Living near the mouth of Hobble Creek Canyon, we have spent the last week praying fervently for protection of the homes, residents and firefighters affected by the Pole Canyon and Bald Mountain fires.
With huge eyes, my children note the ash falling from the sky. We wonder whether we will get used to the ever-present smell of smoke. My youngest asks urgent questions as I tuck her into bed: “What is the difference between ‘pre-evacuation’ and ‘evacuation’?” (Friends are in the former state; a teacher and a schoolmate in the latter.) “Will our house burn down?” “What would I pack?” I text a friend closer to the fire and let her know there is room in our “inn"; our basement could easily accommodate their family of six.
On Tuesday, our local church leaders invited us to join in united fasting and prayer to plead for help in extinguishing the fires and to protect those involved. At church two days before, multiple prayers were said for the “displaced persons” who are under threat of losing property.
Hearing “displaced persons” at church jarred me, my bent head jerking upward and my eyes flying open. You see, a few days prior a woman had told me, after complaining about the migrants now flooding Europe’s cities, that “no country in the world can accommodate all those people.” These displaced people, she explained, were dangerous and violent.
In some ways, she is right. President Ronald Reagan inhis Statement on United States Immigration and Refugee Policy in 1981 said that “No free and prosperous nation can by itself accommodate all those who seek a better life or flee persecution. We must share this responsibility with other countries.” But he twice set the annual ceiling at more than 200,000 persons to address humanitarian crises. In comparison, on the same day my stake began our unified effort of fasting and prayer for displaced persons, our nation’s administration announced that it will cap next year’s refugee admissions at 30,000. This is a dismal and abysmal number when we face the largest humanitarian crisis in modern history, wherein 68.5 million people —more than one out of every 110 humans living today — are displaced throughout the world.
We are wrong to altogether abdicate this shared responsibility. Instead of putting our shoulder to the wheel, we have left much poorer nations to carry the great burden: By mid-2016, Turkey sheltered 2.8 million refugees, followed by Pakistan (1.6 million); Lebanon (1 million); Iran (978,000); Ethiopia (742,700); Jordan (691,800); Kenya (523,500); Uganda (512,600); Germany (478,600); and Chad (386,100). We are wrong to abandon thousands in their hours of direst need and wrong to create a ripple effect that will incapacitate those agencies working with former refugees now settled in our country.
We are wrong to create a hole that will deplete our natural American strength, forgetting that, in the end, refugees and immigrants give more than they take. As Reagan said in the same speech quoted above: “Our nation is a nation of immigrants. More than any other country, our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.” We still have that capacity; there is still room in our “inn.”
We are wrong to abandon this heritage and these people because of fears originating in inaccuracies and half-truths. Refugees are fleeing danger and violence, not promoting it. More than half of the refugees are children and another one-fourth are women; most are in family groups; refugees go through the most stringent vetting process for any method of entering our country. We must not let fear override compassion and blind us to the true nature of the majority of the world's refugee population. In the words of one religious leader in regards to displaced persons: “This moment (of global crisis) does not define them, but our response will help define us.”
We need not be wrong in defining who these displaced persons really are. Their stories are readily available; the beautiful "Let Me Tell You My Story," to be released Oct. 1, captures stories that are “haunting, utterly magnificent and profoundly human.” We can start there to find reminders of the humanity of those tired, poor, huddled and tempest-tost masses.
So I will pray for displaced persons. The ones who are in my neighborhood and the ones who hunch in tents half the world away. But I will not only pray, I will act. I will continue to speak out in my world history lectures and in the firesides I am invited to give. I will continue to support — financially and emotionally —r efugee families in my area. And I will continue to write and to call Senator Hatch and Sen. Lee and Rep. Curtis, who have the responsibility to consult the president as he sets an annual target for refugee admissions; by law, this ceiling shall be “justified by humanitarian concern or otherwise in national interest.”
Thirty thousand meets neither of those criteria.