Guest Columnist

Take action to support refugees in Iowa

David Mulaji (standing, left) translates English into Swahili as he works with Hannah Miles (standing, right) Refugee Child Care Business Development program  coordinator during an informational meeting at the Catherine McAuley Center in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Monday, April 15, 2019. The center started the Refugee Child Care Business Development program to help migrants set up childcare businesses, meeting a statewide need. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
David Mulaji (standing, left) translates English into Swahili as he works with Hannah Miles (standing, right) Refugee Child Care Business Development program coordinator during an informational meeting at the Catherine McAuley Center in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Monday, April 15, 2019. The center started the Refugee Child Care Business Development program to help migrants set up childcare businesses, meeting a statewide need. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

No more than 18,000 individual refugees — not families, not cases but individuals — are all that will be allowed in the United States over the next year. This number accounts for only .07 percent of total world refugee population when one doesn’t consider asylum-seekers or otherwise displaced people.

This number has never been so low, not even in the wake of the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks, a national tragedy whose magnitude has not been felt on U.S. soil since the Civil War and one that was imposed on this country entirely by actors from outside of the U.S.

For the first time in generations, the U.S. will not lead the world in humanitarianism. We’ve abandoned those who need help in countries fraught with violence and persecution. We have turned our backs entirely on Syria, the country from which 6.7 million refugees, 25 percent of the world’s refugees, come.

All of this is done citing inefficiencies in the system, the ever-growing asylum backlog and dubious claims of national security. These reasons amount to an admission of the fact that we are abandoning our moral and humanitarian imperative not because of the threat refugees pose to the country but because of our own self-contained fears and bureaucratic shortcomings.

Immigrants, especially refugees, do not commit crimes at a higher rate than people born in the U.S. They pose no economic burden on local communities nor do they look to replace our culture with their own. Refugees are not our enemy; they are not to be feared as they are not dangerous.

Unless you have a high-level security clearance in the federal government, it’s likely that the U.S. government knows more about any given refugee than it does about you. The vetting process is massive, is conducted by both the U.S. and the United Nations, and often takes years to complete. We are not protecting ourselves by doing this, we’re only hurting others.

Every citizen in this country is complicit in this egregious disregard for humanity. Even though no single one of us made this decision, many of us allowed it to happen by way of complacency and assumptions of collective action. Most of us continue to sit and watch our planet deteriorate, we sit and watch as crimes against humanity are committed at our southern border and we sit and watch as people from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Afghanistan, Burma and Bhutan are forced from their homes, fleeing for their lives and their family’s lives. We now have to look into the eyes of these people, suffering and struggling, and tell them they can’t come in.

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As people, we have a collective and individual responsibility to others. We should help in the same way we’d expect to be helped and fight for the kind of change that minimizes the suffering of others.

Now is as it was: a time to act. We all need to step up, start doing, turning the outrage that we all voice into something tangible. We’re fortunate to have an array of opportunities in the Corridor to do just that.

The Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids offers various volunteer opportunities to help refugees and immigrants including tutoring. Freedom for Immigrants, the Center for Worker Justice an End ICE in Iowa City work to secure the rights of refugees and immigrants and fight injustice. We can all do something to create a more amicable world and we all should.

Noah Gaber is a communications and outreach volunteer at the Catherine McAuley Center.

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