Letter to the Editor: DU staff member weighs in on refugee ban

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President Trump ordered a halt to Syrian refugee resettlement and severely curtailed the number of refugee admissions overall.  An exception for “religious minorities” is designed to prioritize Christians, despite the fact that the vast majority of vulnerable refugees from Syria are Muslim.  The order undermines the ability of the United States to assist refugees in urgent need of a safe home and undercuts our efforts urging border countries to keep their doors open to those fleeing war. The entire order must be resisted by those of us who believe that we, as a wealthy and powerful country founded by immigrants, many of whom were themselves victims of persecution, should continue to care for the world’s most vulnerable.

President Trump’s directive is issued in the name of security, but it does nothing to increase the safety of the U.S.; rather, it stokes the flames of xenophobia, Islamophobia and fear.  The U.S. resettlement program is not a sudden movement of people akin to those who fled by foot and by boat from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe. Instead, the U.S. uses a highly secure process involving lengthy interviews and background checks by multiple U.S. intelligence and security agencies, as well as the United Nations (UN), which refers refugees following its own rigorous process. 

As a U.S. diplomat working on refugees in Turkey, I watched refugees tell their stories and plead for a new life to immigration officials and the UN.  Intense vetting is already the reality. A suggestion that we can do much more is pure politics. The resettlement program, already small, is designed to support only the most vulnerable, which typically includes children, the disabled, LGBT individuals and others subject to persecution.  Many are victims of torture and gender-based violence.  There is no evidence that curtailing the program will keep out terrorists, but it is certain to prevent families in need from finding durable solutions.

This is a time for protest but also a moment for compassion.  I am encouraged by acts of love like the recent Refugee’s First Thanksgiving hosted by Denver’s African Community Center, one of three local official resettlement agencies (the International Rescue Committee and Lutheran Family Services are the other two).  I am also heartened by DU’s chapter of No Lost Generation, an official student organization that supports refugees here and abroad through advocacy and charity.  Refugees in Denver, especially vilified groups like Syrians, are likely feeling fearful and unwelcome.  We can do our part as a campus, a city and as people by continuing to be good and caring neighbors.

Contrary to the rhetoric from the Trump administration, refugees strengthen our economy and enrich our society. Moreover, they demonstrate America’s historic embrace of welcoming those in need.  Our families too were once “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Let us not forget who we are and where we came from.

If you want to do more, getting in touch with DU’s No Lost Generation, (nolostgenerationdu@gmail.com) is a great place to start.

Joe Livingston is the Assistant Director for the Office of Career and Professional Development at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. He is one of several faculty and staff advisors to the “No Lost Generation” group at DU.

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