Being American on World Refugee Day

If you are a patriotic American, as I am, you agree that America is a unique country who plays an important role as an example to the world for our democracy, free press and “melting pot” populace. All of these assets benefit from our long history of welcoming and integrating refugees. “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” was commissioned in 1876 to commemorate the centennial of US Declaration of Independence and on the heels of the Union prevailing in the Civil War- the statue was to honor America’s ideals of democracy and freedom and became the iconic symbol of hope to the 12 million immigrants who passed through Ellis Island, New York from 1892 and 1954. Before that, in the 1840’s, 2 million Irish refugees braved the sea passage to wash up on American shores and try to build a better life — those millions of immigrants and refugees are likely part of your heritage, like they are mine, White America.

Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World. Photo Credit: Refugee Daughter & Entrepreneur Manon DeFelice

Right now, the proud, defining American history of welcoming new people who invigorate our cities, towns and farms is at risk. Today, on World Refugee Day, there are two key ways that our government is closing our doors to refugees.

One is the devastating and immoral policy of separating children from their parents. This is an active choice by our President and his administration — it is completely avoidable and is simply cruel, racist and stupid. Cruel and racist are self-explanatory. Stupid because our centuries-long history of being a beacon for what freedom, democracy and hope mean as a nation is absolutely damaged. Our moral high ground against legitimate enemies is cut down at the knees. I observed directly how true American patriots are trying to fight back —my dear, brave San Diego friends took in Congolese refugee mother “Ms. L” to their home in the final days before she was finally reunified with her 7 year daughter. Ms. L traveled here seeking asylum and was separated from her child and incarcerated. The Administration helped clarify its own stupidity on this one: DHS Secretary Nielsen admitted the 4 month separation of mother and child was “a mistake”. (To support the lawyers who helped reunited mother and daughter, check out this GoFundMe campaign.)

But stupid doesn’t end there. The Trump administration has put forward an anti-immigrant, anti-refugee nominee, Ronald Mortensen, as Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Migration, and Refugees (PRM). PRM is one of the most important bureaus in the State Department, and it’s Assistant Secretary in many ways functions as America’s top humanitarian diplomat. Mortensen has written off whole groups of people as criminals and terrorists and dismissed entire faith communities for showing compassion to immigrants. We need someone who will have credibility when asking other states to welcome refugees. It is stupid to suggest we can fund refugees abroad while slamming the doors on them here at home. The US has accepted just over 14,000 refugees this year so far. The administration set the refugee admissions goal for Fiscal Year 2018 at 45,000 — the lowest level in U.S. history (and since the program began in 1975). Since the program’s inception, the United States has set an average refugee admissions goal of 95,000 refugees. 99.9% of the world’s over 22.5 million refugees in the world today are hosted elsewhere, 86% by developing nations. If the US does not do more to meet its fair share, how can we ask other countries to do theirs or keep our moral global leadership?

So, to be an informed, patriotic American today — World Refugee Day — I’m joining my friends at Oxfam America and asking that Senators vote no on the Mortensen nomination and that Representatives put out a statement of concern on his nomination. Please call your senators right now to tell them to block the Mortensen nomination and uphold the American legacy of compassion for people seeking safe haven.

Dial 1–866–374–0409 and Oxfam will connect you to your senators’ offices automatically.


Co-Founder, Military Family Building Coalition. Mom of 3 Miracles. Author, "We the Eaters". Co-Founder, FEED. Sister on the Planet Ambassador, Oxfam.