Have a Greek Yogurt, Hire a Syrian Refugee

The American Dream on the line.

Photographer: Brady Dillsworth/Bloomberg

Over the last several months, a nativist campaign in the U.S. has homed in on a curious target: a brand of yogurt. Chobani faces a boycott, while its founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, has faced death threats -- all because the company hires refugees, and he wants more U.S. firms to do the same.

On a personal level, these attacks are reprehensible. On a policy level, they are at best counterproductive and at worst dishonest. If you believe that refugees shouldn’t be a burden to taxpayers and should better integrate into American life -- two common complaints among those upset by refugee resettlement -- then you should support their gainful employment.

Chobani’s workforce of more than 2,000 includes many former refugees. They make up 30 percent of employees at the privately held company’s yogurt plant in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Chobani’s critics, however, see a conspiracy to infiltrate the U.S. with Muslims and displace U.S. workers with a low-wage labor force. But the unemployment rate in Twin Falls this summer was 3.3 percent, lower than the state and national averages (3.8 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively). And Idaho, where the single largest group of refugees in 2016 is Christians from the Democratic Republic of Congo, ranked in the top 10 of refugee-admitting U.S. states well before Chobani opened its plant in 2012.

In the U.S. as a whole, this year’s refugee admissions to date of 85,000 is minuscule compared with a population of more than 300 million. As a group, refugees enter the U.S. equipped with greater skills than those admitted on the basis of family ties. Both the refugees and the U.S. economy benefit when they get productive jobs.

President Barack Obama’s administration has been exhorting companies to provide refugees more training and employment opportunities. Right now, the emphasis is on getting refugees to achieve “self-sufficiency” and start working as soon as possible. More federal and state support for English-language instruction and professional re-certification would make it less likely that engineers are forced to take jobs as janitors. They should also have greater access to federal programs that encourage people to live in and help revitalize distressed neighborhoods, as refugees have in Detroit, Cleveland, Denver and other cities.

None of this is terribly expensive, nor should it be especially controversial. There are legitimate debates to be had about U.S. refugee policy, but critics would be better off eating Greek yogurt than protesting it.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.