‘Tis the Season to Stand in Solidarity

December 16, 2015

Guest Blog by Michael Mitchell, Vice President for Programs, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and Board Member of Maryland Nonprofits

Every year, Maryland Nonprofits strengthens the Maryland economy and quality of life by advancing nonprofit impact. With few exceptions, nonprofits overcome failures in our market economy through their programs, goods and services.  Shortages of affordable housing, access to healthy food, a cleaner environment, and mismatches in labor markets are some examples. However, the typical refrain around nonprofit organizations centers on their ‘doing good’ versus their substantive impact of strengthening markets and supporting a stable society. In the nonprofit organization that I work with, which focuses on refugee resettlement, unfortunate announcements ending or pausing Syrian refugee resettlement from Governors in Maryland, Texas, and about 30 other states threaten the ‘good’ our nonprofit and others like it are contributing and the American values we all proclaim.

Of all the states opposing Syrian refugee resettlement, Texas has gone the farthest. Governor Abbott has threatened legal action against nonprofits serving Syrian refugees, forgetting the value those refugees bring to the state in economic value and that Texas has often been a harbor for those seeking freedom from injustice and persecution. Perhaps Conan O’Brien said it best a few weeks ago: “The state of Texas is trying to stop a family of Syrian refugees from resettling there.  Texas officials said,  ‘We’re too busy with Christmas to think about a Middle Eastern family with no place to stay for the night’”.   Fortunately, Texas failed in its quest to block the family and their successful arrival last week will hopefully lead to a stronger state over time. We know that states with diversity of religious, cultural, and life experiences adds a richness to the businesses, culture, and climate that reflect American values and lead to prosperity. Apple co-founder Steve Job’s father was Syrian and the children who are part of this family could be the very entrepreneurs Texas boasts about in its future.

 

Despite the irrefutable fact that the actions of these governors violate constitutional freedoms and public laws, most assert that their actions are to “protect” their citizens. Yet the refugees who enter the United States through the US Resettlement Program are among the most vetted of anyone setting foot on our soil. The thirteen-step process they endure includes assessments from the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Defense, as well as national intelligence agencies and others. This process, which lasts 18-24 months, pales in comparison to the determination and resilience these individuals and families demonstrate in making their journey to our shores. In fact, Syrian refugees are fleeing the same kind of terror that we have seen unfolding in incidents around the world. They are not bringing terror with them, they are fleeing it. While the actions of many of these governors may be rooted in a genuine interest for public safety, those actions should be informed by the truths that the resettlement program is structured to ensure that American citizens and those fleeing persecution are protected. Our governors should realize that the situation is not either/or.

And it is not either/or for nonprofits and the public either. Just as we can see that the United States can continue to welcome refugees while continuing to ensure its own security, we can recognize how nonprofits bring good to society while contributing to a functioning market economy. All are achievable and losing one at the expense of another would be a loss for society, for refugees seeking protection, and for our identity as Americans. Let us not forget that identity this Christmas as we remember another refugee who was able to create a better world because he was given refuge as a child. The refuge we have to offer Syrian and other refugee children is not just a gift for them, it is a gift to us for what they’ll contribute to future generations and an affirmation of our identity.

 

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