We’d like to offer a few thoughts on why there has been such a strong statement about this Executive Order. We are empathetic to people who consider this is an overreaction if they are under the impression that there, thus far, has been no vetting process in place, or that this process has been ineffective in its security measures. And we understand the sincere desire for safety in our country—we share in that deep desire.
Please understand many of the staff at The Spero Project know hundreds of resettled refugees personally. They are our friends, our neighbors (literally, not metaphorically), our kids’ best friends, the people who have brought us meals when our babies were born. So, we recognize that we’ve had years of time devoted to researching and experiencing first hand issues that affect refugees families, internationally and in Oklahoma. It feels important to say this because, while we are filled with emotion for our friends, we are also very mindful of policy, what it has been, and what this Executive Order means on the ground. We are not trying to take a personally defensive posture, sincerely. However, we would love for anyone who reads this to understand that we’ve studied and researched and advocated for many years. We may come to different conclusions, for sure, but we are confident our response is not driven solely by emotion.
These are not our comprehensive thoughts. Here is one idea for today:
We strongly support an extremely rigorous vetting process. We absolutely support this. That is why many of us are frustrated about a rhetoric that works to convince people this hasn’t been in place for a long time. Here is the link to an archived web page that shows the vetting process that’s been in place for decades. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/…/infographic-screenin…. It takes people many, many years to get through this vetting process and has since its inception. If the administration had decided to offer more resources to this existing program, bolstering it and supporting it, we would have been cheering them on. I don’t know anyone who advocates for refugees that wouldn’t.
As it stands now, this particular order has suspended refugees from every country of origin, and when and if it resumes, the total number of refugees being resettled to the U.S. will be decreased significantly. Christians refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma have been suspended. There were families—mothers and fathers, sons and daughters—ready to come to Oklahoma City after years and years of vetting, many of whom have gone 12-15 years without a safe home prior to this. This order also affects Special Immigrant Visa holders who risked their lives to aid U.S. troops in Iraq.
Further, because the vetting process has been so rigorous, the security clearance to travel after completing it is a limited window with a deadline. There is a substantial chance that a family who has been through the security process and was ready to begin resettlement will see an expired security clearance before the program’s suspension is lifted. The very real consequence of this is a family whose hope at a safe home could be gone forever.
When we hear the number of those we resettle will decrease, we can’t help but picture the faces of those thousands who will no longer come. When we hear that Syrian refugees are being banned indefinitely, we see their faces, too. We grieve with families when they hear the news that this suspension put their lives in limbo again.
We may very well come to different conclusions, ultimately. It is important to us, though, to talk about this intelligently and calmly. It is equally important to talk about this with the urgency it deserves because real lives are at stake.