Update: Hundreds of Readers Ridicule Syrians-to-Detroit Idea

May 15, 2015, 11:27 AM by  Alan Stamm

If their goal was to provoke likely discussion, Professor David Laitin and Marc Jahr succeeded Thursday -- though not as intended. 

Caustic criticism and ridicule dominate hundreds of online reactions to their offbeat solution for "two social and humanitarian disasters" -- Syrian refugess and near-empty Detroit neighborhoods.

More than 470 comments from around the country are under their New York Times commentary (right), which remained atop the paper's online opinion section until Friday afternoon. "Stop talking about Detroit as if it's another planet," a reader in Washington, D.C., urges Friday morning

Harsh reactions also fill a much shorter Detroit subreddit thread and more than 200 posts from Deadline readers.

One standout at our Facebook page is from Detroit musician Joe Smith:

"Ah yes. Let's help Detroit by continuing to ignore its current poor, indigenous population, and by spending lots of money and resources to get other, better poor folks to move here. Genius."

A sampling of other opinions from near and far:

  • "They really do treat Detroit like a colony. . . . Stop talking about Detroit as if it's another planet." -- A.Z., Washington, D.C. 
  • "Good grief! What next?" -- Nancy Ehrke, Mt. Clemens
  • "Article reads like a 14-year-old that just smoked pot for the first time." -- Greg at Detroit subreddit
  • "Has this professor ever set foot in Detroit? It is amazing the amount of junk science that comes from our supposed intellectuals." -- Bob Dombrowski, Grosse Ile
  • "Newsflash: We're already here." -- Michael Sabbagh, Detroit
  • "A lot of professors have tenure and live in a protective bubble on campus and have no idea how the real world works. You have enough people in Detroit now that can't find jobs." -- John Hund, East Detroit
  • "That's the craziest sh!t I've heard in a long time." -- Glen Copley Jr., Monroe
  • "Americans can't solve their own problems, so let's bring in a new group who can 'settle' in the Detroit area. Perhaps, as we did with the Native Americans, we can move all of Detroit's poor to a reservation in Utah or South Dakota; that idea has worked SO well. April and April's Fool jokes are over. This idea just plain stinks." -- Richard Petro, Connecticut
  • "Want to save Detroit? Let's infuse it and the heartland with with Middle East politics, religious fanaticism, and tribalism. That'll work." -- Levin, Dixville Notch, N.H.
  • "Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We'll also take your doctors, architects, mathematicians and entrepreneurs." -- Joe Manzella, Lansing
  • "What an insulting suggestion. . . . Revitalizing Detroit is not a task that requires war survivors, it is a task that requires money. Lots of money. Suggesting we need a refugee community to redevelop the city is a foot in the face to the residents." -- Jeffrey, Massachusetts,
  • "This has to be one of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard. I would first look for 50,000 American citizens who currently live in poverty and might appreciate the opportunity to reestablish themselves in an American city with government help." -- "Knewman," Stillwater, Minn.
  • "This is a pretty dumb idea. If we are going to go down this road, why not just let illegal Mexicans settle in Detroit -- especially given that unlike the Syrians, the Mexicans are already here.." -- Joe, Atlanta
  • "If we cannot take care of our own, we have no business trying to take care of others." -- Philip, Pompano Beach, Fla.
  • "You've got it backwards.
    Detroit doesn't need immigrants, it needs jobs. It has shrunken to the size that its economic base can sustain. Lack of jobs and opportunity has fueled the radicalization of Muslims in Europe and the Middle East, so creating a place with a similar situation in the US seems like a very bad idea." -- Derek, New York City
  • "Ah, I see! So you believe that penniless, probably non-English-speaking Arabs can revitalize a city that all the blacks in the world can't. At least now we know what you must think about black people." -- B., Brooklyn
  • "The U.S. is not the world's dumpster. This is insulting to Americans that are already living here. These refugees aren't going to bring some magic solution to Detroit or any other depressed U.S. city. -- "Mr. Meat," Florida

Original article, Thursday morning:

This may seem wacky or worthy of The Onion, but political scientist David Laitin is straight-up serious.

"Syrian refugees would be an ideal community to" bring to Detroit, the Stanford University professor writes in a New York Times guest commentary Thursday with co-author Marc Jahr, a low-income housing specialist from New York. 

The two men propose a bold step that would be complex and costly, they acknowledge. "Let Syrians Settle Detroit" says their essay's headline.

Laitin and Jahr, who used to lead New York City's Housing Development Corporation, describe Detroit in paragraph one as "an urban vacuum" that's "estimated to have more than 70,000 abandoned buildings and 90,000 vacant lots." 

So Syrians would be reminded of home? 

"Syrians would bring new vigor and catalyze [Detroit's] nascent recovery," writes David Laitin of Stanford University in California.

The opinion writers crudely link a major U.S. city and displaced Syrians as they suggest a way to address "two social and humanitarian disasters:"  

They also show tone-deafness about the "New Detroit" hot button by daring to propose "small business and home-ownership loans . . . [so] the refugees would have a financial incentive to remain" -- support that would provoke legitimate howls from longtime Detroiters who also could use a financial incentive to remain.

Here's some of what Laitin and Jahr write: 

Arab-Americans are already a vibrant and successful presence in the Detroit metropolitan area. . . .

Resettling Syrians in Detroit would require commitment and cooperation across different branches and levels of our government, but it is eminently feasible.

President Obama and Congress would have to agree to lift this year’s refugee ceiling by 50,000. The State Department, which handles overseas processing of refugees, would need to open offices at the camps in Jordan and Turkey, determine eligibility and administer a lottery for resettlement. Homeland Security, which controls the borders, would have to carry out accelerated security checks, as has been done in the past for Vietnamese and for Iranian religious minorities. Health and Human Services would need an expansion in the $1.5 billion it budgets for refugee resettlement. . . .

Finally, grants from the federal government and from philanthropic foundations would be needed to help the local Arab-American community supply social services for the newcomers. . . . If small business and home-ownership loans were extended, the refugees would have a financial incentive to remain.

The public policy dreamers visionaries note that "refugees are by no means the only source for the regeneration of Detroit."

Its more settled populations, including African-Americans and Latinos, are bringing great energy and resources to the city’s renewal. But Syrians would bring new vigor and catalyze its nascent recovery. . . .

From its original Native Americans to the Great Migration of Southern blacks to the infusion of Hispanic and Arab immigrants, Detroit has been a melting pot of religions, ethnicities and cultures.

You read that right: New Detroit needs foreigners for "new vigor."  

"The benefits to Detroit, to a devastated Syrian population and to American ideals [are] worth overcoming the expenses and administrative complexity of this proposal," the writers conclude.

At a Reddit thread about this, here's what a guy posting as Greg concludes: "Article reads like a 14 year old that just smoked pot for the first time."

What do you conclude? Tell us in a comment. 

Read more:  The New York Times

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