sunbelt cities with high rates of housing construction, including places like Houston, Dallas, Raleigh-Durham that have both added a new unit of housing for every job over the past decade.
This de facto list of most welcoming cities for incoming Afghan refugees has some important lessons for both the left and right wings of American politics.
Folks on the right, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, have argued that America shouldn't admit Afghan refugees because the country just doesn't have enough housing for them. That's simply not true for many fast-growing cities that are adding more than enough housing to accommodate newcomers, whether they're coming from Kandahar or Kansas City.
It's also not true of low-growth, low-cost cities like Baltimore, Maryland, and Buffalo, New York, which also made the State Department's list. If anything, these cities have too much vacant housing, and could really benefit from the revitalizing effects of new immigrants.
On the other hand, liberal-leaning residents of America's bluest cities should probably do some soul searching about the fact their communities, while rhetorically accepting of immigrants, are also so expensive that new arrivals are being actively warned to not try to resettle there.
By ditching restrictions on new development, these cities could make themselves more welcoming to refugees. Leaving excessive red tape in place, meanwhile, would prove that many progressives' messages about accepting refugees aren't worth the multi-lingual yard signs they're printed on.