THEY ARE US

If you were to Google the phrase ‘refugee stories’ you would get over 10 million links to stories of all kinds.  Many, given recent history, would be about Syria.  Many would be about the current Executive Order issue.  Some you might consider ‘pro’ refugee and some ‘anti’ refugee.  But there would be a lot to read.

John Berry, Chief Executive Officer, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia

John Berry, Chief Executive Officer, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia

There is an interesting story about refugees; one that doesn’t pop up to the top of the list of Google search results.  It’s a story about religious persecution and economic opportunity.  It’s a story about a group of people who braved a dangerous journey over rough seas in a small boat to get someplace where they could make a life for their families and themselves.  It’s a story of leaving others behind with the hope that they might follow someday. It is a story of hope.

The funny thing about this story is that it really doesn’t have a beginning, and likely really won’t have an end.  Because it is the story of humanity.

Go back as far as you want to in history and you will find this story. Come forward in history to today and you will find this story. Because it is the story of humanity and its constant struggle for equity and opportunity.  It is what drove the Jewish people to the desert.  It is what drove Harriet Tubman to become a ‘conductor’ of the Underground Railroad helping slaves who escaped get to refuge in the North.  It is what drives Syrian Refugees to seek solace from the horror of war.

Who are these refugees?  They are us. Many of us can trace our lineage directly back to some immigrant to these United States.  And many of those were, formally or informally, refugees from a system, a politics, an economy that had failed them.  They came seeking a better life.  We are the result of their courage.

So today, when we condemn the refugee with a broad brush, as a whole; when we allow our fear of the few to drive our rejection of the many then we have become not the refugee that we all are, but rather the thing that they seek to escape.  To paraphrase the famous Pogo line, “We will have met the enemy, and they will be us”.

We must, no doubt, protect our nation and our citizens from those who would do us harm.  Anyone with any sense agrees with that. But when our need for safety manifests itself in our oppression of others we have crossed a line.  We can protect our borders and our people without blanket condemnation of people based solely on their religion or their nation of origin.

Equity is defined as “justice according to natural law or right; specifically:  freedom from bias or favoritism” (Merriam Webster).  How we treat those hoping to join us in our pursuit of the American Dream goes a long way in demonstrating whether we believe that each human person is treated with dignity, respect, and with equity.  It also goes a long way in demonstrating whether we truly believe in an American Dream that includes all who work hard and play by the rules.

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