Trump Policies Front and Center at Immigration Roundtable Hosted by MIRA

As the federal government looks to admit fewer refugees than ever in the country’s history, the Massachusetts Immigrant & Action Coalition (MIRA) hosted a roundtable discussion on the topic on Monday, Feb. 5.
The discussion was part of a national movement known as We Are All America, which works to build more inclusive communities while taking aim at anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies, according to its website.
Representatives from the ACLU of Massachusetts, Catholic Charities Boston and Sen. Ed Markey participated in the roundtable discussion as well as Boston resident and refugee Sura Al Azzawi.
“We are here as part of a national campaign,” said MIRA Executive Director Eva Millona. “The focus is on refugees and where we are in terms of what’s happening with refugees across the country.”
The Trump administration announced that it would be accepting 45,000 refugees for the fiscal year of 2018, which spans from October 2017 to September 2018.
Fiscal year 2016’s cap was set at 85,000 refugees and was increased to 110,000 refugees the following fiscal year under President Obama.
Al Azzawi spoke to what being a refugee in Boston has meant to her and what it could mean to others who are seeking to enter the U.S. from places like Turkey, the country where she sat in limbo after fleeing Syria, where she had gone to escape the war in Iraq.
Life in Turkey is tough for refugees, as they aren’t allowed to work, and are stigmatized for their refugee status.
“Trying to describe what other people are feeling there, it’s really frustrating,” she said. “They are not having the chance to get to the United States or any other country where they want to start a new life … maybe just trying to find a way to achieve their education, their dreams. They may have goals, they have other families in other countries.”
Al Azzawi arrived in Boston from Turkey after living as a refugee in Syria when her family fled their home country of Iraq in 2007 because of the war. She is here with her brother but without her parents or older sibling.
“I have also my older brother. He’s in Turkey and he applied for a migration program, but they just told him he is un-eligible to get to the United States or anywhere,” she said. “And I was lucky that I was sponsored by the International Institute of New England.”
Those in the roundtable discussion spoke to the desire of accepting more refugees and how the Trump administration’s policies are separating families rather than keeping them together.
Markey said he and his Democratic colleagues are trying to work with moderate Republicans on a variety of immigration issues, including securing protections for DACA recipients.
“It’s not unlike the context in which we’re debating DACA, where we’re trying to reach across the aisle to moderate Republicans, and it’s not without some success,” Markey said. “But it’s going to be real struggle. There’s a nativist part of this Republican party, which is dominant right now.”
Other participants spoke to the damage that this administration’s policies have created and how resettlement agencies have shifted their roles from resettlement to advocacy and education in their communities.
Lisa Ann Brennan, program director of Ascentria Services for New Americans in Worcester, said her agency has gone from resettling 276 refugees in 2016 to just four since October, even as refugees continue to flee war and oppression in numbers not seen since World War II.
This isn’t new territory for the United States, which turned away European Jews fleeing the Holocaust.
“As much as we are devastated by the impact on our program and our staffing, we’re devastated for the families for whom their dreams are now in shatters essentially.” Brennan said. “The national tone and the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee policies that we’re seeing and fighting ever day on the ground – at least from our perspective, working with the refugee families – does not serve to protect our nation; it serves to fracture families and we find that really unacceptable.”
Those participating in the roundtable discussion made a commitment to continue the conversation in six months, but to also focus on getting the Trump administration to stick to its 45,000 refugee cap while furthering the narrative of refugees being an asset to the country, rather than a burden.
Markey also said he would pressure the administration to at least stick to the refugee cap it has agreed to.
“My hope is that if we can come together on the dreamers, and that’s still uncertain, that perhaps it could create the basis for a better understanding as to what the Trump administration should be doing in admitting refugees as well,” Markey said. “So there’s a lot of fight that is going to have to go on. There’s a lot of organizing that is going to have to happen if we are going to be successful in raising this number of refugees at a level that matches the responsibility that the United States has.”

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism.