Do y’all even know any Syrians?

Personal reflection from NIJFON’s Supervisory Attorney, Jennifer Ansay:

Syrian children peace sign
This image was originally posted to Flickr by Trocaire at License: CC BY 2.0

I do. I know 9. Not a whole lot, I admit, but the ones I do know, I know really well. Really, really well. Probably better than most of their families or closest friends know them. Because of the nature of our relationships, I need to know about their lives in a very detailed way. Having to get the kind of information from them that I need, I sort of develop a close relationship out of necessity. Out of the 9 Syrians I know, I can say without any reservation that they are all exactly the kinds of people we want and need to have in the United States.

The first Syrian person I met, and the one I know the best, is …

One of the strongest women I know.

She survived some of the most horrific domestic violence I have ever heard of (and I have heard of a lot). She opposes the human rights violations occurring constantly in Syria, at the hands of the government, the opposition, and terrorist groups, and she believes in peacefully opposing all of that mess. She is the mother to 3 amazing daughters, she is really funny, and she is an amazing cook. Shoot, even the asylum officer conducting her interview told me, off the record, after the interview, that she liked this woman’s style. Her ASYLUM officer.

Her girls are amazing.

After their mom’s asylum interview, we all went out to lunch together. One of them styled my hair. It was a disaster, and I looked like a fool for a little while in that restaurant, but it was totally worth it for the sheer look of joy on her face as she was doing it. They love my cats. They have never actually met them, but they love the pictures I send. The oldest one even changed her mom’s WhatsApp profile photo to a photo of Ned. The youngest has bright orange hair, and she wants an orange cat to match.

Another Syrian person I know is an engineering student.

He’s sort of a quiet, techy kid. He’s really smart. And really sweet. Like many people in Syria, he opposes al-Assad’s regime. So, even though he has lawful status in the U.S., and even though he planned to go back to Syria (which was once a really, really beautiful place I hear) when he was done studying, he can’t. Because he spoke out against the Syrian government on Facebook, which is something I see many people do in the United States on a daily basis. And since he started doing that in 2011, the situation in Syria has only gotten (and continues to get) worse day by day.

The sixth Syrian I know is a doctor.

He also opposes al-Assad, and he has also made this known on Facebook. Like the engineering student, he also has permission to be in the United States, though only temporarily. But, as the situation gets worse in Syria, he realizes that he can’t go back, so he needs something more permanent. He can’t go back both because he spoke out against the government (again, a right we take for granted in the U.S.) and also because he is a doctor. The government of al-Assad targets DOCTORS so that they can’t help the wounded.

The final Syrians I know are a family …

Syria Flag… who just happen to be from a town stuck right in the middle of where the Free Syrian Army, ISIL/DAESH, and al-Assad’s forces are exchanging some very scary bombs and attacks. Two of them came here long ago, before the current civil war started, and they are already citizens. Their sister/sister-in-law has recently arrived in the U.S. … and I know you’ve all already seen something like this written on Facebook … she is running from the same people who recently terrorized Paris.

It can’t be an accident that all 9 of these Syrians who I know personally represent exactly the kind of people that the U.S. should be welcoming.

They are all lovely people. They are all Muslims.

They are not terrorists.

Governor Rauner and the other governors banning Syrian refugees from their states are wrong for this. It is racism and xenophobia; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is also contrary to U.S. refugee law. Refugees have already been vetted with comprehensive background checks and have lawful status prior to setting foot on U.S. soil. Let these governors know this. In Illinois, call 217-782-0244 or 312-814-2121. If you live in another state (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming), look up how to contact your governor’s office to tell him, or let me know, and I can help you.

If you want to get involved in other ways, contact NIJFON. We can help you out with that, too.

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