Refugees, Both Foreign and Domestic

From Seth

As we make our way back home, we stopped in Utah for some outdoor exploring. The social justice part of our trip ended two days ago, so an opportunity for a short reflection on the of the trip.

While we originally just planned on the civil rights tour, we added on the Japanese internment camp, Holocaust museum, and Trail of Tears site to add diversity to our exploration of justice in America. There were sites along our already planned itinerary, which made things a bit easier. We know we couldn’t do everything, touch on every topic. One topic that looms large today is immigration and refugees, but we didn’t explore any sites related to this topic specifically.

It wasn’t far from our our consciousness, however. We listened to NPR daily in the car and kept up with the issue surrounding family separation and reunification following the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the border. Yohanna reflected on her experience in McAllen as she wrote about Viola Liuzzo, who was killed when she joined the Selma to Montgomery march. And we listened to Hamilton (a lot!) in which a recurring theme is the fact that Alexander Hamilton was an immigrant to the nascent United States.

We did, however, have one experience today, a last minute stop as we drove from Moab to Boise. In northern Utah we visited the Golden Spike National Historic Site, the location of the completion of the transcontinental railroad. It was noted that a major source of labor on the railroad was Chinese and Irish immigrants.

One thing earlier in the trip that did provide a new perspective on the issue is the framing that was provided on African American history at the Legacy Museum in Montgomery. In presenting the period after slavery and after Reconstruction when lynching became a dominant practice of white supremacists, the museum used the term “racial terrorism.” And in response to this racial terrorism, many African Americans fled from the South into the urban centers in the North. They were, in a sense, refugees fleeing oppression.

This was illuminating for me, something that was new to me yet made complete sense when I read it. Terrorism strikes in many ways, refugees flee for a variety of reasons. To associate these categories exclusive with one group is inaccurate and wrong, to make generalizations about a group is harmful and misleading.

In this case, whites were terrorizing African Americans with violence and death that went unchecked by law. African Americans felt they had no choice but to leave the homes they knew for somewhere new and potentially safer. As the museum related, this had a real impact on the makeup of the United States.

Jews have been on the other end of restrictive immigration policies and have been refugees as well. This was made clear in the Holocaust museum. That fact, along with our spiritual teaching of the Exodus and fleeing Egyptian slavery for the Promised Land, compels us to address issues of immigration.

We need to be welcoming to refugees, both foreign and domestic.

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