If we thought that 2015 was a bad year for immigrants living in North Carolina and elsewhere in the U.S., the start of 2016 has not fared much better. Those seeking refuge from persecution, arguably the most vulnerable types of people coming to our country, continue to be scapegoated as threats of terrorism by local elected officials; most recently Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews. Additionally, the Obama administration announced a series of raids to start the new year targeting Central American families who entered the U.S. during the recent surge escaping dire violence in their home countries.
The raids, whether targeted or not, instill fear in the minds of immigrants living in the U.S. even if documented. There are thousands of immigrants in NC who live in mixed-status families or who have U.S. citizen children and spouses. Living with the constant fear of losing a parent, a spouse, or a loved one is extraordinarily difficult. Children have to attend school with the looming concern that when they get home, their parent may be gone.
Somehow, the political discourse inappropriately distinguished the deservingness of Syrian refugees from those coming from Central America. On one hand, the administration announced that the U.S. would take 10,000 Syrian refugees due to the dangerous conditions in Syria despite the protest of state elected officials, including Gov. Pat McCrory . Yet, the recent raids are reportedly targeting individuals who sought to escape grave danger in Central America. There is a reason why San Pedro Sula in Honduras, for example, has been named the murder capital of the world. This dichotomy is inexplicable and should lead policy makers to a serious discussion on how our country treats refugees. While the international community and these countries learn how to address their spiraling violence, the U.S. needs a system that affords due process and fair shot at asylum for those who seek refuge within our borders.
The concerns voiced by people like Sheriff Andrews are both unnecessary and unfounded. Yet, as wrong as these statements are, they have guided the political discourse both at the local and federal level in a pivotal electoral campaign season. We cannot let individuals escaping deadly violence and grave threats in their home countries become a proverbial political punching bag. Instead, we, as a country, must understand that the parents and children the Obama administration is deporting are the embodiment of the huddled masses yearning to be free.