I’m in Africa this week. Having heard so many different things from various sources about the global refugee crisis, I wanted to come to Africa so I could see it firsthand and better understand the situation myself. So, here I am. I’m currently in Kenya, and I am headed soon to Uganda.
Currently Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26 percent of the world’s refugee population. In recent decades, hundreds of millions of African refugees have been forced to flee their home countries, risking their lives to escape violence and persecution because of their race, religion, or political beliefs. In their home countries, they and their loved ones were hunted down for these simple reasons, and they were often tortured, imprisoned and killed. The crisis is so great that there are cities in Uganda that the United Nations set up decades ago that support hundreds of thousands of refugees. Is that true? I suspect that it is, but I want to see it with my own eyes to better understand it.
My nonprofit employer, Inspiritus, works with refugees from around the globe who the U.S. Department of State has officially invited to start life over in America. You may not realize that our nation has a long heritage of refugee resettlement, particularly since the end of World War II. Our Georgia-based staff meets refugee families at the Atlanta airport as they begin their new life in a new country. Over a period of several months, our team does everything in their power to give these families all the tools necessary to do more than merely survive in America, but to actually thrive. Inspiritus does this in large part, by inviting eager members of the community to join us by sponsoring and accompanying a refugee family during their first year in America. This community engagement is the secret ingredient to the future success of the refugee family.
Prior to seeing the plight of the refugee firsthand, I am choosing to speak up on their behalf and on behalf of those who are passionate about welcoming refugees. You see, many of my friends, family members, church members and colleagues have joined our efforts of helping refugees make it in America, whether it’s through donations or by mentoring a new refugee family. Many of our refugee supporters have joined the cause because of a deep desire to live out their Christian faith and a calling to ‘welcome the stranger.’
In my short time as the CEO of Inspiritus, I have met many refugees from points around the globe. In almost every circumstance, I have been inspired by their heroic stories and their passionate and enthusiastic pursuit of the American dream. Their grit and determination to overcome every obstacle put in front of them is impressive. In my experience, they cherish and embody “American” values more than most native-born citizens I know. Knowing them and their stories makes me a better person and makes our communities and nation all the stronger too. As I said above, if given the opportunity, I (along with many people I know) would like to welcome more refugees and help them become proud citizens and vibrant contributors to our communities.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that I may not get that opportunity. Why? Because our current presidential administration is considering setting the refugee ceiling for next year to zero, meaning that the U.S. Department of State would not invite a single refugee to settle in the U.S. next year. You see, one of the powers of the President of the United States is setting a ceiling for the number of refugees that the United States will let in each year. I am grieved and angered that he would consider dropping the number to zero.
I realize we are a nation divided. I realize that we disagree with each other within our nation, states, communities, and even homes on social issues. However, I could argue that this diversity of opinion could be one of our strengths. Therefore, I’m not writing to try and convince anyone to join me in my support of the refugee cause. I’m simply writing to assert that my rights as an American feel trampled on by this potential “zero” refugee policy. I don’t think it’s right that the current administration thinks it can speak for all Americans on setting refugee policy. I don’t know how many of us there are across America who want to help refugees make it on American soil, but all of us would like the right to follow our passions and do what we feel called to do.
In recent years the U.S. has formally invited upwards of 90,000 refugees into the country to help relieve the global crisis. While it’s a small percentage of the global problem, communities across the country have welcomed these refugees and our nation has easily absorbed them into our melting pot. This year the U.S. will only invite in a mere 30,000 refugees, the lowest number in the history of the program. Shirking our global humanitarian duty is frustrating, especially when organizations like Inspiritus have the capacity to accompany refugees on the journey toward citizenship, and communities all across America are passionately mobilized and ready to add their welcome.
So I'm imploring all refugee supporters, let's join together and raise our collective voice. Let's tell the Administration that we can successfully welcome refugees. With communities at our side, we want to do this work. Let's ask the President to give us the chance to do what we love to do: welcome refugees and help them get a new start in America as they embrace wholeheartedly the values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I invite you to join with me and others from Inspiritus on August 3rd for a national Day of Action. Held from 2-4 p.m. at the Clarkston Community Center, the Rise for Refuge Town Hall is one of many events being held around the country and will bring together refugee supporters from across metro Atlanta. Let's tell the Administration and the world what we know is true: refugees make our state and our country a better place! I hope to see you there!