Iowans taking a stand for Syrian refugees
December 7, 2015
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad recently joined forces with twenty other governors in order to block all attempts of the federal government to relocate Syrian refugees within their states. The decision was prompted after the events of the Paris attack in November. Many of the governors expressed that their choices stemmed from the desire to keep their state safe from potential terrorist hidden in the mass of refugees. Although the position of governor has little power to keep refugees out, some Iowans feel it misrepresents the general public’s stance on the controversial issue.
Upset by the position Branstad has taken, a group of activists gathered in front of Iowa’s Capitol to express their discontent on November 24th. “We have refugees living in Iowa, and they made this place home. This is a very negative message to them that all of a sudden they’re not welcomed,” Dr. Bengu Tekinalp of Drake University expressed.
“Given the atrocities that are happening in Syria, it feels like we need to be reaching out,” Drake University professor, David Courad-Hauri voiced at the demonstration.
Another protester Shari Hawk shared her thoughts on the matter, “We should be accepting of anybody, especially people who are being horribly traumatized and threatened. They’re in risk of all kinds of horrors that we cannot imagine… It’s just absolutely insensitive of us and cruel to deny them assistance.”
To comprehend the violence brought onto the many Syrians, the background of the crisis must be understood. In 2011, attempts to take down the Al-Assad regime initiated civil war between various Syrian groups fighting to be the dominant power. The lack of stability within the country has also made it a target of extremist group Isis who has taken over portions of the country and established totalitarian states. The terror group practices mass executions, bomb civilian cities, and bring upon many other unspeakable horrors. Many Syrians, an estimated 4 million, have been displaced and are fleeing to escape these cruelties.
Currently, the federal government is looking to welcome at least 10,000 new refugees. However, the refusal to cooperate from many state governors is creating difficulties for the task at hand.
Branstad has since retracted his statement and refined it to express that he seeks to challenge the screening process of refugees, while not necessarily creating a blockade. Still, words have weight and the statement made by the Iowa governor could potentially encourage xenophobic behaviors, especially towards the many Muslims that make up the population of Syrian refugees.
“There’s just no reason to be afraid. There’s nothing to be afraid of. We have more terrorists–homegrown terrorists–in this country,” Hawk points out. Many protesters commented similarly. “I was reading an article about the shooting in Minneapolis and it’s crazy to me that people are scared of refugees who are put through a vetting process… People are more scared of a refugee than a homegrown terrorist… we need to have a conversation about this. I know it makes people uncomfortable, but sometimes we need to have those uncomfortable conversations in order to get things going,” prompted protester Jenn Riggs. Riggs came to the demonstration with friend Brenda Meester and brought their children along. Riggs and Meester shared that they have began these conversations with their families at home already.
Jenn Riggs elaborating her thoughts more about the Syrian Refugee Crisis with The Arrowhead.
Jenn Riggs and Brenda Meester expressing the actions they have taken to raise awareness about the Refugee Crisis and other human rights issues.
According to dosomething.org, it’s estimated that 50% of refugees are under the age of 18. Similarly, out of the 10,000 refugees that President Obama is looking to resettle in the US, only 2% are of combat age. “It makes me sad that I am more scared about how Americans will react to refugees when they’re here than any of them being terrorist,” another activist shared during the rally.
Currently, no refugees have been relocated to Iowa, but there are many ways Iowans can prepare for those to come and assist them in their settlement.
“My young daughter came home from school talking about it the other day… and was concerned about these kids and she wanted to help. She came up with a plan on how we could host up to two families in our home, and I know that we can, and If we can do it, I know other people can do it, and I see the turnout here [at this gathering], and I don’t understand how Branstad would think that he has any right to stop what needs to happen,” protester Jillian Sonksen expressed.
Many protesters also contrasted Governor Branstad to former Governor Robert Ray who opened Iowa’s borders to Southeastern Asia immigrants in the late 70’s to 90’s.
Daryl Beall, former State Senator for the 5th district, spoke out during the rally about his experience with the influx of immigrants in the late 20th century. “I was on the Fort Dodge school board when Governor Ray encouraged us, invited us to open our homes, our hearts, our schools to the people of Southeast Asia. We started an English As a Second Language (ESL) specifically for the Southeast Asian [students]. We dropped it after two years because they were doing better than our homegrown kids were doing,” he continued, “And today it’s not unusual to see a Nguyen as the valedictorian as it is a Smith or Jones. [Those new Iowans] changed the face of Iowa literally and figuratively speaking. We have that opportunity to do that today. It’s not only our heritage, but it should be our legacy that we are an inviting society.”
Another activist spoke up. Veronica Fowler, representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa announced, “We want this new influx of new people, new ideas, new cultures. And it’s sad too, that Governor Branstad doesn’t have a constitutional right to block refugees, that’s a federal matter. So all he’s doing is fear mongering. There’s no reason for him to stand up and say this except to prey on to people’s fears.”
“If I were ever in this situation like the Syrian refugees are in, I would want to know that there would be a place that I would be welcomed,” Riggs concluded.
As the crisis surrounding Syrian refugees progresses, Iowans will continued to be affected by the decisions made by their politicians, so it’s vital for them to speak out with or against the decisions.