Today is World Refugee Day, a day to show that the world supports and stands with refugees.
Why am I writing about this on my plant-based blog? Because I came to this country as a refugee, and it is very much a part of who I am today. My mother and I came to the United States when I was 4 years old. We are Baha’i, and we received asylum based on the religious persecution of Baha’is in Iran. Since the Iranian revolution, Baha’is in Iran have been arrested, executed, discriminated against, and denied basic civil rights. My grandfather was executed by the Iranian government in March 1985 for being a Baha’i.
I am so grateful that I was was granted asylum and permitted to live in this country. My mother, a single parent, worked incredibly hard, often working more than one job, to pay our bills and make ends meet. She is incredibly selfless and always put me first. We were poor, but I had the opportunity to study, go to college and then law school. I have been a practicing attorney the last 13 years. I have a house, 3 kids, and a dog; a little piece of the American dream.
Unfortunately, recent U.S. policies have shown little support for refugees. So much of the rhetoric has portrayed immigrants and refugees either as lazy and a social burden or as dangerous gang members and a threat to society.
The “zero tolerance” family separation policy allowed for separating children (even babies) from their families. An audio recording revealed distraught children crying for their parents.
While the policy officially ended in summer 2018, children continue to be removed from their families if Border Patrol agents deem the parents unfit. The U.S. government has separated at least 1,100 children from their parents since the summer of 2018, but there has been little media coverage.* People may think the family separations are over, but they are not.
Furthermore, there are recently proposed restrictions to the country’s asylum system that would make it more difficult, if not impossible, for people to seek asylum based on certain forms of persecution, including gender-based violence.
I have done several pro bono asylum cases, and I know that in Central America, gender-based violence is prevalent. It is the primary factor causing women and girls to migrate from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Women are subject to domestic violence, rape, and even femicide. “Femicide is perpetuated by deep-rooted social and systematic factors: a widespread machismo culture that favors men over women; low degrees of institutional capacity due to corruption; and high degrees of impunity—an exemption from punishment and the failure for perpetrators to be brought to justice.”** Honduras is deemed by the United Nations to have the highest femicide rate in the world.
Reading, seeing, and hearing what is happening to people seeking asylum at the border is heart wrenching. We are all deserving of a life free from violence. And this is not a Republican versus Democrat political issue. I came to this country in 1984 when Ronald Reagan, a Republican, was president. I was not subject to family separation. I was not banned because I was Iranian. We did not have rules implemented to make granting asylum nearly impossible.
Moreover, the crisis in Yemen continues with 24 million people starving. It is the world’s worst famine in 100 years, and it is caused by war. The images of starving women and children are unconscionable. These should be war crimes. What are world leaders doing? Where is the humanitarian aid? And where is the media coverage?
So as I reflected on what I can do to show that I stand with and support refugees, I donated to organizations working to help refugees and children (Tahirih Justice Center, a non-profit organization helping women and girls fleeing gender-based violence, and the International Rescue Committee), and I decided to write this post in case others had no idea family separations continue (I had no idea) or of the new proposed regulations on the asylum system or of the horrific conditions in Yemen. And, of course, I cannot wait to vote!
I believe in protecting people, despite our borders.
“It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.Baha’u’llah
Happy World Refugee Day.
* See THE GOVERNMENT HAS TAKEN AT LEAST 1,100 CHILDREN FROM THEIR PARENTS SINCE FAMILY SEPARATIONS OFFICIALLY ENDED, December 9, 2019, https://theintercept.com/2019/12/09/family-separation-policy-lawsuit/
** See VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN DRIVING IMMIGRATION FROM THE NORTHERN TRIANGLE, November 8, 2018, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/violence-against-women-driving-migration-from-the-northern-triangle/