Afghan Refugees Settling In To Orange County, CA, And Hardly Anyone Even Being Huge Dicks About It!
Refugees at Kabul Airport in August, AFP Video screenshot

For a change, we have some nice time news from Orange County, California. Not a single deranged Republican officeholder or anti-vaxxer to be found outside this sentence, which is now finished. Instead, go take a look at the OC Register's in-depth story on how refugees from Afghanistan are beginning to settle in after coming to the US, with help from charities, local government agencies, and lots of just good people in the community. It's a welcome reminder of how the US is a better place now than it was under that "president" whose attitude toward refugees was that they should just not be here.

Roughly 400 Afghan refugees are now living in Orange County, out of the more than 76,000 Afghan refugees who've come to the US since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last August. Another 100 or so are expected to arrive in coming weeks, as the State Department finishes the vetting and paperwork process for some 10,000 refugees who are still being housed at three US military bases.

The story, by OC Register reporter Brooke Stagg with photos by Mindy Schauer, offers a good overview of the challenges refugees face, and of how communities are working to help them make the enormous adjustment to life in this weird country of ours. One of the details that really got me: a "TV station in Little Saigon that raised $80,000 for Afghan families from a Vietnamese audience that understands what it’s like to be a refugee." Everyone's just trying to live, and that's how we do it. (I really am just the worst sentimentalist.)

Less cheerful: Most of the refugees in the story are identified only by their first names, because they're worried about possible reprisals by the Taliban against family members still in Afghanistan.

The biggest challenge the refugees in Orange County face right now is finding housing, because of California's tight housing market (there's only a 1.2 percent vacancy rate for apartments in Orange County right now), which is complicated further by an even greater shortage of units for large families and the reluctance of many landlords to rent to people who can't pass the conventional credit and rental history check they require. Many families have been housed for months in hotels while they wait for an apartment to become available. But again, there are success stories too, where landlords can be convinced to be flexible. Others just require fast action; one landlord wanted not only first and last month's rent and a deposit, but also two months' rent upfront, for a total of $12,000. The refugee agency hurried and got a check from the state to cover the part of it that the family's "welcome" funds — about $1,225 per person — couldn't cover.

Oh yes, the state: County caseworkers also help refugees get connected with services like CalWORKs and Medi-Cal, while volunteers help out with the minutiae of getting moved into a home. Many of the volunteer groups are connected with Muslim charities, and volunteers include folks who were refugees themselves decades ago.

One more I'm not crying, you are story: A refugee named Ahmad, who made it to the US after all sorts of difficulty in Kabul, waited with his toddler son and pregnant wife for months at a US military base in Virginia, and finally arrived in California, where at first he stayed with a sister who had already come to the US earlier, seven people living in a one-bedroom apartment.

In December, his sponsor and other volunteers got the family moved into their own apartment, and got them set up with furniture:

[They’ve] been pitching in on transportation, preparing Ahmad for his driver’s license test and planning a baby shower for his wife, who’s expecting their first daughter on April 12.

“She’s going to be a citizen of the United States right away,” Ahmad said with a crack in his voice.

'Merica (sniff).

The story also debunks, yet again, the myth that refugees whoop it up on US taxpayer funds; instead, once they arrive in a community, the federal government provides just 90 days of initial housing and meals, that one-time resettlement money, and then after that, refugees must rely on themselves, family already in the US (if any), and nonprofit groups. Also too, your regular reminder that refugees, once settled, are a net benefit for the economy, and that goes well beyond the terrific restaurants many open.

(Yes, somewhere a guy is muttering "nobody ever gave me any free ride for three months" as he drives to work on taxpayer funded roads in the pickup he partly paid for with his stimulus checks.)

As we so often say, go give the whole thing a read. And if you have a few extra bucks, here's Charity Navigator's guide to top-rated international groups helping Afghan refugees. You might even see if your community has an agency that's helping new refugees get settled — get your mask on and volunteer, if that's something you can do. As Bragg points out, America's refugee infrastructure is still being rebuilt after the previous US government largely dismantled it.

[OC Register / Charity Navigator]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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