The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation to create new screening procedures for Syrian refugees seeking safety in the United States, threatening to impose a new layer of bureaucracy on what refugees and advocates say is already a difficult, years-long process.
The vote came despite a veto threat from the Obama administration, which called the proposed changes “untenable,” according to The New York Times, because they would require top brass at the FBI, Homeland Security, and other national security organizations to sign off on every single applicant from Syria and Iraq. Nearly 50 Democrats supported the Republican-led measure, which passed 289–137 on Thursday, and it will be taken up in the Senate after Thanksgiving.
Politicians outside Washington have called for similar restrictions or outright bans on the entry of Syrian refugees into the U.S., making a campaign issue of a crisis that has forced an estimated 3 million Syrians to flee their country. The U.S. has admitted nearly 2,200 Syrian refugees for settlement to date, and the president has announced plans to admit another 10,000 in the coming year.
Former refugees and advocates have taken to social media, using hashtags such as#RefugeesWelcome, to call on politicians to stop capitalizing on fears stoked by the Paris attacks. Survivors of genocide and war who resettled in the U.S.—from Bosnia in the ’90s, from Eastern Europe during World War II, from South Asia during the Vietnam War—are speaking out for better understanding of the real plight of refugees.
A series of detailed tweets from one Bosnian refugee who resettled in Iowa went viral this week. Identified only as Arnessa, she explained the long process of interviews, evaluations, and insecurity families endure to reach the U.S.
As it is, the U.S. government gathers vast detail, including a list of all the people a refugee left behind, dead or alive. Checking the information takes a long time.
You have to provide them with names of ALL your family members, dead and alive. All your friends, neighbors, teachers. Everyone.— Arnessa (@Rrrrnessa) November 18, 2015
You tell your story again to a different official. And again. And again. And then again. Lets call this month 18 now.— Arnessa (@Rrrrnessa) November 18, 2015
The application process is not cheap, making it prohibitive for many. It’s not easy, either, requiring essays in languages refugees are often still learning.
By the way, the process for these interviews, application and proof all cost money. Thousands of dollars to get to a safe place.— Arnessa (@Rrrrnessa) November 18, 2015
The whole process is so complicated that it can be tough to track through all of Arnessa’s tweets, but here’s an infographic built by advocacy organization the Arab American Institute to help explain.
Some notable American leaders and luminaries have managed to navigate that process—and have something to say to those who oppose resettlement of refugees fleeing violence and terror.
Among the most famous refugees is former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was born in Prague to a Czech diplomat in 1937. Albright’s family was forced to flee the Nazis during World War II, arriving in the U.S. 67 years ago to make a new life free of persecution.
That experience led her to pen a recent essay for Time deeply critical of politicians’ calls to “shut our nation’s doors to properly vetted Syrian refugees fleeing terrorism”:
I will always feel an immense gratitude to this country, one shared by the millions of other refugees who have come to our shores in the years since—including Eastern European Jews, Hungarians, Vietnamese, Somalis, Cubans and Bosnian Muslims.
67 years ago today my family and I arrived in America as refugees. #refugeeswelcome (1/2)— Madeleine Albright (@madeleine) November 11, 2015
What isn’t captured in an explanation of the process, or the amazing success stories, is just how scary and uncertain resettlement can be. The world recoiled in horror to see the small body of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old, washed up on a Turkish beach after his family tried to flee Syria.
For other refugees, harrowing tales of the passage to American shores can mean being adrift at sea for days or weeks, saying good-bye to parents or relatives for the very last time, and risking life and limb to make it to the States, like those in this video fromAJ+.
Those who survive the journey often go on to become part of the fabric of the U.S. Paul Dien, vice president of advocacy and social impact at Participant Media, TakePart’s parent company, had this to say about his own family’s migration to the United States from Vietnam.