Rallying for Refugees
By Rachel Nusbaum, HIAS.org
Jan 26, 2017
As the politics around refugees and asylum seekers seem to get more charged by the day, it's heartening to see that Americans from coast to coast are showing loud and enthusiastic support for refugees.
During Donald Trump’s first week in office, concerned citizens from across the country wasted no time letting the incoming president know they expect the United States to continue to be a place that stands up for, protects and welcomes refugees.
“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!” chanted supporters at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, January 21. More than 60 people gathered with HIAS before the march. Signs and stickers declaring “Refugees Welcome” and “my people were refugees, too,” were visible throughout the sizable crowd.
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“The atmosphere of love and determination was evident everywhere. My faith in America was restored,” said Manny Lindenbaum, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor who escaped on the Kindertransport. Lindenbaum travelled from his home in New Jersey to attend Saturday's march.
“The real danger in any society is bystanders. We must speak out and be active,” Lindenbaum said. “We will not go along with having refugees denied a safe haven. We will not sit by while millions are deported. We will not sit by as our values and democracy are eroded.”
Manny’s wife, Annabel, pointed out how important it was that so many causes were represented, and how powerful it was to have refugee issues raised up as part of the sizable and multi-faceted march.
“How can we separate all the issues on that day? Women’s rights? Human rights? Ethical rights? Minority rights? Constitutional rights? Refugee rights? Democratic rights? One goes with the other and the determined crowd, of all ages and backgrounds, will fuse together to keep the values that, as Americans, we pride ourselves in,” she said.
At the alternative “refugee ball” held at the historic Sixth & I Synagogue in downtown Washington, on Tuesday, January 17, refugees and asylees shared both music and thoughts with more than 250 people. Asked to say a few words, HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield took a moment to reflect on past failures and present challenges. Standing in a synagogue built by refugees, he said:
“In 1921, people forgot that refugees were people to be welcomed, people who make this country great. Congress shut the doors, and thousands of people died who could have been saved. We can’t let that happen again and, whatever happens in the coming days and months and years, we can’t wait years to undo the damage. We need to remind people that welcoming refugees and immigrants is what made this country great.”
It’s been incredible to see supporters of refugees and asylum-seekers kick into high gear during the opening days of the new administration. But we can’t stop here. It’s going to take all of us, staying loud and engaged and relentless in our support, to ensure that America continues to live up to its best values by welcoming and protecting refugees.