This event recap is reposted from TIARI’s website at www.tiari.org. It offers brief stories of four families impacted by immigration policies related to separated families, which were shared at a joint event hosted by CWS Durham and TIARI.
Last week, over 100 people from many different faith traditions and backgrounds came together on one evening to hear the heart-wrenching stories of four people struggling to reunite their families in the face of hostile US government policies. We were Unitarian, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Presbyterian, and more; and native born citizens, naturalized citizens, undocumented immigrants, DACA recipients, and refugees.
We listened as they told of us of their struggles, and we leaned together as they wept. We learned how US immigration policies both actively separate families, including those of American citizens, and seek to prevent families from reuniting. This isn’t new, but for many of us, we’re only recently becoming aware of the inhumanity of these policies.
We heard from Mariam, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was separated from her children over 17 years ago. While she endured unimaginable horrors, she believed her two children were dead. Imagine her joy at finding out last year that they are alive in refugee camps in Kenya. But immigration policies of our country, the somewhat mythical “land of immigrants,” prevent them from being reunited anytime soon.
One factor affecting Mariam’s family is the extremely low number of refugees being admitted to the US. Every year, the president sets a ceiling on the maximum number of refugees to be allowed to enter the country – this number is called the Presidential Determination or Refugee Ceiling. Last year, during the world’s worst refugee crisis, our president cut that number to the smallest it has been in the history of the refugee program. His administration has slowed down processing refugees so we are on track to admit fewer than half of the already historic low. Right now, the administration is preparing the Presidential Determination for the upcoming fiscal year. Reports indicate consideration to lower it further.
We can raise our voices to help families like Mariam’s reunite. North Carolina’s Senator Thom Tillissits on the Judiciary Committee which must consult with the president in setting the “presidential determination” for the upcoming fiscal year. Our elected officials need to hear from us that the PD should be back at 75,000 refugees; and the administration should actively be working to admit that many refugees.
We heard from Corey, who was born to a family that has lived in this country for generations, and whose husband was stolen away from her. A good man who suffers from alcoholism made a big mistake. He served time and paid his debt to society for driving under the influence. But for immigration purposes, that punishment was not enough – instead of being set free after completing his sentence, he was picked up by ICE and taken to a facility in Georgia where he endured horrific conditions and abuse. Rather than be deported, which would have made it difficult to return to his wife in the short term, he voluntarily departed the US. But after returning to the dangers in his home country, he and Corey learned that even as the spouse of an American Citizen, he would not be able to return. The immigration policies of our country make it impossible. Our elected officials need to hear from us that immigration policies should not make it impossible for families to be together in America.
We heard from Carla, who has lived most of her life in North Carolina; who is smart, determined and works incredibly hard. By hard work and some support from a scholarship, Carla made it through college not knowing whether she would be allowed to work here. Fortunately, thanks to the DACA program, her education has been able to be put to use and she is a contributing member of our society. Yet Carla cannot leave the country to visit family in Peru. Our elected officials need to hear from us that DACA must continue until there is a permanent program for Dreamers and that they should be able to leave the country confident that they can come home to the US.
We heard Daniel and Julia. Daniel, a US Citizen, born in North Carolina, is deprived of the company and support of his father, and Julia that of her husband, Samuel. For the past eight months, Samuel has taken refuge, away from home, family and work, in a Durham church. Without protective sanctuary, he would have to leave the country without hope of being with his wife who suffers a serious medical condition or his American son. Our elected officials need to hear from us that Daniel deserves to have his father at home, that he needs the support of both his parents as he heads off to college and to becoming a contributing citizen in our country.
Together, we wrote over 100 messages, now sent, to NC’s Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, to our local Congressional Representatives, David Price and GK Butterfield, and to President Trump. May our voices be heard now and forever.
What can you do to help? Here are seven things that you can do today to address family separation!