Chicken Little is an avatar for contemporary right-wing conspiracy advocates. The tiny bird’s erroneous apprehension of falling skies due to an acorn being dropped on his head, the tale goes, led to the demise of Little, Henny, Ducky, Goosey, and in some versions, one or two others in the neighborhood by the evil Foxy Loxy.
The terrifying Loxy, in a contemporary parable, would be called Righty Bitey. Some readers are prone to excuse the naiveté and inexperience of Little but are troubled by the ignorance and gullibility of the others. Unfortunately, as a modern morality tale, the lesson of Chicken Little appears to escape realization. Fear and ignorance are powerful forces in current political dialogue and culture, feeding the gullibility of too many. This dynamic is clearly evident concerning refugee resettlement in the United States.
Fear and ignorance are powerful forces in current political dialogue and culture.
In September 2019, pursuant to an Executive Order, states and localities were required to issue a written statement consenting to the acceptance of refugees within their jurisdictions. Absent consent, funding for refugee resettlement would not be made available. Since 1980, under the Refugee Act, the United States has worked with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to resettle refugees across the nation. In January 2020, a federal judge enjoined implementation of the order citing to the harm to programs and resettlement efforts in progress.
The fervor of resistance to the larger immigration debate has, for the most part, conflated the refugee and immigration issues. The national refugee matter was described in a November 2017 report by Old Dominion University (ODU) thus:
According to the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, over half of the world’s 22.5 million refugees are children under the age of 18. Refugees are individuals who have fled their country due to a substantiated fear of persecution, violence, or death based upon their race, nationality, political, religious, or other social group affiliation. The United States has the largest formal refugee resettlement program in the world, historically accepting more than 50,000 refugees per year in the last nine years. The goal of a resettlement program is to offer a viable solution for refugees in long-term protracted situations where they are unlikely to be able to return to their country of origin. 118,431 refugees received permanent residence status in the U.S. in FY 2015.
From FY 2013 to 2017, there have been 14,129 individuals who were served by the Refugee Resettlement Program in Virginia. Of these, 984 have been preschool aged (4 or under) and 3,949 have been school aged (5-18). Each year has seen an overall increase in children in both age brackets resettled in Virginia and receiving services.
The numbers for the Commonwealth average to about 2,800 refugees per year. Costs associated (housing, travel, education) with refugee resettlement are largely borne by funds from the federal government and the NGOs that operate resettlement programs and projects. Often, local charitable and church groups supplement the costs. Notwithstanding the crucial and elemental differences and distinctions between refugees and immigrants, some opponents have nonetheless mounted social media campaigns to pillory the program. Here is one:
For decades they (resettlement NGOs) have decided in secrecy where to place refugees and they don’t want to lose that power because even as they pontificate about their religious convictions and humanitarian zeal, they are Leftwing political groups working to change America by changing the people and using your money to do it! —(http://www.refugee resettlementwatch.org).
Change America by changing the people? Relying upon the data from the ODU report, the change agent would amount to 450,000 persons over the nine-year period noted. As drops in buckets go, refugees effects upon 325 million US residents hardly amounts to a change element. But Chicken Little is not fazed by data or fake news or actual news.
Appomattox County abuts Buckingham County, the geographical center of the Commonwealth, and counts about 15,800 in population. Over 78% are white and 19% are black/African-American, with a sprinkling of other non-whites. Census data records that 96% speak English, while 1% (190 persons) are foreign born. Household income is $54,875, and there are three automobiles per household. In December 2019, the county board of supervisors adopted a resolution indicating refusal to become a “refugee sanctuary.”
According to local media, no information was offered to indicate that the county was a resettlement site presently or prospectively, nor whether the 190 foreign born residents affected the larger population.. Comments supporting the resolution included:
It’s not that we’re not compassionate.… It’s not that we want to turn people away, we just don’t have the resources…. We can’t end up like San Francisco and Los Angeles, where they can’t take care of their own homeless population. We want to take care of our own people before we branch out.
It also did not matter to the discussion that local resources are not required to implement a refugee resettlement to substantiate adoption of opposition. Nor how the 190 foreign-born Appomattox residents might “change America.” It was also reported that the refugee resolution was modeled after Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions recently passed by a number of Virginia jurisdictions. In this way, compassion for refugees would not affect the patriotism of Chicken Little and friends. Foxy Loxy and Righty Bitey prevail. The resolution also stood for the proposition that Appomattox would not host another embarrassing surrender event.
The power of Chicken Little fear and ignorance cannot be underestimated; neither can people’s attempts to cover bigotry with rationality.
The power of Chicken Little fear and ignorance cannot be underestimated; neither can people’s attempts to cover bigotry with rationality. On the other hand, it’s also difficult to assemble words and thoughts to persuade against gullibility that leads others to the abyss of poor choices, intemperate dialogue, and antisocial cultural dilemmas.
For the record, it appears that Appomattox is the very first jurisdiction among the nation’s 3100+ counties to respond to the administration’s executive order. On January 11, 2020, a month after Appomattox’s decision, Texas signaled to the federal government that it, too, was rejecting future refugee resettlement projects. Thus, Appomattox and Texas share more than the identity of three letters of the alphabet—t, a, and x. Also for the record, Texas did not surrender in the Civil War until one month after the signing at the Appomattox courthouse. Coincidence? Cursive relationship?