June 20th marks Refugee Day – the 18th time the United Nations-designated day has been observed. This year’s celebration comes as a record number of people are forcibly displaced around the world – 42,500 people a day are forced to flee their homes because of conflict & persecution. World Refugee Day is dedicated to both remembering the struggles that refugees face while fleeing violence and to celebrating their invaluable contributions to the societies of which they become a part.
This year’s celebration feels particularly poignant, as the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program continue and the crisis at our Southern Border continues to worsen. Families are being separated and loved ones are having to wait long periods of time to find shelter and safety.
On World Refugee Day, I reflect on how my faith has taught and called me to welcome the stranger, stand with the vulnerable, and love my neighbor. Now, as a father, pastor, and co-founder of Canopy Northwest Arkansas, an organization helping to resettle refugees in our area, I am proud to demonstrate these values in my daily life and weekly sermons at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. But it is also because of those values that I am deeply disturbed by recent anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiment espoused by some of our lawmakers. It sends an unwelcoming and mean-spirited message of exclusion to refugee families fleeing violence and persecution.
In January of 2016, Canopy Northwest Arkansas was founded in the Fellowship Hall of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. There were over 50 of us at that first meeting and most of us had never encountered each other before. We came from a variety of nearby town and diverse faith backgrounds. Despite our differences, we all instantly connected as we went around the room and shared our hearts for this matter. While we might not have had much else in common, it was clear we were all united on one thing: we wanted to provide refugees with a good, safe home here in Northwest Arkansas.
As Members of Congress celebrate refugees and immigrants for World Refugee Day and Immigrant Heritage Month, I hope they take time to reflect on how the United States – and Northwest Arkansas in particular – can continue to be a welcoming community for refugees and immigrants.
World Refugee Day reminds us that our community is home to many refugees waiting to be reunited with family members who remain overseas. We must not close the door on those most in need by dismantling the refugee resettlement program. Congress should hold the administration accountable to ensure we resettle at least the 30,000 refugees we promised to welcome this year and commit to resettling at least 75,000 refugees next year.
Refugees are mothers, fathers, and children. They are doctors, teachers, lawyers, business owners, craftsmen, and musicians. As the world searches for solutions to the largest displacement crisis in history, with more than 25 million refugees worldwide, we have a moral and legal obligation to refugees seeking a chance to rebuild their lives and create a better future for their families. These refugees, now our neighbors and friends,, are no different than our Biblical ancestors who were once refugees who found welcome and were called to do the same.