Every Saturday my heart breaks a little bit. Yesterday it broke a little bit more, a little bit deeper. On Saturdays, I interact with twelve kids 10-13yrs old. These kids love McDonalds, pop music, their i-phones and soccer. The only difference between these 12 year old kids and others is that they are refugees. Upon reading the term 'refugees,' perhaps a plethora of assumptions and stereotypes came to your mind like they used to for me: women in headscarves, malnourished children living in refugee camps, children arriving wet and cold on beaches in Greece, people coming to the United Sates to take advantage of your tax dollars and threatening your security.
Almost every week four children get into my car and we have some form of political conversation. They express their fears of the new president. They look for some sort of acceptance and comfort living in this hostile environment that they haven't chosen. My car has turned into a therapy room. How do you comfort a child, regardless of their immigration status, who is afraid for their future and how to live in a country whose president blatantly opposes them? Looking into the eyes of an American 12-yr old is no different than the eyes of a 12-yr old Iraqi. They are the same: vulnerable and innocent.
The refugees that I know have fled war, terror, violence and loss unimaginable to the average American. The don't have anything and arrive in the United States immediately in debt to the U.S. government for their travel expenses. Adults are forced to find jobs in 3-6 months when they loose their financial support from the U.S.. government. It's either do or die. The jobs they find are washing the pots that made your dinner, packaging the chicken you buy in the grocery store or swiping your card at the gas station; jobs that are inadequate to support their families let alone pay off their debt to the government. Children are thrown into an education system that is not their own, learn English and face massive barriers of bullying and discrimination for speaking different, looking different, dressing different.
While you might be thinking they are lucky because they are in this country (the Unites States), they face daily struggles, barriers and dealing with past trauma beyond what any of us can imagine. Many of them are here because they have no other options. In order to obtain refugee status in the United States, you must prove that your life is in danger if you return to your home country. So the refugees who are here are individuals who will be persecuted, tortured or killed if they go home. When put in that context, debt, a minimum wage job, living in a sometimes hostile environment is more appealing than their alternative - death if they go home. I am not sure any of this makes a person 'lucky.'
Yesterday, Donald Trump placed a ban of refugees coming into the United States, and in particular, a Muslim ban. I don't think there has ever been a day in my life where I have been so angry at a person I have never met before. I can honestly say that I hate Donald Trump. The only thing he has done for me is helped me look into myself and realize that I am for everything that he is against. Yesterday, I also met a man from Syria for the first time. Within two minutes of exchanged greetings and introductions, he invited me to his home for tea. I can say that no American stranger has ever in my life extended such an immediate, genuine invitation to me as this refugee who arrived in the United States three months ago.
If you find yourself unsure about refugees, have questions or would like to know more, please ask me. If you rely on the government to ensure your personal and national security against whatever potential threat you think refugees might pose, I challenge you to get to know your neighbors and get involved with your local refugee community before you assume and endorse policies that say they are a threat to you. From what I know of refugees, they are people just like us who just want safety, security and opportunity for their children to lead happy, healthy lives.
Please stand up for the rights of the marginalized, widow and orphaned - refugees. If you have not been forced to flee, face fear of returning home, have trauma from war and violence, you are extremely blessed and have the unique opportunity to share that with others who have faced such harrowing circumstances.