Share Their Stories

Photo by skeeze / pixabay.com

Last month, I wrote about how I was overcome with despair at the evil in the world. Today, I am overcome by the evil within us—in America, in the actions of the new administration, in We the People.

In particular, I am unnerved by the executive order over immigration President Trump signed on Friday. “Unnerved” does not quite capture it—I’m bewildered, dismayed, enraged, heartbroken, ashamed, powerless.

I am not naive. I know that President Trump railed against undocumented immigrants, Syrians, Muslims, and the vetting process during the campaign. He promised change.

And yet, I had hope. I hoped it was all hot air. I hoped we could stop him. I hoped that even if he built the wall, deported millions, and limited Syrian refugee resettlement, he would leave the rest alone. I am a silly, foolish girl, apparently.

And yet, I had hope. I hoped it was all hot air. I hoped we could stop him. I hoped that even if he built the wall, deported millions, and limited Syrian refugee resettlement, he would leave the rest alone.

On Friday, the president ordered—among other immigration decisions—a 120-day moratorium on all refugee resettlement processing. He is going to review and “strengthen” the vetting process, he purports, a process already recognized as one of the most stringent in the world. He wants to prioritize Christians, yet he cut the resettlement goal of 110,000 for fiscal year 2017 down to 50,000—the lowest number in years—when the refugee count worldwide is the highest in history. This is not only unthinkable, it’s un-American and un-Christlike.

Refugee Deportation Protest at the Philadelphia Airport —Photo by Ethan Tan

I am grieving. I have devoted the past five years of my life to serving refugees. Facebook reminded me last week that I began my internship at the International Rescue Committee on January 25, 2011. It was a day that changed my life—and my heart—forever. After graduating from university, I worked for the organization until July 2016 when I moved to Philadelphia for graduate school.

These numbers are faces to me—beautiful, brave, resilient faces. They are friends. They are mothers and daughters, sons and fathers, who faced horrors I cannot even fathom. Fear and loss were their constant companions. They want nothing more than to return home—but how? Their houses are leveled, livelihoods destroyed, families scattered, countries at war or in ruin. Some are stateless, rejected by every nation. Where can they go?

These numbers are faces to me—beautiful, brave, resilient faces. They are friends. They are mothers and daughters, sons and fathers, who faced horrors I cannot even fathom.

Refugee camps are not long-term solutions. Camps are a state of limbo for refugees, “storage facilities for people,” with an average stay of 17 years. In a camp, you cannot go forward. You are in a foreign country, have no right to work, no income. And you cannot go back. Most of the conflicts that produce refugees are protracted, with no end in sight.

It is because of this reality that 22 countries, including the US, established refugee resettlement programs. Resettlement is not easy; not by a long shot. It’s scary and messy and isolating and exhausting. But it is a chance, an opportunity, a hope to start again. To regain stability. To reclaim control. To restore dignity.

Katie Tan at the Philadelphia Airport Protest—Photo by Ethan Tan

Are we really going to deny refugees this opportunity?

But enough of the facts. Facts do not seem to be working in our country. We a facing a post-truth, alternative facts administration. My intent is to share stories, not facts. President Trump’s executive orders have real effects on real people’s lives. We need to stand with our brothers and sisters, no matter what country they’re from, what religion they adhere to, or how they got here. We need to help them share their stories.

Stories are powerful. Stories are personal. Jesus understood this and often used stories, or parables, to speak of the kingdom.

So here are a few stories of refugees in America, to help you put faces to the numbers. I encourage you to read them. In this time of outrage and uncertainty, they center me. They rekindle my hope and deepen my resolve to love my neighbor.

Trump Says Syrian Refugees Aren’t Vetted. We Are. Here’s What We Went Through.

What Refugees Have to Say to the President

Syrian Refugee Father Shares His Story With Help of U.S. Veteran

On Becoming American: Mulu’s Search for Identity

Humans of New York’s Series on Syrian Families Coming to America

Refugee Farmers Plant New Roots in US

A Syrian Refugee Story: Inside One Family’s Two-Year Odyssey From Daraa to Dallas

#immigrantexcellence

These are the stories we should be sharing. These stories fly in the face of President Trump’s unfounded fears. Refugees’ stories weave color and beauty and strength into the tapestry that is America. Share their stories—with your friends, your church, and your family.

Then share their stories with your congressional representatives. I feel powerless against executive orders. But I still have a voice, and I will utilize it to the fullest extent possible. The International Rescue Committee makes taking action simple and unintimidating. I called my representatives. I hope you will, too.

“Preach the truth as if you had a million voices. It is silence that kills the world.” – Saint Catherine of Siena

Katie Tan is the Administrative Associate at The Sider Center of Palmer Seminary at Eastern University. She just completed her first semester of the Masters of Urban Studies in Community Development at Eastern. As a military brat and chaplain’s kid, she spent half her childhood overseas and half in Texas and Oklahoma. Through her family and travels, Katie developed a passion for different cultures and a desire to love like Jesus. Before moving to Pennsylvania to pursue a masters, she worked in refugee resettlement at the International Rescue Committee in Texas. She is married to Ethan Tan, who is studying at the University of Pennsylvania, and they have two cats.

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