Resettling Refugees 101

I haven’t taken the time to write about hot-button topics lately. I just don’t have the energy most days because, if I’m being honest, politics have been totally defeating and exhausting to me and they’ve been a weight on my soul since the election.

I admit that I’m more politically charged than ever before. I think that holds true for many of us due to the passionate nature of this past election year. There were so many polarizing, heated debates and it’s really tested my political knowledge at times. Like many of us, I had to dig deep to find facts and in some cases, I had to research issues that I previously knew little about.

One issue that I’ve really honed in on and have been truly wanting to understand is that of the Syrian refugee crisis.

I’m not even sure where I’m going with the path of this post.

What I do know is that I was recently privileged to an intimate education of the Syrian refugee process and what they go through to get here and more so, what they go through once they’re here in the States. Maybe I just want everyone to be more educated on the subject before spewing off-the-cuff opinions? Maybe I want everyone to help? Maybe I want both but either way, I felt compelled to share the knowledge.

We’ve seen the pictures and heard the stories that have tugged at many of our heart strings. This is a true is crisis. A true world crisis. And it should matter to everyone.

And before you hit me with the take care of our own mentality, I understand that we have debacles, epidemics, and concerns with our own citizens. Certainly, I understand that concept. But this? This is widely discussed and debated because it does affect all of us here, whether you like it or not. And for all of us that claim to love our country so much, you’re also loving the freedom and the hope that we represent as a country, not just to our citizens, but to all. That’s what our country was founded on: freedom and hope and promise.

We have always been, and hopefully always will be, despite the current administration’s stance, a wealthy nation that accepts refugees.  It’s there, in our history books. That’s just who America is. We are not a nation of exclusion. We are a nation of helping others.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”~ inscribed on our Statue of Liberty, symbol of freedom and hope.

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{Photo from Huffington Post article}

And with that said, the debate ensues.

We’ve read the tweets. We’ve heard the fear mongering. But many of us do not know the facts, myself (and apparently the current president of the United States) included.

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As we’re all well aware, many people of Muslim faith, are currently not welcomed in our country. We all have an opinion about this issue. Every single one of us do, whether we understand the complexities surrounding this issue or not, we have an opinion. Many of us have formulated our opinions on whether or not we believe it is a safe practice to allow refugees into our country. Although I am not writing to debate this topic of safety, it begs interjecting that of the seven countries the president has halted from entering the U.S., there has never been a terrorist attack executed by an immigrant from any one of these countries.

It must also be stated that the U.S. has had a strict vetting process in place for years. I think it’s so important to understand the facts and there are some great resources to familiarize yourself with the practice of vetting refugees. I’ve recently spent many hours understanding the facts so I can make a well-educated, well-informed opinion on this viral issue. I sincerely hope everyone does the same.

And here’s my {now well-informed} opinion:
1.) I {still} believe the President’s halt on refugees is un-American and horrific.
2.) I also believe, perhaps we shouldn’t allow so many refugees into our country.

Somewhat conflicting thoughts, right?

Here’s why:

A good friend of mine has been assisting a Syrian refugee family and I have been privileged to her up-close-and-personal experience with the process of resettling these refugees. And it isn’t very pretty.

A Syrian family of 4 had been living in Lebanon for two years awaiting their deportation through the refugee lottery system. The family had previously been living in Syria in peril since the father of two children, ages 7 and 9, was captured and beaten due to his political beliefs. He was a working man, a store owner, in Syria. His wife, a stay at home mom. The family had fled to Lebanon where they’re accepted as refugees but not allowed a work visa. They wanted a better life. And they wanted a safe place for their children. So they began the long, tedious process of becoming a refugee immigrant.

This was their home in Syria:

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This picture took me a minute to digest and comprehend. This.was.their.home. This is what happened to their home because of a belief. This was their reality. This is many realities for many, many families.

My friend Debbie, a devout Christian, met this family through a friend of hers whose son was involved with the Arabic Studies Program at Palm Beach Atlantic University. A program called Bridges assists refugee families with assimilating into the United States. In October 2016, 180 Syrians were a part of this group that came into south Florida via a United Nations sponsored program. A non-government organization (NGO) then assisted these families with settling in their new life.

The Federal Government provided these refugees with $925 per family member, food stamps, and Medicaid enrollment form. The rest of their resources are dependent on these NGOs to connect the dots.

These NGOs are funded privately, obviously, and although I don’t have the proper knowledge and history on which NGOs specifically assisted these 180 people, despite their best efforts, it’s seemingly not enough. Which is why Debbie and several of her friends got involved in helping.

Debbie is now acting as a guardian and liaison for this family, assisting with doctor’s appointments, school registration, parent-teacher conferences, finances, job opportunities, and so on. It became the task of kind, private citizens to assist these families because basically, the system has somewhat abandoned these families. And someone has to help.

This family is Arabic speaking only. They have the desire and the drive to learn English, but little resources to do so. Their kids are now falling behind in their coursework because they don’t speak the language, the teacher cannot communicate with the parents, and translation services for Arabic speaking people are not readily available. The family is housed in a high-priced rental in a very poor neighborhood (most likely due to the landlords that are able to capitalize on these refugee situations). And on top of all of the demographic challenges, Muslims are widely discriminated against, as Debbie can attest to by simply walking down the street with this family.

The system seems so very flawed. The system seems to be failing these refugees.

Debbie’s story of helping this family is fascinating to me. Here I was, thinking I had it all figured out. “Yes! Bring them here! All of them! We can help!”

But never answered the question of, “How are all of these people actually helped once they’re here?”.

The Center for Immigration Studies did a great analysis on the high cost of resettling. If you don’t feel like clicking and reading, the Cliff Notes are that yes, America is wealthy enough to take in refugees but also yes, they’re expensive to resettle and yes, they often do end up on public assistance.

So what can be done if we don’t want our tax dollars being over burdened by the refugees? The only answer I can come up with is privately funded NGOs and they clearly are in need additional funds and resources to help these refugees succeed. (Fun fact: this specific NGO requires the family to pay back the cost of their airfare that got them to freedom. They have six months to do so. Freedom isn’t free.)

Why should we care if they succeed? Shouldn’t they just feel lucky to be here? 

Based on Debbie’s experience, these families are very appreciative, very kind, very in debited. They do feel lucky to be here. They are lucky to have won the human lottery of escaping war and violence, but that doesn’t equate to a great life in their new surroundings, free of stress and frustrations.

Think of how frustrating and stressful it is to move your household. Now imagine living through legit hell, leaving with literally nothing, getting on a plane that you’re unsure where it will land, submerged into a society where you don’t speak the language, don’t have transportation, don’t have any resources, and are discriminated against for your religion. How absolutely terrifying.

And my thought is this on the why should we care piece: if we sit around our dinner tables complaining about people “living off the system” and draining our welfare programs, we must consider if we’re setting refugees up for success. It would be remiss not to because it’s proven that many refugees end up on said public assistance.

We’re taking these people in, giving them a hope and a promise, patting them on the shoulder and metaphorically telling them “good luck”. This may not be news to some but it was eye-opening for me. In my green stage of learning of this process, I’m probably understating when I say that process isn’t working well.

And that’s why I think we should accept fewer refugees, so we can do it better for them. Perhaps we can allow for more funding, more resources, for each of them. Is that too utopian of me? Is the problem more in humanity that there’s just not enough people to help in these NGOs, not enough money to privately sponsor? I’m not sure. I have a lot more to learn.

But.

It motivates me to want to do more. I want to learn. I want to help. I want to find a whole bunch of Debbie’s, form a{nother} non-profit and help correct a flawed system. I want to privately sponsor a family.

When I asked Debbie why, as a Christian woman, she’s helping this family so diligently, her answer was amazing:

“I’m putting feet to my faith”, she said.

Feet to her faith. So, not just saying she’s a good person. Not just saying she’s a Christian. Actually acting on it, looking well beyond religious differences, stereotypes and stigmas. Helping human beings. Because it’s the right thing to do. How inspirational is that?

If you’ve taken nothing more from reading all of this way, I hope you’re a little more educated on this topic. It’s truly not an issue of safety. It’s a human issue.

The Distraction Called ‘Election Year’

Is it over? Can I come out yet?

No. Apparently not. My social media feeds are telling me it’s not safe yet.

Hasn’t it all been awful?

Trump.
Clinton.
Racism.
Emails.
Misogyny.
Emails.
Bigotry.
Emails.
Pussy grabbing.
Emails.
Trump University fraud.
Emails.
4000+ law suits.
Emails.
Homophobia.
Emails.

I mean, no matter what side of the fence you’re on, it’s  been awful. Ok, maybe a little bit more on one side than the other, in my opinion. But I digress.

Here’s the thing: it’s over. The election is over. It was terrible and awful and unprecedented. But it’s over. And it’s all been such a huge distraction and many of us are losing sight.

We all picked a side. That’s what it’s about. Our government was designed that way. Republican or Democrat. Conservative or Liberal. We all are categorized and labeled to everyone’s comfort.  We are all then grossly generalized by these respective labels.

