“The news lately has been frustrating, infuriating, and now heart breaking. First there was the unprecedented and draconian drop in the refugee ceiling for this current year, continuing the retreat from our country’s values. This has been coupled with incendiary rhetoric that has conflated people seeking refuge with terrorists and invaders.
It should be of no surprise that unhinged individuals have seized on this rhetoric in this environment to perpetrate unthinkable violence, like the recent attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Two weeks ago, I had the honor of speaking at a local synagogue about Refugee Services of Texas, and our work “Welcoming the Stranger.” The experience was even more meaningful as I grew up in this synagogue. This is where I had my bar mitzvah, and this is where I was confirmed. In fact, I found the confirmation picture of my class on the wall behind the Sanctuary.
The gunman in Pittsburgh decried refugees, espoused vile anti-Semitic views, and blamed HIAS (a 137 year-old agency that helps re-settle displaced people), of bringing in “invaders to kill our people.” My great-grandmother helped her fellow Jews escape the pogroms (organized massacres of Jews) in Russia. She and her family were eventually forced to flee to the United States as refugees, ending up in Texas.
I don’t know if HIAS helped her, but I am proud to run a refugee resettlement agency that helps individuals from all over the world who have been displaced from their homes by war and violence. I am proud that my neighbors – Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and so many others – embrace these refugee families and help them start a new life here in America.
I remain optimistic that this is who we are as a people – neighbors from all backgrounds who at our core accept and embrace families who have experienced unimaginable hardships. I refuse to believe that we are a people of hateful rhetoric, deep divisions, and violence.
In my three months at RST, I have seen incredible compassion, met resilient individuals, and witnessed the life-changing experience of a traumatized family getting a second chance. They are not invaders, nor are they terrorists. I am proud to call them neighbor.”
-Russell Smith, CEO of Refugee Services of Texas
An Unaccompanied Child (UC) is defined as a child under 18 years of age who has no immigration status and has been separated from their biological parent. While there are UCs from all over the world, children from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have arrived at the Texas border with Mexico in record numbers in recent years. By law, the United States Health and Human Services department must provide for the custody and care of these children unless a sponsor can be found while they go through the immigration process. Less than 10% of UCs receives post release services.