The day I arrived to help friends clean and furnish the tiny apartment into which our refugee family would be moving, I got lost.
I had the address, my GPS had led me to the right block, but I’m one of those directionally challenged folks. I approached a large apartment building with directions in hand, probably looking as clueless as I felt.
Our group had agreed with a resettlement agency to sponsor a family, this one from Bhutan, and we had been collecting furniture and household items for months.
All around me, children shouted and kicked soccer balls over the graveled parking lot and down the weed-covered lawn and over well-worn pathways. Women with head coverings scurried by, gripping the hands of brown-skinned boys.
Finally, I stopped a woman who had the makeup and hairstyle of someone who seemed Westernized. She smiled politely and listened intently to my question. “No English,” she responded, her accent as broad as her smile.
Welcome to the part of town where many refugees to our city are resettled. As it turned out, I was right across the street from our family’s apartment.
I know that we are suffering from fatigue on the refugee issue. Our national attention span is very short, and our conversation moves on to the debate du jour.
But this issue speaks to the heart of what it means to be American, and to those of us who are Christian, it is intrinsic. It needs to be a continuing part of our discussion and prayer.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me. It doesn’t get more explicit than that. But it does go deeper. Not only are we mandated to welcome the stranger, we are specifically told it is in them that we encounter Christ.
When 30 U.S. governors, after the Paris attacks, almost immediately asked that our acceptance of Syrian refugees be paused, I felt that in politics, where knee-jerk reactions are endemic, this one stood out for pandering to our fears.
It’s an unfortunate human reaction to scapegoat someone. We’re good at it in the United States. We’re the people who refused a boatload of Jews during World War II when our anti-Semitism and fear of foreigners trumped our humanitarianism.
We’re the people who rounded up good Japanese citizens and put them in camps during that same war. We’re the folks who made it nearly impossible to escape the development of African-American ghettos because of our housing policies, federal and local. The mass of human misery escaping Syria has become the latest scapegoat for our fears. At least it’s briefly diverted some politicians from scapegoating others.
But should we worry about our national security? Of course. It horrifies me when I hear about the TSA’s failed tests, with guns routinely passing through our airports. I think we should immediately review the visa waiver policy. I think all airport employees should pass through screening every day (why don’t they already?).
But to target refugees is appalling. No one who gets into this country is screened more strenuously and at such length than refugees. I know from experience. We waited months for our Bhutanese family to make it through the international, national and state pipeline of investigation.
How can we cry over the body of a Syrian boy’s ocean-ruined body one day, and on nearly the next day allow our fears to reject the suffering stranger even when they present less chance of hurting us than our own airport policies? Even France is continuing to welcome refugees.
What is wrong with us?