Semi-hostile, Slightly-Fantastic Interview with myself about the election and implications for refugee resettlement, Evangelical Christians, and Beautiful Day.
Keith: So let’s have it. What’s going to happen?
Keith: And you think I have a palantir?
K: Actually, a palantir doesn’t really see the future. It’s more like an early Elvish prototype of Twitter, but without the fake news. Although, I suppose Saruman...
K: Okay. Stop it. The truth is I don’t know. Nobody knows.
K: But what’s your best guess. Prognosticate.
K: My best guess is that on January 21, President Trump will issue an order to stop or pause parts of the US refugee resettlement program. No more Syrian arrivals. Possibly fewer from camps and countries that are majority Muslim. I’ve heard a few people wonder if the entire resettlement program could be paused. My own view is that the new administration will put a moratorium on Syrians, Somalis, and maybe designate certain countries or camps as off-limits. It’s kind of bleak.
K: What’s the rush? Can he do this?
K: From what I understand, absolutely, yes. He can't change the Refugee Act of 1980, but that law allows the president broad powers to determine or change the ceiling on the number of refugees that can legally be resettled in a given year. (Currently set by President Obama at 110K for 2017 with Syrians undesignated but expected to be about 30K. This is an increase over 2016 arrivals, which are projected at 85K including around 14K Syrians.)
K: But why?
K: Okay this is my own logic, but Trump won the election in part because of a tough-on-immigration platform. There’s an assumption that immigration correlates with American job loss, especially...
K: And you're telling me…
K: Hold on, let me finish—but yes, I think it’s primarily directed at the undocumented. The whole call and response thing about building the wall had a rage underneath it. I’ll believe a wall is realistic when I see it. Almost everything else to be done about immigration won’t be easy or cheap or quick.
K: Um, Okay?
K: In other words, stopping refugee resettlement is the easiest alternative. Refugees are easy to stop. They aren’t here yet. They are nameless, faceless, voiceless statistics hidden in camps on the other side of the world. They’ve got the fewest resources, the greatest deficits. They’re the easy targets when you need to satisfy a crowd and actually save money in the process. Plus, ever since the Paris bombings, there’s been a vocal group of activists who’ve deliberately channeled fear of terrorism into a fear of Syrians. Some governors made an issue about refusing them. Which means refugee resettlement is in a vulnerable place. I don’t think there would be much of an outcry if the program got scrapped. Not this year. Not from Republicans. To be effective, an outcry has to come from Republicans.
K: Yes, yes. Beating a dead horse. Something changed with this election cycle this time around. Resettlement has always a bi-partisan, humanitarian issue. This cycle it turned into Democratic one...
K: It’s the downside of a two party system. One team wins, one team loses. Winner take all. If something is your issue, then I’m against it. If the candidate I voted is for something, then I guess I must be for it as well, right?
K: I shouldn't get you started.
K: If it were WWF, it would be funny. But these are people’s lives.
K: What about Christians?
K: Historically, it has been Jews and Christians who have championed resettlement in the US. They’ve paid many of the bills. They’ve gotten personally involved. Most of the national resettlement agencies have denominational connections with access to generous volunteers and local churches to make the whole system work. But this year with, apparently, 80% of white Evangelicals supporting Trump, and resettlement branded as a “liberal" concern, I’m worried. The path of least resistance in a binary system is to assent to an entire platform. Plus, I think a lot of Christians who voted for Trump would prefer to stay under the radar right now, if only because of the "locker room” talk. They’ve heard Trump say he doesn’t need forgiveness. We Christians don’t especially enjoy it when our non-Christian friends start giving us grief for our moral choices.
K: But aren’t you an Evangelical? I’ll give you a little grief. Plus, I’ve heard people say Trump’s a baby Christian. He needs time to grow into faith.
K: Evangelicals need a Stephen Colbert to handle that one. I am a practicing Christian who directs a secular organization. We’re proud to have both liberal and conservative partners of all faiths and lack thereof who care about welcoming refugees equipping them for jobs and building relationships with them. But this time I do feel kind of obligated to say something, specifically as a Christian...
K: Preach it.
K: Sisters and brothers. Vote for who you like. I understand voting pro-life. I understand the oppressive nature of welfare. I was once a Republican. But our Jewish and Christian scriptures make this clear: welcoming the widow, the orphan, the alien, the stranger is an essential part of our worship. How does being pro-life rationalize blindness to those struggling to live? Isn’t a repudiation of refugees a repudiation of Jesus? God help us if Evangelical Christians end up Evangelical, but not Christian, blindly following. I took a senior seminar on the Crusades in college. At one point, an army (really amob) followed a goose because they believed it was inspired by the Holy Ghost. That ended badly for both mob and goose.
K: Is there something you think Christians should do now?
K: Yes, speak up. Personally and publicly. And before January 20. Contact your representatives. Locally and nationally. Let them know that you support refugee resettlement. And then get personally involved so you know what you’re talking about.
K: Even if you voted for Trump.
K: Especially if you voted for Trump. The fear-mongers have already set the terms. Saying nothing has become a vote against refugee resettlement.
K: Okay breathe. We’re almost done. Four more questions on implications. First resettlement agencies.
K: They’re fragile and under resourced. People who work for them work for love rather than money. When a resettlement program contracts it forces their best staff into other higher-paying jobs. That’s usually a one-way ticket.
K: And the world’s 65 million (and growing) displaced?
K: Resettlement programs through the United Nations aren’t just the right thing to do, but one of the best strategic investments in world peace at a bargain price. Shrinking refugee resettlement means shrinking hope. The world’s most vulnerable people are currently getting warehoused in unsafe, isolated camps in some of the word’s poorest countries for years on end without hope. With policies in place that keep making more refugees. That's a recipe for despair, radicalization, and occasional wild disruptions of desperation.
K: Like an Obscurial?
K: Exactly. Everyone should go see Fantastic Beasts. Our own lives tell us that the human spirit isn’t made to suppress our gifts and acquiesce to life without hope. We too are fantastic humans.
K: Our country
K: Unlike places in Europe, we’re in such a great position to be making a deep investment in experimenting and trying out strategies for job development and integration. Now is the ideal time to experiment and learn. There’s no crisis yet. We're in a grace period. We should be putting money into experimental social ventures like Providence Granola if only to enrich the learning process. Plus refugee resettlement is beautiful work. Everyone who takes the risk to get involved loves it. Unfortunately we seem tempted to stoke fear, run from difference, and squander our opportunity.
K: And Beautiful Day.
K: For a while I was prognosticating that we might shut down. I’m sure some agencies will. But I've always been the kind of person that likes to work myself out of my current job.
K: And then move into the job that nobody else wants.
K: Was that sarcasm? If fewer refugees come, then we’ll obviously work with fewer people. We spent our entire last board meeting talking about this. Most likely we’ll take on trainees who have been here longer with greater obstacles and stick with them until they succeed. That’s actually attractive. But the job nobody seems to want right now is to get in between and connect people with the greatest differences. Or maybe they want it but can’t figure out how to pay for it. Our model is to use a simple delicious consumer product to make introductions. I’ve actually started dreaming about hiring a refugee woman I know who is a fantastic storyteller and relationship builder. I’d love to partner with her and move Beautiful Day further into the role of promoting deeper understanding and better relationships: rich and poor, Christian and Muslim, illiterate and literate, hopeful and afraid.
K: Great. You'll have to raise more money.
K: Sure. And sell more granola. And build more partnerships. We’ll work it out. We’ve got a fantastic team of people behind us and important work to do.