The one unique, not so subtle, elephant in the room (no pun intended) with this election is that one of the candidates was more anti-establishment appearing. Anti-policy, perhaps. He went after a silent majority, in large, people that have never voted in their entire lives, promising change, promising a different government, promising big things. How these things will be achieved has yet to be seen, let alone actually discussed or laid out in a plan, put he has promised. People have hung their hat on him since many trust a white business man over a female politician, apparently, and that’s their right to do so.

But, friends. This, this presidential campaigning, is all a distraction from real life and has brought out so much ugliness. This is somewhat like getting caught up in some soap opera that we’re desperately wanting to see unfold. We can’t wait to see the next episode.

All of us were privileged to the kind words of both candidates immediately following the election. Clinton urging Americans to embrace the change as best they can, especially with the eloquence of her concession speech, and Trump commending Clinton in his acceptance speech, thanking her for her years of service to this country, after absolutely ravaging her character for over a year. Paul Ryan now sitting next to Trump, promising the nation great thing, after Ryan vehemently spoke against Trump. And so on. Now everyone in government is suddenly copacetic, sitting in their offices figuring out what’s next on their agendas, collecting their much larger paycheck than mine; business as usual. Funny how that works.

Meanwhile, us, the average Americans are angry. All of us.

The Clinton supporters, in shock that this was the result when it was supposed to be a slam dunk, the fear of what will happen to so many individuals’ rights.The violent protests of some Clinton supporters, even though these might have been some of the same people that were fearful and angry that Trump said he wouldn’t concede if he lost the election. Trust me, I understand what they’re protesting. It isn’t the loss and the display of sore losers. I get it. But is it productive? I’m not so sure.

The Trump supporters bashing the grief of the Clinton supporters, telling them all to “Suck it up! Support democracy!”, although, most didn’t want to do so when the FBI cleared Clinton more than once in supposed email scandal. I’ve also continue to see such hateful memes and bullying on this side of the fence. Social media is one of the biggest culprits of creating divisiveness, and has been this entire election, continuing to pit sides.

Hypocrisy is abounding. Everyone is angry.We all want answers. We’re all turning on one another. Still.

They ignited a fire in us. We’re left to put out the flames.

My pleas to us:

Clinton supporters: take your time and grieve. Please do. Process your fears. I certainly am. But channel it. Channel the grief. Get involved in local government, sign petitions, make safe moves to protect rights. Be proactive. Be the change. I am assuming that I don’t know any of you personally that are violently protesting but please, please stop. Peaceful. Practice what we preach.

Trump supporters: Please, allow your Clinton supporting friends their time to process, be angry, and grieve. Please stop telling them to “move on” or insinuating that they’re a bunch of pussies. Be fair. Assuming that I’m resonating with those Trump supporters that claim themselves to not be racist, sexist, misogynistic, or homophobic, talk to your kids about other cultures, other religions, and not chanting “BUILD THAT WALL!” to their Latino classmates like I saw today on the news. They have fear mongered us over the last year and our kids were listening more than we realized, as evident by racist, violent acts throughout the country as I type.

On the topic of children, like I’ve heard many say over these past few days, morals and values are built at home and not taught by our government directly to our children. I totally agree. But within that moral compass that we’re cultivating within our children, government must be a topic of discussion. It’s imperative that our children understand why we’re so passionate about elections as adults, for them to grasp that these offices make very large decisions about our country, our freedom. We can’t ignore all of the commercials that we’ve seen over the last yet and assume they didn’t impact our children . We can’t fail to explain these to our kids. This election has already proven to have a large, grave impact on our children. Please explain why to them. Help them understand.

If this was your first election ever voting, wonderful, tell your children why. If one candidate spoke to you about issues that were important, resonated with you, talk about it. Take the time to do it. Please. We are privileged to live in a country with this democracy. And we’re a passionate species. It’s unjust if your children are just watching this unfold without having some pretty pointed conversations.

We are a nation divided and we must start to move forward and mend. It is our only choice and our only hope. I’m not asking everyone to “come together”. That’s a unicorn. This election year has made it clear that it’s just not possible at times. Friendships and family relationships have been fractured, some beyond repair. Let that be ok. Find your people and stick with them. But put one foot in front of the other overall. Don’t get distracted from life. We will all be ok. We have to be. Don’t create too much anxiety for yourself no matter who your candidate of choice was. It’s energy wasted. Keep living.

People keep telling me to “give Trump a chance”. I have conceded peacefully. It’s my only option.