Tuesday night, I spoke at a “Know Your Rights” event in Tucson, Arizona, to a large group of concerned and fearful refugees from all over the world, including countries such as Iraq, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. Afterward, I spoke individually to several of the attendees who expressed anguish about the anti-refugee sentiment being spread throughout the United States by both our state officials and the federal government.
One man explained to me that he came to the U.S. with the impression that we would welcome him. But now he feels unwelcome. He said he loves this country but is worried about what the future may bring to him and his family. It was so disheartening to hear this. Another man told me of the gut-wrenching decision he made to leave his native land. In making this choice, he has separated from his elderly father, and most likely will never be able to see him again as his dad is extremely ill. I had to explain to him that being unified with his father would either require humanitarian parole (unlikely) or take an extremely long time via immigrant petition. While it was incredibly difficult to listen to these stories, the experience once again re-affirmed my personal commitment to help refugees and push for laws and policies that reunite families.
Although President Trump’s travel ban 2.0 was temporarily blocked, the ban and anti-immigrant sentiment begs the question, what image are we projecting to the rest of the world? The image of America as a “shining city upon a hill” has sadly faded. And who are we harming? Refugees have so much love for this country, realizing that it has given them a second chance at opportunity and, in most cases, survival. They have fled some of the worst war-torn countries in the world. Many have left their immediate families behind in hopes to someday reunite with them. Refugees appreciate the freedoms that America offers, this group for instance, praised the freedom to practice their religion, to speak freely and openly, and to be protected from the deprivation of life, liberty and property. In return for these freedoms, America gains immensely, too. Refugee resettlement has served as an economic boon for many towns and cities that have desperately needed a jumpstart in job growth.
The White House has tried to explain that any travel ban is just “temporary.” The reality is that the damage to our current and future flow of refugees will be long-lasting if it is allowed to go forward. It will delay an already rigorous process that takes, on average, 18-24 months and already involves “extreme vetting.” Even with the temporary restraining order on the revised ban, the impression is that the United States does not welcome those seeking refuge. This is obviously the intent of the White House, but it is absolutely contrary to my America and yours.
If the U.S. wants refugee assimilation that will help benefit our diverse society and strengthen our economy, we must welcome the stranger. Give them hope and confidence. There are some wonderful organizations and millions of U.S. citizens that help refugees succeed and make our communities stronger. However, passing laws or implementing policies that impede the entry of refugees or suspend resettlement programs in states, is nothing more than a stain our country’s legacy. It paints an image of an uncaring and callous society. We should not stand for this.
Travel Ban 2.0 is Travel Ban 1.0: A “Not Welcome” Sign.
Written by Mo Goldman, Chair, AILA Media Advocacy Committee