Imagine that you just received an acceptance letter to Harvard, a prestigious university that people all over the world are hoping to go to. If you work hard at Harvard, you will be rich and able to provide for your family for the rest of your life. This is how refugees around the world escaping persecution see the United States: a place where endless opportunities are available if they can be resettled. Refugees undergo an 18-24 months screening process to enter the U.S., with an acceptance rate lower than Harvard’s. In fact, according to Embrace Refugees, “an individual is 13 times more likely to gain admission to Harvard than to the US as a refugee.”
As an AmeriCorps VISTA, I help serve the refugee community through my service at Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM), a nonprofit refugee resettlement agency. On January 27, Trump signed an executive order suspending the U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days, indefinitely banning Syrian refugees and reducing the fiscal year’s arrivals from 110,000 to 50,000 people, among other measures. On the same day that the orders were signed, there was a social justice benefit concert that helped raise money for KRM and Americana Community Center, another organization that serves immigrants and refugees in Louisville. At the concert, performers from all over the world as well as Louisville natives got together to show their support for refugees living in the U.S. At the start of the following week, we had a massive influx of volunteers wanting to know what they can do to support refugee resettlement.
KRM used this opportunity to help the community understand the executive order and how it will affect refugees and immigrants around the world. The first step of civic engagement was to advocate through social media and contact our nation’s government. Tweets to Trump, Facebook messages to the White House, local and national petitions, and calls to Congress were all made to express how important resettlement is. Some people who had never volunteered began to build relationships with refugees and attend advocacy training that would help when attending community events. The biggest event was put on by a coalition KRM is a part of that organized a statewide meeting called “Refugee and Immigrant Day at the Capitol” in Frankfort, Kentucky.
I was able to spend a full day in support of “Refugee and Immigrant Day at the Capitol.” Riding up to Frankfort with a bus full of KRM clients was very rewarding for me to be a part of and witness their excitement. When we arrived everyone instantly wanted a picture in front of all of the buildings. It was like a field trip and reminded me of my first time visiting the Capitol. Before the event started everyone in the crowd was handed small American flags while others had even brought their own signs with clever sayings, scriptures, and words of encouragement and support. Everyone from singers to religious leaders were on the podium to speak on why refugees are welcome in Kentucky. My favorite speeches were from two women who would have been impacted by the ban if they were not already living in the US. They spoke very encouraging words that showed they disapproved of how their families and others were being denied the right to be in the US.
KRM has issued a statement saying “the executive order’s suspension of new families arriving will not stop us from providing high-quality services to refugee and immigrant communities already in Louisville and Lexington.” Refugees are resilient, still fighting and believing that they will be resettled to make a better life for their family here. If you think about it, the United States is like a university that leads to endless, unimaginable possibilities. We are anticipating the day that refugees will begin receiving the “acceptance letter” into the country once again.
By Sean Hardiman, Community Connector VISTA at Kentucky Refugee Ministries