I came to Louisiana as an asylee from Cameroon and got a warm welcome. Warmly welcoming immigrants is something we should celebrate and encourage more of. It will make the state stronger as a result.
The Ukrainian crisis has brought Louisiana closer to the plight of people abroad. Pastors from the state have flown to Ukraine on rescue missions. They have returned to the Pelican State proclaiming that it is our Christian duty to help. Louisiana families can now sponsor Ukrainian refugees; and they are stepping up to do it. It makes me proud to call Louisiana my adopted home. We welcomed 60 refugees from Afghanistan during the last year, too. They are families who helped America when we were there fighting the Taliban. We have rewarded their patriotism with our open arms.
In 2019, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Louisiana would welcome refugees. It was a positive stand. He made the pledge even though an executive order from former President Trump said states could opt out. Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans thanked Edwards, calling his pledge a symbolic move showing there is “room in the inn” for people seeking refuge. Aymond also wrote that Jesus would welcome people fleeing war, persecution, or natural disaster.
It is not only Christian to welcome people from abroad, it makes good financial and cultural sense. The entire history of Louisiana shows how immigrants and refugees have made the state stronger. Creole culture is a mixture of French and Spanish cultures blended with African and Native American cultures. Cajun culture reflects French influences that migrated here by way of Canada. Louisiana is a melting pot. When you eat a delicious Banh Mi at a Việtnamese restaurant, there is a good chance the owner’s family came here in the 1970s. Even our former governor, Bobby Jindal, is the son of immigrants.
World Refugee Day is celebrated in June, and we recently celebrated with thousands of immigrants, refugees, and American-born residents in Baton Rouge. We at the Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants provided a platform for refugees to share their stories and offered cultural dances, food, and art displays. It’s important to note that refugees in Louisiana aren’t only coming here from Ukraine. Our event welcomed people from almost 40 countries, ranging from the Congo to South Sudan and from Togo to the Gambia. There were people from Liberia, Nigeria, Kenya, and Egypt. Friends and neighbors from Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, South Korea and China attended, too. We even celebrated with friends from the Middle East hailing from Iran, Turkey, Palestine, and Afghanistan.
Immigrants contribute a billion dollars in taxes and more to the state and federal coffers. We boost the state’s economy each year with more than $3.5 billion in consumer spending. Immigrant business owners account for more than 10 percent of Louisiana’s self-employed people, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars in business revenue.
Everyone in Louisiana should know that we all do better when we welcome people to our state. Celebrating and supporting refugees gives us an ideal opportunity to do that.
Sharon Njie is the Refugee Congress Delegate for Louisiana. She also volunteers as the Communication and Strategic Partnership Director at the Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants (LORI).
The Opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Opinion Editor Amy Stelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.