A statement from our CEO:
Before the tragic act of extremism we witnessed in El Paso this weekend, that very Saturday was designated by those of us in the resettlement community as national Rise for Refuge Day—a day when supporters of the world’s most vulnerable people rallied peacefully in opposition to the potential zeroing out the U.S. national resettlement program.
Instead of rising, however, 22 of our brothers and sisters fell in the mass shooting in El Paso, perpetrated as a direct result of hate, fear, and xenophobia.
And, rather than rise together as a nation as we so often have in response, our communities remain more divided than ever on issues ranging from immigration to gun control. Acts of terror like this one cause us to doubt, withdraw, even fan the flames of hostility.
Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, one common cause unites us: We want our great nation to thrive, and we want acts of terror to end. No matter what, we agree on these points, and in all likelihood, we agree on many other issues even if we arrive at those conclusions differently.
If we’re serious about ending violence like this, our next step forward must be made together. The days of stark division must end. We don’t have to agree on all issues, but we must practice understanding and show a human face to one another regardless of what we look like, where we are from, or what we believe.
This message of unity is urgent. Our children and teens are being desensitized by race-related violence on the news, they go to schools armed with metal detectors, their playtime is interrupted by terrorist drills. Valuable political debate is wasted on mud-slinging, and too often immigration is the mud. Those in our community with brown skin, immigrant or not, must be alert at all times because many of our family members and friends, and even ourselves, have already experienced discrimination.
Residents of our country can disagree on many issues and yet still engage in respectful discussion to better understand one another. My call is to do just that—listen.
Listen to a refugee share his story. Listen to an asylum seeker explain why she fled. Listen to a trafficking survivor tell her story of victimization. Understand, do research, educate, and then, by all means, engage. We may end up on different pages, but we will be part of the same ongoing saga of humans making social and moral progress. Because we rise and fall together, and we fell with the 22 in El Paso.
It is not nearly enough for me, or Refugee Services of Texas, to condemn the loss of life in our own state. We must rise to meet hate with love and ignorance with knowledge, and in the end, our children will learn from us and carry on the work of standing up to hate and terror with unity and resolve.
Russell A. Smith, LMSW, CEO of Refugee Services of Texas.