Tuesday November 15, 2016
As the only local full time staff member of The Firestarter Group, I deeply regret that recent events have made it impossible for me to shift attention away from our ongoing work to attend the VOX Global Café. I am certain, nonetheless, that this event marks the beginning of an ongoing conversation about some of the most urgent and sensitive issues impacting communities across the United States and indeed the globe.
In 1992, my family arrived as refugees from the former Soviet Union. That year, the United States welcomed over 130,000 refugees from across the globe. Upon arrival, my family was matched with community mentors through an infrastructure that provided my brother and I with free private schooling and after school care. My parents were given interest-free educational loans for professional recertification programs, allowing them to quickly moved towards purchasing a house and sending their two boys to college thanks to the masses of people who marched in the streets throughout the previous decade, voicing the values they held as Americans to lend a helping hand to populations on the other end of the globe facing dire circumstances. This process was not easy for my family. Neither was it easy for the activists who committed decades of planning and coordination with public institutions, who could not themselves have succeeded without thankless contributions of local citizens and nonprofit organizations guided by personal ethical standards.
Today, the United States gives safe refuge to nearly half as many individuals fleeing violence, terror, and war. In the decades since my arrival, that ethical standard has all but disappeared, giving way to bipartisan politics that quietly left the process of refugee resettlement underfunded and unbound to any standard of care for new arrivals. A model that focused on short term employment outcomes was originally developed in Texas, one of the historical leaders of resettlement in the US, and exported to resettlement agencies across the country. Now, with Governor Abbott’s decision to withdraw the state from federal resettlement altogether, many fear that this termination will too be exported to the nation, ending a historical commitment to freedom, liberty, and justice.
And yet, the standard that was once set still exists. It is ubiquitously defined by our human capacity to care for one another, as we would hope to be cared for ourselves. History proves that concerned Americans are capable of great kindness and acts of love. Together, we hope that present circumstances give us the opportunity to re- establish that ethical standard. This opportunity will force us to ask as many questions about the standard we set for ourselves as it does about the welcome we give to others. It will force us out of our comfortable spaces of political affiliation and social class, thinking beyond the labels of refugee or migrant. It will be hard and thankless. Yet, it must be done, and we can do it together.
Thanks to VOX’s efforts and all of you for joining us in this critical work today.
Chief Strategist, The Firestarter Group