The deep divide in politics have brought United States immigration and refugee policies to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. It has become a heated debate across political tables in Washington, and dinner tables in homes across the country. Both sides come armed with powerful and passionate arguments to support their position. Many of us are left wondering which of these arguments hold water and which are relegated to an “alternative fact” definition.
One argument paints a vivid picture of the scarcely vetted, criminal element pouring across our boarders, burdening our economy, and threatening our safety. While the counter argument claims those who turn their backs on a suffering population, elevating the needs of Americans as a priority, are heartless xenophobics with Fascist tendencies.
The truth, no doubt, lies somewhere in between.
“America has learned difficult lessons in the past that fear and emotion alone should not drive policy. To do so is reckless and dangerous. Instead, facts and evidence should drive decision-making, consistent with the U.S. Constitution. America’s national security deserves no less,”
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, (D-Tampa), wrote in a statement made in February of 2017.
So, let’s do just that: delve in, search out the facts, and follow them to see where the truth lands. Regardless of which side of the argument you may sit, it is reasonable to agree that misinformation and biased distortions serve only fools.
At issue are the facts: Who is coming across our borders? How many? From where? What is the process? What is the economic impact?
Let’s begin by making the distinction between refugees, (of which this post addresses), and immigrants.
Immigrant is a broad term defined by the US Department of Homeland Security as an alien who has been granted the right by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to reside permanently in the United States and to work without restrictions in the United States.
A refugee is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution (or a well-founded fear of persecution) based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and is therefore, eligible to apply for immigration to the United States under refugee status.
Fleeing a country to find refuge in the U.S. is a long and tedious journey. It begins with persecution, destruction, and loss. It is tested through long and systematic vetting. And, it fights against perception and disapproval.
This post will sort out how the refugee process works by following the process through a recent refugee.
Byangando Sadiki Bertin is a 32 year old refugee who arrived in the Tampa Bay area in September of 2016. His journey to the United States was set in motion in 2000 when
he was just 14 years old. He was the son of a village chief in the village of Rolinda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A conflict between the Allied Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) and the rebel group Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD) played out in his small village. In the course of a few hours, everyone in the village, including his parents, and all but one of his siblings were massacred. Sadiki had managed to escape by jumping into a river and disappearing under the dark water. (Click here to listen to Bertin’s story in his own words.)
Downstream, he ran to his uncle’s village, and was taken in by his older sister, his only remaining sibling. He settled in and began to build a life. He grew, became a teacher, married, and had three children. But, fate and violence caught up with him.
Rebels once again made their way into his village. His sister and two other village women were taken into the forest with their children. The rebels killed all but the youngest child, Sadiki’s niece Janet, leaving her to wander back to the village alone.
Distraught, Sadiki, along with the village chief, went to the soldiers’ station to confront them. After a passionate exchange, he was sent away only to be taken by the rebels the next day, beaten unconscious, and left at the local clinic.
Fearing for his life and the life of this wife, children and niece, Sadiki and his family fled the village where he had made his home. (Click here to listen to Bertin’s story in his own words.)
2016 had the largest number of forcibly displaced people ever recorded, according to the United States Department of State, the United States Department of Homeland Security, and the United States Department of Health and Human Services. In all, sixty-five million people world-wide are identified as refugees, internally displaced, or seeking
asylum, an increase of five million from 2015.
Many of them end up at refugee camps scattered among nearby war torn counties. For Sadiki and his family, it was Kakuma, a camp established by the Kenyan government
and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Located in one of the most underdeveloped and environmentally harsh regions of Africa, Kakuma serves over 170,000 refugees, far surpassing its capacity of 100,000. Like Sadiki, thousands have fled their homes to escape war, conflict, and persecution. Separated from everything they’ve known, they travel the
unforgiving landscape from neighboring regions in search of safety.
The vetting process, to many, seems endless, arduous, and daunting.
(quote about vetting process)
Upon reaching our shores, they face a perception of suspicion and resentment. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in October of 2016 found more voters
believe the U.S. does not have a responsibility to accept refugees from Syria into the country (54%) than believe the U.S. does have such a responsibility (41%). This, Pew
Research Center noted, was in keeping with U.S. public opinion trends on accepting refugees over the past five decades. Though the percentages were more equally split
when surveying voters of all party affiliates, the divide became far more striking when considering party lines; the study showed that just 8% of Trump supporter believe the
U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees from Syria, while 87% of Trump supporters believe that the U.S. has no responsibility, citing that the U.S. should deal with its own
problems and let other countries deal with their problems as best as they can.
(Quote from refugee on backlash they have felt in the community and how it makes
them feel, how it affects their children, etc.)
But not everyone in the community feels this way.
(quote from open-armed community member)
(quote from job placement with background on how they are placed in job)
This is a problem with no easy answers; no right or wrong. It is a problem that can only be solved through understanding the facts, not relying on a political narrative
The DHS defines refugee as one with” a well-founded fear of persecution based on one
of the five ‘protected grounds’: religion, political opinion, race, nationality, membership in
a particular social group”.
“If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the ‘bad’ would rush into our
country during that week. A lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there!” Trump wrote in a Twitter post
on January 30