Can We Afford To Integrate Refugees Into the US?

By: Kenny Friedman, Mike Drachkovitch, and Felipe Lozano-Landinez

The data say that it costs about $65,000, on average, to integrate a refugee into the United States over a period of five years. We want to tell this story because in today’s political environment, which is exhibiting significant anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric, it is important to understand what it would actually take to grant asylum to global citizens in need in 2016.

Our audience for our data sculpture is the American citizens that reside in the State of New Hampshire. We further characterize this audience as those whose primary concern in the refugee debate is the economic impact of taking in refugees on their state resources, and would also venture to say that this audience is of a more conservative political inclination. Our goal is to help them understand the economic viability of taking in refugees in New Hampshire and encourage them to support refugee in-take for this year.

In order to tell this story, we used three data sets:

The first data set is from a Buzzfeed article about US Refugee Data by Jeremy Singer-Vine, and can be found in raw format in Github. We used this data set to estimate the number of refugees that New Hampshire could expect to take in in the Year 2016 (457), taking into account Obama’s increase in the refugee quota (from 70,000 to 85,000), the percentage of the quota that the US has fulfilled over the last 10 years (82%), and the percentage of US admitted refugees that New Hampshire took in annually between 2005-2015 (0.65%). This was a clean data set recommended to us by Rahul Bhargava.

The second data set is an analysis from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) regarding the cost of taking in a refugee over the first five years. We used this data set to estimate how much it would cost, on average, to integrate a refugee into the United States. We define “integrate” as having a refugee be resettled and established over a time span of five years in the US, to be consistent with the CIS analysis. For our “expected annual cost per single refugee integration” calculation, we used the aggregate five-year figure in the analysis and divided by 5 to get our number of $12,874.

Though we understand that CIS very much seems to have its biases against allowing immigration, we decided to use their data for two reasons: 1) Their analysis was the most thorough that we found online with regards to the economic cost of a refugee, and their methodology and data sources appear to of good objective merit, well thought out and fairly done. The bias seems to come from the way the calculations are used, not the calculations themselves. 2)  We realized that CIS’s potential bias would be of benefit to our story, because if it manifested in their calculations it would be in their interest to have the economic cost be as high as possible. Our story is about showing that this economic cost is not nearly as high as people think in the big picture; we are essentially using a “worst case” cost, and if our story can be impactful with it then it can only be stronger with a purportedly less biased estimate.

Our last data set is the 2016-2017 State of New Hampshire Budget, which provided us with the 2016 allocated state budget ($5.7 billion) information that we needed to appropriately size our data sculpture. This was taken directly from the Governor’s 2016-2017 Budget Bill.

We think our data sculpture is an appropriate and effective way to tell the data story because it re-frames large, abstract, and scary concepts of cost (spreadsheet numbers that are in the millions and billions) to more familiar conceptualizations of relative weight and relative volume. As such, comparisons can be made much more intuitively between how much it costs to integrate a refugee annually vs. the amount of money that is already in circulation for government purposes. The data is also very personal in the sense that it presents information specific to New Hampshire to citizens from New Hampshire. The experience of placing only a few Jelly Beans (each one represents $3M) from a bucket full of them (the state budget) and tipping the “balance of fate” for hundreds of refugees towards hope is very powerful, both because the audience has agency in this interactive display and also because it takes so little effort to make a huge impact.


Final Project Pic

Video Demonstration (to turn into a GIF, you can right-click and click on “Loop”):