State Department Struggles to Keep Iraqi Refugees Out of Michigan

With the United States admitting an increasing number of Iraqi refugees it is only natural that Michigan, with its large Arab-American population (and particularly Iraqi-American Chaldeans), would be a prime destination for those fleeing their war-torn nation. Indeed, many Iraqis view the state as an ideal destination and a lot have friends or family already living here.

But Michigan’s unemployment rate is also the nation’s highest, a staggering 8.9% in August. In fact the economy has been in such shabby shape that even the skilled workers among the early refugees arrivals to the state struggled to find employment sufficient to support their families, leaving many on the dole and some longing to return to Iraq where, though they still face a violent future with simmering ethnic and sectarian tensions, they believe they could earn more money. But for some, return simply isn’t an option.

This has led the State Department to change its resettlement policy, only allowing Iraqis with a parent, child or sibling already living in Michigan to settle here. The aim was to reduce the cost to the financially struggling state government, the effect has been the opposite.

For while the refugees may not be allowed to initially resettle in Michigan, there is nothing the federal government can do to prevent refugees, once admitted, from living anywhere they please. According to the Associated Press, many are choosing to resettle in Michigan anyhow. They quote a spokesman for Lutheran Social Services of Michigan describing a single Iraqi mother of three, whose husband was killed by US troops in a “friendly fire” incident, being sent to Atlanta to live, and having her brother-in-law drive down from the Detroit area the next day to help them move.

The State Department provides aid to the state in which the person is resettled to help offset the costs while the refugees attempt to build a new life in an increasingly struggling US economy. But when a family is settled in Georgia and moves to Michigan a day later Georgia is the state which receives the aid.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.