From conversations on the streets to living rooms, there is a lot of emotional talk these days over the topic of refugees. Although some three million refugees have come into the country since 1980 escaping the tyranny of wars to find safe haven here, we are in fact all refugees in America who have found refuge in it for one reason or another.
Some of us are here and call it home because we could not live in another place where we would be hunted down, held hostage or even beheaded. Some of us are here because the atrocity of a faithless state would not allow us the freedom to practice our faith. Some of us are here because America provides a safe haven for an entrepreneurial spirit, to experiment and explore the capitalistic model like no other place in the globe. Some of us are here because we are tired and exhausted from the societal corruption that plagues the countries we have come from. Some of us are here because we have sought refuge in the institutions of learning and academia, that meet the demands of our ambitions, that were sadly unmet and unrealized from where we came from. Some of us are here because we could no longer tolerate remaining in the shackles of transgenerational poverty, which had imprisoned our families and forced them to live in servitude and indignity. Some of us are here because we seek refuge in a constitution that guarantees so many freedoms from speech to worship to our reproductive rights and grants us permission to practice our sexuality the way we see fit. Some have come here driven by their despotic political systems, to experience the blessings of democracy, with their offspring finding occasionally great fame and recognition as leaders in the country their forefathers found refuge in. Some of us are here who may have once come on slave ships, but now have won our freedoms and seek refuge in the laws which protect our freedoms and our dignity.
Yes, we are all refugees, even those who came here from nowhere, but now are given the option to live on some distant ‘reservations,’ as a refuge, where they can enjoy their own traditional ways of life and become refugees in their own ancestral land.
Can there be any doubt that we live in a tremendous refuge and that we are all refugees! Some may lose sight of their condition given the passage of a few generations. Some may recognize it however with ease as their fortunate present reality.
Is there then a refugee who has not robbed, not raped, not killed, not bribed, not raked in millions and ruined the lives of others, not rigged the system to profit from it, not broken the law, ever? We are all guilty. Who should we then ban from among us?
The aging couple, who have lived peacefully in the shadows for half their lives, toiled and labored to earn a livelihood, grown their kids born in the country, to become respectful citizens and made a life for themselves, only to hear the threat of deportation ringing from our system which has no better answers for them?
Or the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) protected kid whose only refuge is America which she calls her home, where she wakes up every morning not knowing what new Executive Order the dawn will bring, which can turn her dream into a nightmare?
Or the undocumented student who overstayed his visa, worked without papers to support himself, has no criminal record, yet fearful of every knock on his door, wondering when will he meet the fury of our system which denies him a refuge and live in our country?
America has always been a refuge, a safe haven, a ‘shining city on a hill,’ welcoming people from far and near, troubled with myriads of problems, seeking a new life of peace and opportunity. Banning people from whole countries, implementing massive deportations, detaining people on fear and suspicion, betrays our foundational values for compassion and justice. It creates an alternative reality for domestic security, that is sadly mistaken. We have been there before in a dark moment of our history. How can we forget the Japanese internment camps? Will we not learn from the painful lessons of our past?