Refugees and asylum-seekers are among the most heavily-vetted immigrants to the United States. I will not go into the details of the vetting process here (which typically takes approximately two years), as it is all rather draconian, but please trust me: from 2000 to 2002, I worked as the Refugee Resettlement Case Manager for Africa and the Middle East for the International Rescue Committee in Oakland and in San Francisco, California. I also worked from 2002 to 2004 at a torture treatment center, Survivors International, in San Francisco.
I left the field to pursue a master’s in theoretical and applied linguistics alongside a graduate diploma in refugee and migration studies from York University in Toronto. I am now a full-time lecturer in English as a second language and applied linguistics at the University of Kentucky.
When crises, such as the horrific assaults in Paris, take place and the tide turns against migration of any kind, refugees and asylum-seekers often take the brunt of these isolationist sentiments. The only explanation I can offer is that people who are anti-migration want to vent their frustration - and feelings of powerlessness - on the only group of migrants whom they feel that they can “control”: refugees and asylum-seekers.
In the U.S. we are fed so much propaganda about undocumented migration from Mexico and Central America that many Americans feel powerless in the face of this supposed “flood” of undocumented migrants. On the other hand, there is some sense that the influx of refugees and asylum-seekers can be “controlled.”
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The result is that the people who need help the most are the first to suffer from the backlash. I understand - though I do not necessarily empathize with - this desire to “protect” our borders. That said, our borders are as porous as ever, and focusing attention, resources and manpower on asylum-seekers and refugees is a pitiful and misguided waste.
There is a drive in the U.S. to limit the number of asylum-seekers and refugees from North Africa and the Middle East. This is ill-advised, shortsighted and counterintuitive.
Asylum-seekers and refugees come to the U.S. for two reasons: to escape a well-founded fear of persecution, and to better their lives and the lives of their children.
As a long-term resident of North Africa and the Middle East, I can safely write that the roles of guest and host there are sacrosanct. We must act as hosts to these people who flee. In the same way they were hosts to me and my fellow Peace Corps volunteers years ago, we must throw open our hearts, homes and borders to them, lay our tables and offer understanding. To do otherwise would be a shame.
At issue: Calls to limit or halt refugees entering the U.S.