Maybe we aren’t so far apart. I believe there is a spectrum of feelings about immigration and refugees…and we all fall somewhere on it. But the more time I spend talking to people and reading, I think that it’s not that we are so far apart about things but that we are missing each other’s point and have stopped listening. We read a headline, form an opinion, but never hear the story. After a heated exchange that resulted in my heart being pretty hurt by a family member, I wanted to take a moment to really look at things. Take a breath. Regroup. And maybe set a few boundaries.
So, here are my thoughts. I’d love to hear yours. Really, truly. That’s what makes America great in the first place. Just please don’t say that I don’t care. Because I do. I probably care far too much.
So, I’d like to start with some basic thoughts. First of all, let’s set aside partisan politics for a moment. I realize that this is very political issue, but for the sake of conversation, let’s back up a bit. For me this is also a faith issue, but let’s set that aside too. My brilliantly smart and beautiful cousin Stephanie Marko posted this yesterday, “I think the human experience is non partisan. What is deeply important to me may not even be in your top 50 concerns. I have arrived at my beliefs because of my experiences, pain, joys, and hopes. I may be an expert on something you have never heard of or read an article about. That’s okay it works in reverse. I changed my mind on many things along the way and a few things I only believed more passionately. You might not care about IDEA but it is front and center in my life. Organ donation, addiction and mental health services, Native causes, the 2nd amendment, AIDS prevention and awareness. Things that matter to me regardless of political affiliation. I respect people enough to listen and assume perhaps they have come to their values the same way.” Yes! More of this. A million times.
And it reminded me of something critical that I also believe. I believe that racism exists. There are people who don’t want immigrants in our country because of their race or religion. That literally makes me feel ill and makes my heart physically hurt. But I refuse to assume someone is racist because they believe differently than me about an issue or a leader. What I have come to believe is that most people with concerns regarding refugees are good, honest people. They love their family and their country. They want to live without fear of terrorism. So do I. We just differ in our thoughts on how to accomplish that. So the point of this post is really to share how I came to believe what I believe and hopefully to hear what other’s think.
First off, let’s make it really clear WHO we talking about. Most refugees would be considered immigrants, but they are a very small percentage of all immigrants. In fact, in 2014 there were 1.3 million new immigrants to the US. Of these, only 69,987 were refugees. Or approximately 5% of the total new immigrants. And a mere .1% of all forcibly displaced people in the world.
The definition of an immigrant: a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country. The definition that I have seen used most prominently regarding US immigration is to include anyone not born in the US, regardless of how they enter the country. The definition of a refugee: a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. For the sake of argument, the term “refugee” will include only those who enter our country through the official refugee process.
Other immigration programs would include: family based immigration (broad, complicated system) that includes a family member sponsoring another family member through a petition and process of qualifying the family member; employment based immigration that can be temporary or permanent; refugees and asylees (different, more about that later); diversity visa program (a lottery program available only to certain countries); temporary protected status (granted to people who are in the US now but can’t go home due to “natural disaster,” “extraordinary temporary conditions,” or “ongoing armed conflict.”); and deferred enforced departure (basically for people who have been deported but their home country is too dangerous to return to). And then there are non-immigration programs that include but are not limited to: students, fiancees, athletes, business travelers, diplomats, au pairs, domestic employees, exchange students, foreign military, persons needing medical treatment, media, NAFTA, artists, doctors, scholars, religious workers, agricultural workers, treaty traders, crime victims, trafficking victims, and tourists. Also all different processes. It’s really, really complicated and confusing. And I haven’t even mentioned those who enter our country illegally or overstay their visas.
Then there is the WHY? There are probably a million different answers to this question. But there is one common denominator. A refugee has been forced to leave their home to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. These are people that will likely die if they stay. This isn’t because American grass is greener. Which is something that matters to me. I strongly believe that WHERE you live shouldn’t be what determines IF you live.
And most importantly and probably the most misunderstood part – HOW. I have said many, many times that I believe in our refugee vetting system. I am only talking about the refugee system here. Not the other programs, because I do have issues with them. But that’s a conversation for a different day.
This is why I believe what I believe about refugees.
I am truly and completely curious about one thing. I hear a lot of people saying that we need to have more stringent vetting for refugees. But this small group of people entering our country are more stringently vetted than anyone else. A lot of people believe that terrorists plan to enter our country as refugees. I don’t know the statistical probability but I believe it’s awfully small. First of all, they would have to be randomly chosen and referred. Then they would have to be chosen by one of more than 30 countries – they don’t get to choose either. So they would have to be lucky enough to have the US chosen for them. Then they wait for 1-3 years, going through numerous checks and interviews. The screeners will go to the villages that the refugees fled from and interview people about them. So if they ever are linked to any terrorist groups or activity, they would be denied. Or they could enter with minimal checks under one of the other programs. No one is talking about the other programs. The ones with big gaping holes. Instead, we are arguing about the most vulnerable people in the world and whether their lives have worth and should be saved. I hear a lot of “All lives matter” coming from conservatives, but I don’t see that playing out here. These lives matter to God. And I hope that as a fellow human, they matter to you too.
One last thing….for my fellow Christian brothers and sisters. God never promised us safety in this life. I ask that you prayerfully consider where you stand on this issue. I ask you to turn to your Bibles and prayer. If God calls us to do something, like love our neighbor, then we need to do it. Thoughtfully. Prayerfully. But if these people are not truly “the least of these” then I don’t know who is.
Would it be easier to just not care? Yep. It would be easier to just worry about myself and my daughter. But I just cannot do that. God placed a burning in my heart to fight for justice and to speak for those without a voice. It would be easier to ignore this, to just keep my thoughts to myself. My daughter, my parents, my sister, and my friends would probably prefer it too. But I just cannot. I am not afraid of these people. They are welcome in my home, they are welcome with my child. I want my life to bless them, to comfort them, and to welcome them. And I will fight for them until my last breath on this Earth.