By Susan Sperry, Executive Director
What a difference a year makes. A year ago World Relief DuPage/Aurora, our church partners and our communities were celebrating 687 refugees who had been welcomed in 2016 to restart their lives in DuPage and Kane Counties. These new neighbors had fled the unspeakable horrors of war and persecution and arrived to a place of safety. We were celebrating their strength as they, like many before them, were rebuilding their lives and livelihoods through English classes, jobs to support their families and education for their children in local schools.
But a year ago, things began to change. On January 27, an Executive Order brought the hope of safety and freedom to a sudden standstill for thousands of refugees. Since then, only 29,725 refugees have been welcomed nationwide, down from 99,183 during the previous year. For World Relief DuPage/Aurora, this has meant safety and a new start for only 246 people, less than half the number from the previous year. Given the many starts and stops of both executive and judicial action over the last year, this reduction in the number of refugees being resettled may not be surprising. But it should be deeply unsettling.
It should unsettle us to hear about a mother who weeps over the safety of her adult son, whose resettlement application has been suddenly halted by delays and whose life is in constant threat.
It should unsettle us to hear about families crying out to be reunited, but who now live indefinitely separated between lllinois and a refugee camp, an ocean between them.
It should unsettle us that welcoming refugees, as part of our nation’s response to the global refugee crisis, is often described by national leaders as being at odds with also caring for the poor, veterans, and homeless in our country… as if a compassionate response to suffering and the most vulnerable in our world is a limited, finite resource that we need to ration carefully.
It should unsettle us that, in our country and around the world, the identity of each refugee as someone made in the image of God and unconditionally loved by him has been attacked by dehumanizing language and unforgiving generalizations.
And it should unsettle us to know that, during the time of the largest refugee crisis our world has known since World War II, our nation of immigrants is poised to accept the lowest annual number of refugees since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980.
This is not who we are.
A year ago many of us felt unsettled, shocked, confused, and filled with lament. Thousands rallied at airports across the nation. Locally over 1000 people came together at two WRDA-sponsored events to learn and take action to stand with refugees. What is happening today, the slow bureaucratic death of our nation’s commitment to refugee resettlement, is no less alarming than the sudden shock of the temporary halt a year ago.
When I feel unsettled, my gut response is to make the feeling go away. Sometimes I actively address what has unsettled me, but other times I pursue distraction, adopt simple explanations, or avoid the root cause completely. What could it look like if we, as a community and as a nation, don’t turn our backs from the situations and stories and human pain that unsettle us? What if we see these feelings as an invitation to help right wrongs, through our voice, our actions, and our prayers? What if we respond to these feelings with prayer, advocacy, and action to welcome the refugees who are most vulnerable?
As we look forward to the year ahead, my hope is that our faith in God, the relationships we have with refugees, and the strength of who we are as a country and a community, would be the fuel to move us to welcome those fleeing war and persecution. May every moment of being unsettled result in prayer, advocacy, and friendship on behalf of those who need us to use our freedoms for their good.
To learn about ways you can help, or to read the inspiring stories of families reunited and the ways refugee contribute to their communities, visit the following links: