Earlier today, several IRAP clients and staff members were honored to meet with US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, during her visit to Seton Hall University. The clients who met with Ambassador Power had a unique opportunity to share their experiences of persecution in Iraq and the challenges faced when applying for protection in the United States. Ambassador Power’s remarks, excerpted here, reflected an steadfast commitment to refugee resettlement:
“We recognize that one of our greatest strengths, and a major reason that the world looks to the United States to lead, is our values. Yet lately, we’re hearing more and more people calling for actions that would compromise those values, or outright contradict those values.
“And here let me give you one example. We are witnessing the largest wave of refugees and displacement since the Second World War – many of whom are fleeing the catastrophic conflict in Syria, where they are caught between a regime that gasses, barrel-bombs, and deliberately starves its own people – caught between that on the one hand – and violent extremists who sell women like cattle in markets, and murder people just because of their religious preference or because of their ethnicity. That is the world these people are fleeing. And yet some in this country, including some politicians, have called for us to turn away innocent people who are trying to escape these horrors. More than half of America’s governors have said they do not want their states to admit refugees from places like Syria. More than half. Others have gone further, arguing that because some people have used religion perversely to justify their acts of terror, we should start using faith to determine who should and should not be admitted to the United States.
“They say that keeping these “others” out of America – whether those “others” are refugees, Muslims, Syrians, or members of some other group – they say it’s the only way to keep us safe. But these people misunderstand who we are and what makes us strong. As the President said last night, “The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way that we respect every faith.” Compromising on those core values has never made America more secure – and it never will. Just look at our history, name a time when sacrificing our pluralism, our respect for freedom of religion, or any of our other core principles has made this country more secure. It has not. It will not. You cannot think of a time when it has.
“By turning away refugees, we would lose out on the tremendous contributions that they will make to our societies – that they have made. One of my predecessors as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations was Madeleine Albright – a refugee. Google founder Sergey Brin. Philanthropist George Soros. Another former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger.
“If these stakes do not feel real enough, take a moment to speak with some of the brave individuals and families who are here with us today, like an Iraqi family I had the privilege of meeting earlier this morning. A young woman in the family had worked for years helping U.S. journalists reporting from Iraq, and eventually she married an American and moved here with him. As a result, her relatives in Iraq were labeled “collaborators” by violent extremists – and several were kidnapped and murdered. The young woman’s mother, two sisters, brother, and her four little nieces and nephews lived in constant fear that they would be next. So they applied to come to the United States through a special program that assists people who helped Americans in Iraq. And a few months ago, a number of them were allowed to come to the United States, settling in Brooklyn. Members of that family are here with us today, and out of concern for the safety of their loved ones who are still in Iraq, I will not share their names. But would any of us want to live in a country that would turn away a family like this, because of where they are from, or because of what they believe?
“Tarique Ahmed Zafar is also here. He fled Pakistan – together with his wife, Atiqa, and their other son, Salik, who is five years old and Nouman, who is three. They had been persecuted for belonging to the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. Today, they live in Jersey City, where Tarique works at a local department store, and Salik has just started school. Imagine, for a moment, refusing to take in a family threatened for its beliefs, simply because they are Muslim.
“These are just two of a handful of the refugee families who are here today. And I urge you to go out into your communities – these families are everywhere, they are part of the fabric of American life. Those who are here today are accompanied by representatives of several groups who have worked to help people like them when they come to the United States – to help settle them once they arrive – it’s a big adjustment. Talk to these families – there are a lot of choices in the grocery store in the United States, it’s really hard when you don’t speak the language. Getting your kids acclimatized into schools, where not only is the language an issue but even the script in which we write. These are real, really challenging times and the organizations who help these families adjust really do God’s work and I tip my hat to them. We have here today the Church World Services, HIAS, Human Rights First, the International Refugee Assistance Project. And we are joined on stage and in the audience by members of several student groups at Seton Hall who’ve dedicated a whole lot of volunteer hours to advancing America’s deepest held principles, such as law school students who have taken up some of these asylum cases pro bono.”