In April, when I heard that President Joe Biden was backtracking on his pledge to resettle more refugees this year — raising the Trump-era cap of 15,000 to 62,500 people — I was furious. His hesitancy implied that refugee policy was politically sensitive, as though critics would balk at welcoming these immigrants and wrongly assume they would hinder our post-pandemic recovery.
That fear couldn’t be further from the truth — and I should know. I run Ruby’s Market, an artisanal food retail shop on South Pearl Street, and R Bazaar, a non-profit pop-up market that celebrates refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs.
I work with anywhere from six to twelve refugee vendors, chefs and artists at a time, and I’ve seen their tenacity, innovation and contributions firsthand. I’m not alone. Last year, Denver reaffirmed its position as a city that welcomes refugees precisely because of the cultural vibrancy and economic returns they bring. That’s why I urge President Biden to keep his word when he announces his final refugee admissions cap by mid-May.
America should restore its image as a humanitarian leader. But I also hope President Biden can use this moment to educate Americans about the incredible contributions that refugees make in this country. Thirteen percent of refugees are entrepreneurs, compared to just 9 percent of native-born Americans. They are also key to our economic recovery, especially given Colorado’s tight labor markets. Refugees often fill shortages in sectors like construction, health care and hospitality. Since they crave stability, they’re also loyal workers who stay at companies longer than Americans.
The perseverance required to overcome hardship and adapt to a new country pays off in the long run. After 25 years, refugees have an average household income of $67,000 — $14,000 higher than the American average, according to New American Economy. That’s true here. One report of 2,700 refugees in Colorado found that they generated $1.23 in state and local tax revenue for every dollar the state invested in them. Between 2007 and 2017, these refugees’ economic activity created more than $611 million in new salaries and wages for Coloradan workers.
My business has clearly benefited from our refugee and immigrant vendors. Their ingenuity and work ethic undoubtedly kept us open during the pandemic. Our chefs helped create a “supper club” to showcase prepared foods from their native countries. And they worked with us to design weekly “market boxes” filled with gourmet specialties and local produce. We pivoted to these boxes when farmers' markets faced restrictions last spring, but they’ve now become a popular staple of our business.
I named Ruby’s Market after the birthstone of my Portuguese immigrant grandmother, who encouraged me to take calculated risks and follow my dreams. She had to provide for her family and didn’t have the option of being scared or hesitant. She was a go-getter, much like our entrepreneurs. Over the pandemic, the store not only became a community marketplace but a source of economic stability for all of us. Simply put, refugees make our lives richer, whether they share their culinary heritage and traditions from their homelands or inspire us with their resilience. They have been through so much trauma, yet remain determined to succeed in the United States and arrive here eager to thrive.
President Biden, please do the right thing and open America’s doors. There are a lot of people here in Denver with big hearts and job opportunities who are eager to welcome them. These new Americans are hard-working individuals who should be welcomed, not feared.
Michelle Lasnier is the owner of Ruby’s Market in Denver.
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