In Clarkston, Refugee Order Brings Economic Uncertainty

Feb 1, 2017

Amid the fallout from last Friday’s executive order on immigration policy, one metro Atlanta city is preparing for a dent in its refugee-based economy.

The order stops refugee admissions for three months and then lowers the total number of refugees admitted to the United States.

Residents and refugees alike are worried.

The City of Clarkston has been called the most diverse square mile in the country.

WATCH: Hometown Georgia in Clarkston

It’s estimated up to half of the city’s 12,000 residents were born outside the United States and many of them showed up to a special City Council meeting last night.

The room was packed, and the fire marshal made some attendees move into an overflow room.

It’s a sensitive issue, and nobody knows exactly what’s at stake.

Frances McBrayer is chair of the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies, a group of five agencies that provide housing, support services and jobs. 

She says they’ve already projected what the executive order could mean for Georgia.

“We know that a significant portion of our Georgia economy is agriculture, which includes poultry processing, and we can assume that will be affected. To what extent? I'm not sure yet.”

In 2011, the state’s agriculture industry lost $75 million after the state passed a tough anti-illegal immigration law.

And it’s not just agriculture.

In Clarkston, refugees provide a major economic backbone.

One example is Doctor Gulshan Harjee’s  clinic. She and most of her staff are refugees themselves and volunteer their time to serve thousands of other local refugees.  

"We provide free primary care, free mental health, free dental and free prescriptions. We're open Thursdays and Sundays, and I'm proud to say we don't have a single paid employee."

While Harjee’s services may be free, most of the city’s for-profit businesses are small, and immigrant-owned.

The full impact of the executive order won’t be known for some time, but Clarkston isn't waiting to find out.

The City Council is already planning town hall meetings to explore concrete ideas for addressing the issue.