My friend, lean Leon Lyons, asked me one of the major questions of our times, “What are we doing about the Syrian refugees?”
“Are they our problem?” I volleyed the question.
“Sure,” he asserted. “They are also our opportunity.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Many are skilled and experienced,” he answered. “Think how they could solve some of Indiana’s problems. I did some noodling and came up with a schedule for regaining residents and workers.”
“Hold on,” I stopped him from extracting a folded printout from his pocket. “Aren’t immigration and refugee relief federal responsibilities?”
“Needn’t be,” Leon said. “Indiana recruits companies and students (future workers) from abroad all the time. Talk to any economic developer, and s/he will tell you it’s a top priority. I’m talking about taking in less than 2 percent of Indiana’s population, only about 126,000 Syrian refugees.”
With this said, Leon successfully pulled out his paperwork. “Now,” he said, “we’d top off the number of Syrians going to any one city at 10,000. Those cities would be Anderson, East Chicago, Evansville, Gary, Hammond and South Bend. There would be 9,500 each going to Marion and Terre Haute. Then it scales down to just 500 each to Edinburgh, Logansport, Portland, Tell City and Winchester.
“In all,” Leon continued, “28 Indiana cities and towns that lost population from 1970 to 2010 would be allocated Syrian refugees. All 28 places had at least 5,000 residents in 1970 and lost 500 people or more by 2010.”
“You’re assuming,” I assumed, “that folks in those towns would welcome these refugees.”
“Why not?” he asked. “You think Hoosiers would reject them because they are mainly Muslims? I thought Hoosier hospitality was a reality. Religious people are assets; religious radicals are liabilities.”
“Is there housing for all of them in all these places?” I said. “Are the schools ready to take children who speak … what? Arabic?”
“Haven’t you been thinking European countries smaller than Indiana should take thousands of Syrians?” Leon asked. “Don’t you believe our neighbors already living in depressed cities and towns would be eager to see homes renovated and repopulated? Aren’t there jobs going unfilled that some of these refugees would fill?
“Diversity and development are goals of our state. Here’s an unprecedented opportunity to achieve what we say we want. Now’s the time, while others dither, for us to charter planes to Greece and Hungary, Jordan and Turkey, to open pathways to Indiana.”
I replied, “I don’t see a host of Syrians fitting the mold in Madison, hitting it off in Highland or nesting in New Albany or New Castle.”
“What do you know of Syrians?” Leon asked.
“Nothing really,” I admitted, “except I’ve heard they’re better educated than most immigrants to America.”
“What we do know,” he said, “is they are motivated to make a better life for themselves and their families. They show great determination to reach places that offer peace and prosperity. Aren’t those the people we want as our neighbors?”
“Seems like a lot of energy,” I said, “to introduce into our contented Hoosier holy land.”