State Department to relocated Afghans: For God's sake, don't move to California

We’ve justifiably spent a fair amount of time focusing on the American citizens, green card holders, and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program participants who were left behind when we bugged out of Kabul. But it’s worth remembering that tens of thousands of them did actually manage to make it out of the country during the final weeks and make their way to the United States. Some of them with homes and/or families in America probably have some resources available to them to get settled in. But for many who may have no firm ties to anyone in the United States and who may have fled their native country with little more than the clothes on their backs, they’re going to need some help putting down roots. The State Department has helpfully set up a program to assist SIV holders with these challenges and one part of that includes offering information on the best places to move to in terms of making their transition easier. Quite a few cities are on the list, but one location is conspicuously absent. The State Department doesn’t list a single location in California. (Reason)

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.”

Some of the criteria the Department of State chose to use in generating their list seem reasonable and supported by verifiable data. These include things like the cost of living in each city, housing prices, and the availability of immigrant services. Others are a bit more vague, such as “welcoming communities.” How does one measure that?

No matter how you measure such things, however, one conclusion is clear. California is just about the worst place you could choose to move to when attempting to make a fresh start in America. The federal guidance goes out of its way to specifically call out the Golden State as a poor choice because of the outrageous cost of living, unaffordable housing and a lack of jobs paying well enough to cover those costs. Is anyone really surprised? For the record, Washington, D.C. and the Big Apple also made the “do not bother trying to move there” list.

So where are the “good” cities for incoming Afghans to choose as their new home? They’re found in Texas, among other states (Houston, Austin, and Dallas). Also on the list are Salt Lake City, Denver, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.

The Texas cities seem like obvious choices. Housing prices and the cost of living may not be as low as they used to be, but the Lone Star State is experiencing an employment boom that should make finding a well-paying job somewhat easier. I suppose Salt Lake City and Denver still offer some fair opportunities as well.

But the rest of the choices on the list don’t seem all that attractive, do they? Atlanta and Philadelphia are still in the midst of spiraling violent crime and unrest in the streets. And… Baltimore? Seriously? These people just escaped with their lives from one war zone and you’re encouraging them to move directly into another one? Yes, the cost of living and housing prices are definitely lower in Charm City, but that’s largely because few people are crazy enough to actually want to live there and their population has been fleeing for years. More people get shot on an average day in Baltimore than in Kabul. You may not have to deal with the Taliban in Baltimore, but you’ll quickly be introduced to the constantly warring gangs who control most of the “affordable” parts of the city.

One other thing to note is that SIV holders seem to only be advised to move to cities. That just seems wrong. There are many suburban and even rural areas where the cost of living is significantly lower than even the most affordable cities and in many of them, there will be jobs available. Crime rates also tend to be lower. Whatever resettlement funds the new immigrants are given through this program will probably go a lot further. So what’s with the prejudice against small-town America? Perhaps that’s something that the State Department could reflect on moving forward.