Why Arkansans can’t ignore the Syrian refugees

Dear Gov. Hutchinson,
Thank you for the guidance you provide our state. Thank you for the time, effort, and resources you pour into making what you believe is a better Arkansas for us and our children. I can’t imagine the stress and frustration that meets you daily at your doorstep, and I am grateful for your service.

I believe you take seriously your promise to keep Arkansas and Arkansans safe. I love Arkansas, and it is a place I want to raise my future children. I love the kind, good-hearted people, the beautiful mountains, and the southern hospitality. But I am greatly saddened by your decision to refuse resettling Syrian refugees with us. I think you have made the wrong choice in casting the refugees in a suspicious light.

Yes, we must protect our children, our neighbors, and our families. It is our God-given privilege and duty.  Thank you for recognizing that.

But who are we protecting them from? It’s not the terrorists. ISIS strongly condemns the refugees and the nations that accept them. It wants us to reject the refugees. It wants us to fear them, and if we give into their goals, what does that make us? There has been no definite proof that an ISIS agent entered Europe pretending to be a refugee. In fact, refugee resettlement is the least likely route for a terrorist because no one goes under such levels of scrutiny as refugees or asylees.

The United States has the largest resettlement program in the world, and I am proud of our history of opening doors, of welcoming the “tired, [the] poor, [the] huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” There are almost 5 million people whose homes have been shelled, who saw their neighbors bleed to death in front of them, who heard the screams of their daughters as ISIS savaged them who hid their boys in shadows and closets so ISIS or Assad would not take them, who told their children that “everything would be all right” when they knew it was a lie, who decided that braving winter storms in a life raft was safer than spending one more day in the only home they’d ever known. These people are exactly like you and me. Exactly.

We are human beings. We also have the privilege and duty to care for each other. We are frightened, just like the Syrians. But we also have the capacity for great courage, for tenacity that defies all savagery, for compassion that fights against violence. In such a time as this, we have a great opportunity to show our best selves. We can choose love and compassion or we can choose fear and hate. The very people we want to protect the most–our children and our other loved ones–are watching us.

And if you truly believe resettling refugees here is too dangerous or economically unfeasible, then what will you do instead? What will our state do? I urge you to either reverse your decision on resettlement or pour all of Arkansas’ great capacity for hospitality and empathy into another way to support these people. Call up food drives, donations and fund pledges, spread awareness, support scholarships for volunteers that want to go to the camps and help. Lead us to do something. Because if we do nothing we have chosen the oppressor over the innocent.

I want my children to live in a state where love conquers fear and logic triumphs over propaganda. I want to be proud to call Arkansas my home. I want my children and grandchildren to know that when others feared and drew back, Arkansans opened their arms and gladly gave what they could. Let us be the Samaritans rather than the rabbi that pulled away. You’re right–it’s true that Europe and Africa are better suited geographically to take care of the refugees. But if they don’t take them, what will we do? Allow them to suffer and die because it’s not our problem? Or will we make it our problem and find a solution? We can’t ignore the Syrian refugees because denying their humanity strips us of our own.

I want a better world. I want a world where, if I am murdered and my toddler found drowned on a foreign beach, people will be angry enough that they will rescue my neighbor’s children from the same fate. And the only way to create that type of world is to be the angry person that says, “Enough.”

Please, Gov. Hutchinson, lead Arkansas in saying, “Enough.”

 

Original press release (11/16/15) from the governor’s office below

“As governor, I oppose any facility or installation in Arkansas being used as a Syrian refugee center.   Many of the Syrian refugees are fleeing violence in their own country but Europe, Asia or Africa are logically the best places for resettlement or for temporary asylum.  Syria is a war torn country and the United States will support our European friends in fighting ISIL in Syria and elsewhere; however, this is not the right strategy for the United States to become a permanent place of relocation.  Again, I will oppose Arkansas being used as such a relocation center.

“The hardships facing these refugees and their families are beyond most of our understanding, and my thoughts and prayers are with them, but I will not support a policy that is not the best solution and that poses risk to Arkansans”

 

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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