Beirut, Paris, Bamako. Where next will terrorists throw their bombs, fire their Kalashnikovs, press the button on their suicide vests? The ability with which they seem able to infiltrate ordinary people’s lives with their particular brand of poison is unnerving.
But to pull up the drawbridges, clang shut the gates, and unroll the razor wire does the free world little credit, and plays directly into the hands of these murderers. It feeds the minds of those often living in enclaves of poverty and hopelessness who may be grappling with their beliefs and, sometimes, tipping them over the edge to fanaticism.
Today the Houston Chronicle headlines “U.S. House: 47 Democrats join Republicans in voting to pause resettlement program” and “Border: Frenzy erupts after 2 families inquire about asylum at Laredo port of entry”. The former is an attempt to increase the vetting process of refugees, specifically from Iraq and Syria. A process, under the auspices of the United Nations, which can already take up to three years. If this ‘pause’ proposal were to pass in the Senate, and was not vetoed by the President, it would immediately stop those refugee applications already in the pipeline, not to mention clogging the lines of those honest and desperate people hoping for safety and a new start. The latter headline about Syrian asylum seekers in the Mexican/US border town, two men, two women and four children, to my mind shows the system in place is working. They did not attempt to gain entry illegally, but turned themselves in to the first border agent they saw. Both headlines illustrate the difference in refugees and asylum seekers. Refugees flee their country however humanly, and sometimes seemingly inhumanly, possible, and apply for entry to the United States through the United Nations. Asylum seekers turn themselves in to the country of choice and then are subjected to numerous background checks. No one gets in easily. And I say this, having been through the immigration process myself.
Perhaps the politicians, both here and elsewhere around the world, calling for a stop to refugees and asylum seekers should talk to a few people like a young man I listened to yesterday. He is called Pat because no one can properly pronounce his Albanian name.
Pat was speaking at the International Connections of Houston monthly meeting. He works for the Houston Food Bank. Pat arrived in America as a child, having fled the 1998/99 war in Kosovo. He and his family crossed the mountains to Macedonia and ended up in a refugee camp. They were eventually processed, and arrived in the Land of the Free. Pat hated it. No one understood him, or his culture, or the horror he had lived through. But he learnt English and gradually assimilated into the American way of life. When Pat and his family first arrived in Houston they were recipients of assistance from the Food Bank. He knows first hand the value of true charity of soul, and of tangible goods. And now this young man works for the very agency which gave he and his family much needed help. That necessity of life, food. Pat is giving back to the community that embraced him. He looks and sounds like any regular young American. His speech, though articulate, is peppered with the common parlance of American youth, the word “like”. He tells his story not to garner pity, or praise, but to show how a helping hand to a family torn from its country of origin and dropped in an alien place, can become part of the fabric of that new land, interwoven into every facet of life.
And American politicians want to be no part of this moving human story.
This land of opportunity, built on immigration, accepting of those from war-riven countries throughout the generations, now wants to close the doors. Without that open-door policy America would not have had the benefit of some of the most extra-ordinary and brilliant minds. Albert Einstein, Joseph Pulitzer, Fazlur Rahman Khan, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Ayub Ommaya, I.M.Pei, Fareed Zakaria – the list is long, and some of them are Muslim.
And then there are the ordinary, but people no less valuable, people like Pat.