Refugee Stories

They Should Come the Legal Way

It’s frustrating to see the dismantling of the US’s refugee program, to see this administration gradually take it apart, piece by piece, quietly in the backdrop of other pressing matters.

While the US president boasts of new religious freedom initiatives, the travel ban is still in place, effectively and indefinitely preventing seven countries from entering the US, calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of billions of people. It’s been like this for two and a half years. The number of refugees being admitted into the US this next year is predicted to be set at zero, which will hurt the most at-risk persecuted Christians.

Piece by piece. Gradually. Quietly.

What has been the most frustrating is American Evangelicals’ response to the sojourner, the stranger, the refugee: “Well, they should come the legal way.”

They should come the legal way.

A rich reply coming from people living in a prosperous country, in the comforts of a saturated society, in the warmth of a stable home, behind a laptop, holding a microphone, in front of a podium, sitting in the White House.

They should come the legal way.

This response is from people who hold no concept of what it’s like to be a threat to your government because of your beliefs, because of your mere existence. No idea of what it feels like to never return to your home for fear of being tortured, persecuted, arrested, raped, or killed.

This response is from people who don’t know what it’s like to walk down the streets of their hometown, past their old elementary school, past the neighborhood market and see bodies hanging from cranes. They do not know what it’s like to clutch their toddler and lay flat in a ditch, eyes squeezed shut, comforting the tiny whimpers, praying for the air-raid sirens to stop. They don’t know what it’s like to meet with other Christians in secret, always changing locations so as not to draw any attention, removing SIM cards from phones, and wrapping bibles in newspaper.

We like to think the legal way to immigrate to the US is to fill out some paperwork, get in line, and wait patiently for your name to be called. That’s reasonable enough, right? To get in line like the rest of them?

And yet the legal way means running away from the jaws of a chomping shark that used to be your home. It means facing concrete barriers you have no choice but to try to climb over. It means carrying the trauma of persecution and years of oppression into interview after interview. Presenting your case in front of callous officers, reliving the nightmare each time, trying to convince them your story is true when their only goal is to look for any inconsistency, any excuse to deny you.

The legal way involves paperwork and a line but there is no line. It’s broken and stopped and nobody can move. When your home is the chomping jaws of a bloodthirsty shark, you cannot wait any longer because waiting breeds madness. 

With this administration, the legal way involves more and more concrete barriers, more and more hoops to jump through. But what all it really boils down to is that the refugee’s skin is a few shades too dark and he carries a passport with the wrong birth country.

When your home is the chomping jaws of a bloodthirsty shark, you cannot wait any longer because waiting breeds madness.

They should come the legal way. They should know English and have professional skills but not too many skills because we don’t want them taking our jobs. They should come from really traumatic situations but not too traumatic because we want them to be able to assimilate and function in our society. But God forbid they arrive with nothing and have to rely on the government and taxpayers’ dollars. They should be able to stand on their own two feet. They should make something of themselves. They should overcome all odds but they better not complain about this country because they should be grateful they’re here. They should…They should…They should.

Our brains like to simplify the things we don’t understand, to reduce a truly complicated topic down to the bare bones. And when life happens outside of our own world, it’s easy for us to keep everything at an arm’s distance. Our minds don’t have the grid to understand suffering and trauma when we’ve lived and breathed in a country soaked in convenience and comfort. But we need to try to understand.

We have a president who boasts of his strong Christian faith – who reads the Bible more than anybody (but nevermind he is thrice-married and doesn’t need to ask for forgiveness) – and yet he is doing all he can to stop refugees from entering the US. We have a president who perpetuates fear, using erroneous words like “infest”, “flood”, “hoards”, and “illegals” to describe refugees and asylum seekers. We have an administration that, in words, identifies as pro-life, but in action does everything it can to dehumanize, criminalize, and erase the oppressed.

Our minds don’t have the grid to understand suffering and trauma when we’ve lived and breathed in a country soaked in convenience and comfort. But we need to try to understand.

The United States is a country of plenty. We have protection and stability and safety and opportunities. We have the freedom to practice our faith or no faith. We have the freedom to speak out against the problems in our country, to stand up against injustices and violations.

We can also be a nation of refuge and humanity. We can support politicians who see the value and inherent worth in immigrants and take steps to tear down walls and help to streamline the immigration process so those fleeing their homes can come legally.

The next time we come across news articles about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers may we never respond with “Well, they should come the legal way” because they are trying to. But instead, to stop and think and respond biblically, extending compassion to our fellow image-bearers of God.

We can be pro-security and pro-compassion. They can go hand-in-hand because one of the holiest of sacraments is welcoming the stranger.

They should come the legal way? That’s a nice thought, but that’s not the point.

14 thoughts on “They Should Come the Legal Way”

  1. Great words as usual Sarah. I have to admit I didn’t think about refuges except what I read in the newspaper. When your mom began calling for prayers and I begin reading your blog……..my heart was opened to all refuges fleeing adversity, death. Thank you for all are doing. You are quite the girl, I know your family is very proud of you, yet like any parent they want you home…..This home that is doing so much to prevent you from coming home. I know you are a blessing right where you are. May God keep you and all refuges safe from those that want to kill for no reason except to kill. May those doors of safety open. Hopefully with a new President that will happen. God Bless you!

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  2. Sarah,
    Thank you for writing with such clarity and continuing to bring voice and witness. We raise a banner of hope asking Jesus to have His way!

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  3. You have a gift with words. I attend a world mission group with your dad and have heard some about you guys and your situation. I am praying about the upcoming trip. I have much more to say but I will leave it at this for now:) God bless you and your hubby for serving where you are at.

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