The Electoral College votes today. This New York Times article explains the whole process in depth, the takeaway of which is that the only good thing about Jan. 6 is likely to be Joe Biden’s complete lack of a poker face when he delivers the news.
While the Electoral College has dominated all my political action channels on social media for the past week, I’ve also been consumed by reading about Syria, the unthinkable violence in Aleppo and the refugee crisis Syria’s civil war has caused. This week, as we contemplate Hanukkah and Christmas, two Judeo-Christian celebrations that include themes of persecution, conflict, scarcity and flight, let’s take a moment from our comparatively comfortable lives to support refugees.
This action does nothing to block Trump’s path to the White House. However, it supports a group of people who desperately need help. The international refugee advocacy community is still reeling from the election–their clients are terrified and they have no idea what to expect from the President-elect, who promised on the campaign trail to halt resettlement from “terror prone” regions. If you look at his policy outline on his website, it doesn’t mention Syrians, or refugees as distinguished from immigrants, specifically, so there’s no way of knowing what his intentions are at this point, but refugee resettlement numbers are determined by executive order–President Obama expanded the number of refugees slated for resettlement in 2017, to a total of 110,000. Trump can reverse that with a signature.
The element of all this that really kills me is that opening our arms to refugees should be a cornerstone of American identity that we fiercely defend. The U.N., the State Department and other government entities screen, admit and arrange transportation (refugees have to pay the government back for their plane tickets–yes, you read that right). A network of local agencies including non-profits and church or faith-based organizations do much of the work helping people find their way in new communities. This process should unite us.
The U.N. has reported that the world is currently facing the biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II, and that there are currently 21.3 million refugees worldwide, half of whom are children under the age of 18. These refugees are part of a larger group of displaced people that now numbers about 65 million, worldwide. I spoke with Megan Cagle, policy and advocacy media specialist for the Immigration and Refugee Program of Church World Service. She underscored the deeply traumatic experience of being a refugee. “These are people just like us, who have been forced to flee the homes they worked so hard to build,” Cagle said. “They don’t leave because they want to leave.”
Cagle shared several ways to support refugee resettlement and refugee in the U.S. through political action, donations and volunteer efforts. Most of all, she stressed the importance, and long American tradition of welcoming. “We’ve seen an amazing outpouring of support across the U.S.,” she said. “We can never have too much welcoming.”
Action: Support refugee resettlement in the U.S.
Call: Refugee resettlement is by executive order–how many refugees we admit is all up to the President. Still, Congress makes decisions that affect American policy in Syria, and which shape the conversation about refugees in specific ways. Call your representatives, here’s a tool to find them, and tell them that you support refugee resettlement, that it’s a time-honored tradition that represents the very best of the American spirit. Then underscore your support for Syrian refugees and urge your representative to support humanitarian aid to Syria.
You should also call your state representative and governor’s office and voice your support for refugee communities close to you. Open: States is a good tool to find your representatives on the state level, and to keep track of local legislation. There are 88 refugee resettlement centers around the U.S.–this is a public private partnership that depends on local non-profits and faith-based organizations to function. They need local support.
Contribute: If you want to help relieve suffering on the ground in Syria the single best way is probably a donation to Doctors Without Borders. The International Rescue Committee is also a solid bet. You can also contribute to refugee resettlement centers in the U.S. if that’s where you want to focus your efforts–here’s how to find an agency close to you.
Volunteer: Cagle said that agencies that help refugees are always looking for volunteers for everything from donation drives, to English language assistance, to professional services like legal advice. Again, those specific opportunities are best navigated through local agencies. Many refugees are sponsored by church groups, so if that appeals to you, joining a congregation dedicated to this work offers a chance for deeper connections. And no, faith-based groups do not exclusively support refugees of the same religion.
If you are a business owner: Think about hiring refugees–a local resettlement organization can help match you with employees if you decide to take this step. Take inspiration from the founder of Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya, who has become a target of white nationalist groups and publications like Breitbart, for hiring refugees to make yogurt in upstate New York and Idaho. You could also put a Refugees Welcome sticker in your window.
Resource: Welcoming Refugees is an organization that provides support and tools for groups working with refugees. Their website offers research, best practices and other information.
• This New Yorker article about the Syrian regime’s effort to eradicate doctors and hospitals is very difficult to read. The depth of the suffering, by families and especially children, on the ground in Syria cannot be overstated.
• Canada has become a world leader in welcoming refugees in a way that strengthens and challenges entire communities.
• The massive, U.N.-led evacuation of Aleppo is ongoing.
• I mentioned this in the Action Trumps Hate reading list for this week, but it’s worth restating that Aljazeera published an excellent outline of the Syrian civil war and why it has become the bloodiest conflict of the 21st century.
• This 10-point fact sheet from the Migration Policy Institute has detailed information on resettlement, the number refugees in the U.S. over time and where they come from, and the way the program is funded and administered.