Syrian refugees settle in Georgia city known for diversity - CBS46 News

Syrian refugees settle in Georgia city known for diversity

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The civil war in Syria echoes in America as the war about Syrian refugees. The 60 Syrians who arrived in metro Atlanta this year found themselves in the center of attention they did not expect, even though the most of them settled in a city full of refugees. 

"Clarkston is 1.4 square miles. The most ethnically diverse square mile in America," said its 32-year-old Mayor Ted Terry.

That's what Time magazine called the city, and, according to Terry, Clarkston is "what the future of America, future of the world is going to look like." 

When CBS46's Dimitri Lotovski talked to him, Terry was conducting city business at Clarkston's newest attraction, a coffee truck run by refugees.   

"If we can have community here as diverse as ours that remains peaceful and compassionate, then I've got hope for the future," said Terry.

Since President Jimmy Carter signed the refugee act in 1980, the world's tired and poor have been settling in this Atlanta suburb. Cheap rent, walkability and public transportation made Clarkston a refugee haven for the last 35 years.

Clarkston is where Kamal, Amal and their six children found a new home. The family was one of the last ones to get in before Governor Nathan Deal announced his plan to halt Syrian refugee arrivals. 

"America is our second home," said Kamal.

"We are all very happy here. Our kids have a big chance for a good life here. And that's all I want," said Amal.

Kamal, who was a construction worker in Syria, and his wife Amal, asked me not to reveal their last name because of the security concerns. They said while living in exile in Jordan, they received a call from the United Nations asking if they were interested in coming to America.

It took a year and three months for them to get a permission. When Lotovski came to visit, the couple whipped up a quick Syrian meal while their daughters sang the A-B-C song for him. They said their children are assimilating quickly. Before the governor's ban, Kamal would go to the airport to help the fellow Syrians arriving in their new country.

While the legality of the governor's ban on Syrian refugees is not clear, it does making things more difficult for the resettlement agencies like New American Pathways.

"We have had a Syrian family denied benefits. It is definitely a kneejerk reaction to try to isolate until we understand but the message is that the refugees coming into America are vetted more than any other people," said Amy Crownover.

This year the Syrians represented only 2 percent of the refugees resettled in Georgia. The majority came from Burma.

So, is Clarkston a post-racial utopia or is it a powder keg?

"I think ISIS loves our refugee resettlement program," Joe Newton, who does not live in Clarkston. He is a member of the immigration reform group.

Newton said refugee resettlement never worked, but now it has become downright dangerous. 

"I hope this country wakes up to the realistic proposition that we are going to be bombed right here in Georgia. This is nothing to fool with. This is not the time to start talking about Christian love and compassion and all that. It's time to take care of America," said Newton.

The newest Pew Research report finds that American society has a love/hate relationship with immigration. Half of adults said that immigrants make America worse when it comes to crime and economy. At the same time, a half of responders said the immigrants make food, music and arts better.

While Americans overwhelmingly agree that the country was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, nearly half say that Islam is incompatible with American values.  

The notion imam Muhammad Ninowy has to confront regularly.

"I do understand there is fear. Had their country not being bombed by everyone else in the world, they wouldn't be here. Nobody wants to be a refugee," said Ninowy.

Ninowy, who was born in Syria, said his faith was hijacked by a fringe minority who gets all of the attention.

Kamal is still searching for his first American job, Amal has hers: taking care of six kids who are now learning new American things every day.

"I want to give big thanks to America and Georgia for taking us," said Kamal.

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