U.S. should welcome refugees
In newspapers, on radio and TV and on social media, I have read and listened to comments about possible terrorism by Syrian refugees.
From my own personal experience with refugees from warn-torn countries, I believe an irrational fear of refugees, particularly Syrian refugees, has taken root among some in our country.
For eight years in the 1990s during the time of the war in Bosnia and Kosovo, my husband, John Detwyler, was in charge of the Capital Region Office of the Interreligious Council for Refugee Resettlement, an affiliate of Church World Service’s Refugee Resettlement Program.
The refugees he helped to resettle came from many countries: Bosnia, Kosovo, Vietnam, Burma, Uganda, Sudan, Cuba, and Moldova, Ukraine. Some were fleeing war and violence; others were fleeing social disruption and persecution.
They were Christian, Muslim, and worshipers of other faiths or had no stated faith. Some were middle-class professionals; some had owned businesses and some were poor. Some had been forced to run for their lives. Others were oppressed economically and socially and lived under the threat of violence.
I taught English as a Second Language for a school district and a community college at that time, and many of the refugee adults were in my classes. I listened to their stories. A number of them were horrifying.
The joy of these refugee families when they first arrived was palpable; yet underneath those stories was a profound sadness. It is one thing to choose to move to a foreign land for adventure or opportunity or a less-expensive lifestyle. It is quite another thing to feel so desperate that you need to leave behind extended family, home, culture and everything that is your identity.
All of them had been vetted thoroughly by the United Nations and the U.S. government. Some had waited five years for the vetting process to be completed before being allowed into the United States.
They were and still are screened outside of the United States and referred for resettlement mainly by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHCR). They then went and still go through vetting by multiple agencies in the United States.
On social media, a statement attributed to the respected magazine, The Economist magazine, was made that out of 750,000 refugees admitted to the United States since 9/11, not one had been arrested on domestic terrorism charges. The comment was based on an article written by Vandeline Von Brewdow published on Oct. 17, 2015. The author of that article cites Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute.
My husband resettled over 500 refugees in the Capital Region. His office was in Emmanuel Friedens Church of Schenectady. He contacted area Christian churches and asked them to “adopt” the refugee families, some of whom were Christians, Muslims or without religious affiliations.
The church groups found and furnished apartments, registered their children in school and became their friends. The successful adaptation of the refugee families to American culture was facilitated in part by this friendship. The refugees were on social services for a few months until they learned enough English to find jobs.
Today some of these refugees own their own homes and their children have grown up to attend college and make a good life for themselves. Others are not homeowners, but they and their grown children work hard and are often sought after employees.
The refugee families John helped to settle in our Capital District area contribute to our economy and to our tax base, and their progeny will continue to do so for generations.
Refugee resettlement is only one way to enter the United States. Other ways include through a tourist or other type of visa or entrance program. The terrorist couple of St. Bernardino was not part of the refugee program. One of them was, in fact, native born. There are far more positives to welcoming refugees from Syria than there are negatives.
France, in spite of being the victim of terrorism in Paris, is allowing up to 30,000 refugees into their country, as is Canada, our neighbor to the north, up to 25,000. We can certainly welcome 12,000 or more.
It is difficult for my husband, John and I, to listen to the fear and prejudice expressed against these desperate people. Fear and prejudice should not be allowed to win in our land. We are better than that.
Sandra G. George