The Power of Advocacy
By Isaac S. Flegel-Mishlove, Policy Intern
Apr 07, 2015
Interning with HIAS this Spring has been eye opening in many ways, but nothing has struck me more than the contrast between the extreme struggles refugees face around the world and the limited response to their plight here at home. For example, in Syria, the ongoing crisis has forced nearly 4 million people to flee their homes, yet the annual U.S. cap on refugee resettlement prevents us from extending a welcoming hand to many who have lost everything as they fled for their lives. The magnitude of the issue has left me wondering, “what can I do to help?”
In early March, I joined the HIAS Board of Directors for an advocacy training on Capitol Hill followed by meetings with several key Members of Congress.
Reminding me that the first step in meaningful advocacy is education, the day began with educational briefings on current hot issues and training on Congressional-level advocacy. We split up into small groups and headed to Congressional offices to talk with staffers about refugees, HIAS concerns, and to build relationships with members of Congress (who we hope will later look to HIAS when they need to consult with experts on refugee issues).
In my advocacy team’s first meeting with a Hill staffer, the fresh-faced staffer knew little about HIAS, or even refugee issues, so we explained our history and the most important challenges facing refugees today. As we explained the sheer numbers and dire situations of refugees worldwide, the staffer slowly became more engaged and asked some questions. Several board members participating in the meeting caught the staffer’s attention when they recounted their personal stories as refugees. One told of adopting two refugee children from Central Asia. While statistics are important, personal stories are particularly powerful for humanizing the refugee experience and making advocacy measures pack a punch.
In our second meeting, we met with the staff of a Congressman who has historically been sympathetic to refugees. We were able to discuss our more detailed “asks” concerning the Presidential cap on refugees and to voice our opposition to several proposed bills which, if passed, would negatively impact refugee rights. Even with old allies like this office, continued advocacy and gratitude are vital. We updated the office on the persecution of religious minorities in Iran and Ukraine and the staffers agreed to work to ensure the annual reauthorization of the Lautenberg Amendment, a vital provision that helps HIAS to rescue persecuted religious minorities in foreign countries.
Participating in this event showed me the real power in speaking up when I see a problem that can be fixed. You don’t have to work at HIAS to do it. Encourage the U.S. to welcome more refugees this year: sign this petition asking President Obama to raise the cap on refugees resettled in the U.S. in the coming year and give more people a chance to start their lives anew in safety and freedom.