Mackie has long been interested in social justice, and I hope that once it is safe to go places again that we can visit IRIS and think about how best to further involve ourselves in this type of cause. One of the earliest things he spelled out to me was after watching news about the reversal of DACA protections. We were sitting together one morning watching one of the network morning broadcasts, and when that information was shared, he sat up, watching the screen intently. At that point, he was using the printed letterboard to communicate, so I asked him what his thoughts were. He told me that he wanted to go join a protest. I did too, but man, life has a habit of throwing obstacles. It’s not a good excuse. It’s just how things were and are – complicated. It’s even more important now in the beginning of a new administration to keep the pressure and focus on social justice causes, *because* it’s so tempting to tell ourselves that everything will be fine.
Immigrants make US
I think real reform of our immigration, refugee, and asylum policies is the hardest work we truly have ahead of us, but the system we have in place is a nightmarish tangle of red tape, government agencies, and questionable practices. The thought that drives most of these policies is inertia and the amorphous fear of the brown skinned terrorist. The thought of the treatment of actual human beings in some of our detention facilities is awful, though, and the more we look away, the more money lines the pockets of for-profit prison companies, and the more we become complicit as citizens.
Immigration truly in this day is still a structural and timely reality providing those coming to this country with freedoms and opportunities that they have not had gotten before, and this country gains the unlimited energy and potential to succeed that immigrants are motivated by. The reality is that most refugees and immigrants are employed here in Connecticut within four months of resettlement through a sponsoring agency like Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven. I interviewed the president of the board of IRIS, the Rev. Peter Bushnell, and think that the hardest thing to overcome is public perceptions of immigrants and refugees. The impression most of the country has is the stereotype of the terrorist, rapist, and dregs of society.
I asked Rev. Bushnell a few questions about the perceptions, policies, and future of refugee/immigrant resettlement in this country. The first of these was: There is the extreme opinion recurring over and over through history that migrants are each really trying to come to steal jobs, or that they are terrorists and criminals, or that they will take free money and never really assimilate or get jobs. Please tell your experiences in helping refugees and immigrants and whether this perception is true or false. Because the team said it mostly has dealt with people who collaborated with the military, he told me about one who came to this country from Iraq to start a new life.
“I knew a man from Iraq who entered a refugee camp somewhere in the Middle East because he had studied in the United States when he was a college student. When he returned to Iraq, members of the Taliban told him that they would kill him and leave his head on the front step of his home for his wife and children to find, if he did not leave home and flee somewhere else…and was resettled in New Haven by IRIS. Since he spoke both English and Farsi, he worked as a translator at IRIS…He had been a physician in Iraq, but was not eligible to be licensed to practice medicine in Connecticut. Refugees do not come to the U.S. to get rich, but rather to be able to live their lives in safety and freedom. Resettling refugees is one of the best ways to bring immigrants to this country. Statistics show that refugees over many decades commit almost no crimes at all, and are productive tax-paying citizens.”
The eagerness of the group to maintain its mission in the face of growing resistance from the government is what is most thoroughly notable. Really, this can be an exemplar humanitarian aid program, in that they monitor and assist newly resettled persons from the first moment until they are secure in their surroundings. This gets refugees settled and able to take things in hand for themselves and their families. The essential piece of the picture is the support that they receive from the immediate and national community. The work hinges on real monetary support too, which was the reason Bushnell began to press the rest of the board to explore widening the revenue stream after the 2016 elections.
The real challenge in having the basic rights of human beings recognized lies in the perceptions we have of those that enter this country seeking a better life. Thinking that those who relied on the charity of others will keep taking jobs and money away from “real” Americans. I feel then that the needed change to immigration and refugee policies must be: dramatically reducing the bureaucracy, letting reduced monitoring by the government then be taken on by state and municipal agencies, and more federal funding to those levels. Most of all, the volunteer-run organizations like IRIS positively have to be unified and become more like the Peace Corps or Habitat for Humanity. Necessary funding will be much easier if that was the case.
I then asked this question: The policies we have in place currently have cut the refugee numbers dramatically though those seeking asylum mostly have increased in numbers. The true reasons that prompt someone to flee their homeland are terrible and traumatic more often than not. As we stare down an end to an election cycle what do you see taking place with an incumbent win as far as those policies go? The response he thoughtfully provided truly shows the bold commitment that IRIS should bring to the national level.
“To those who believe we are diverting jobs and prosperity away from our own people in order to provide for ‘foreigners’, I can only say that a rising economic tide will lift everyones’ boats. Throughout American history, immigrants, refugees from oppression, have always contributed to, and have not taken away from, the prosperity of this nation. And these same people have contributed enormously to a distinctive, diverse, and unique American culture. No matter what happens in this election, the work of resettling refugees will continue.”
Thinking regarding immigrants and refugees has to undergo a change, which is a massive task to change the behavior and irrational beliefs held by a greatly sectarian and tribalistic minority. The treatment of the meaning that we give to certain ideals here in the united states is that really only the “right” kind of people are allowed entry to the American dream. The right kind of people typically are whiter than not, self-sufficient, and ask for nothing. Really, though, the refugee crises around the world resulted from the actions of the US and its allies. It is the only right thing to do in the circumstances we mostly created. Misery and suffering should not be our lasting legacy worldwide.
The wars for which we really take responsibility are really still ongoing, even though US troops really have departed the theaters of conflict. We tested democracy’s limits through the experimental establishment of the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq, sweeping the former regimes aside as we took over. The end result was the rise of further extremist groups, such as ISIS, and the Taliban having their return in Afghanistan (Hilal, 2019). Really, having read through the history of US actions with regards to interventions in other countries, the obvious fact is that the US tends to meddle in their affairs and then wash our hands of the consequences. The readings that I did on the migrant crisis thoroughly make clear that the places the US has intervened in worldwide beginning in the Cold War era, from Central America, to the Middle East, and southeast Asia (Borger, 2018), all are long gone past the point where they can think to call themselves free, never mind the idea of the American-style democracy.
This is our truth, that the world does not like the US or feel safe when we declare our intentions to help. Manning the world’s defenses is a job we have truly failed at. Really then, the remaining options are to form national level volunteer groups to take over the increasingly militarized refugee, immgration, and asylee process. Tearing the current system down completely and starting off from ground level would be a good place to start. The scale of the wanton disregard for rights and real greatness cannot go unchallenged if we want to make the nation a mighty beacon of freedom and prosperity again.
Borger, Julian. “Fleeing a Hell the US Helped Create: Why Central Americans Journey North.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 Dec. 2018, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/dec/19/central-america-migrants-us-foreign-policy.
Felter, Claire, et al. “The U.S. Immigration Debate.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 23 June 2020, http://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-immigration-debate-0.
Hilal, Maha. “America’s Role in the Refugee Crisis.” Institute for Policy Studies, Institute for Policy Studies, 15 July 2019, ips-dc.org/americas-role-in-the-refugee-crisis/.“IRIS-Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services.” IRISIntegrated Refugee Immigrant Services, 4 Nov. 2020, irisct.org/.