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Ellis Island of the South

The Syrian refugees – about 50 in all – have fled political brutality in their home country and settled in this working-class town that has become a new Ellis Island for immigrants in a state and region which, at least recently, have turned decidedly hostile to outsiders. Indeed, since 1983, the town has accepted and helped resettle about 60,000 refugees – most from Africa and many of whom were Muslim. The locals’ hospitality has turned the community into what is considered the most ethnically diverse square mile in the U.S. Now comes another wave of outsiders – a group of Syrians that so many other places in the U.S. have spurned.

“What you’re seeing in a little town [like Clarkston and others in the surrounding area] is both people being decent and at the same time exhibiting fear of some amorphous refugee jihadist,” says Sarah Lischer, a politics and international affairs professor.