Where Are Nashville's International Refugees From?
(By Tony Gonzalez)
I recently read a Tennessean feature about immigrants in Nashville, and an article about refugees trying to find housing in the city, and wondered:
Which countries have refugees fled from to find safe new lives in Nashville?
Nashville has long been a major destination for refugees - defined as people approved by the U.S. government to move into America to escape persecution in their home countries. Less than 1 percent of endangered people worldwide get approval.
In the past two years in Tennessee, the most refugees have arrived from Bhutan, Burma, Iraq and Somalia, according to the state's Office for Refugees. To a lesser degree, refugees are arriving from Cuba, Eritrea and Sudan. Each year, refugees from about two dozen nations arrive in Nashville.
How many refugees live here?
As of 2012, there were about 57,869 refugees in Tennessee, which is less than 1 percent of the population. That number includes refugees approved to move here and estimates of births and deaths in refugee families. The number of refugees here has more than doubled since 1990, although the flow slowed dramatically in 2001 and again in recent years.
Davidson County takes in more than half of the entire state's incoming refugees.
What happens when the arrive?
The federal Refugee Resettlement Program, carried out by three nonprofits in Tennessee, helps refugees find housing, health care and employment, and creates a path to citizenship after five years. They get cash assistance for their first eight months.
Resettlement agencies find rental housing, but it's not always easy. An agency like Catholic Charities works with landlords, who must be willing to prepare an apartment before the refugee has actually arrived - providing keys in advance and waiting until the arrival to receive rent, said Kellye Branson, director of immigrant and refugee services. She said she also tries to find affordable apartments within one mile of a bus stop.
So where do they live?
Nashville's most diverse area is along Nolensville Pike, south of downtown. Branson and other experts said the area became an international enclave because of affordable housing and because newly arriving refugees prefer to live near others from their home countries. About 70 percent of incoming refugees are joining families already here.
Aren't there concerns about refugees using taxpayer money?
Yes, some state lawmakers asked for data about the contributions and taxpayer expenses related to refugees. The resulting report found that refugees contributed almost twice as much in tax revenues as they consumed in state-funded services in the past two decades.
Lawmakers still have questions about how state and federal dollars are being spent.