War Has Consequences: A Refugee Panel Speaks

Rarely do we see the implications of our Nation’s actions face to face. But on Sunday nine refugees told their stories to an overflow crowd in Santa Fe. Their testimonials were a devastating call to action. This post provides opportunities to act in addition to details on a Town Hall on expanding early childhood education in Santa Fe.
At the end of this essay on the refugee panel, you will find information about the latest assault on the Affordable Care Act, Santa Fe’s effort to expand early childhood education to 1000 new families, and information about New Mexico Progress Coalition planning for lobbying, activism and ward activation.

Last Sunday it was face to face. The First Presbyterian Church was packed beyond capacity with aisles filled and a spillover room required. We heard from nine refugees living in Albuquerque. I doubt that anyone in that church was not deeply moved by what they saw and heard.

The first who spoke, a young woman from Baghdad, had arrived here with her two children via Turkey, where she faced a kind of Sophie’s choice: if you put your husband on the application, it will be tossed out. None of you will gain access to the US. She brought her two children here to safety, leaving her husband behind. Then she told us that on Saturday (the day before she came to speak to us) her sister had been killed in an explosion in Baghdad. Sit with her grief and loneliness for a moment: jobless, in a strange land, speaking no English, sister just killed, husband in Turkey, and two little children utterly dependent upon you. And yet you get up Sunday morning and come to Santa Fe to tell us about your shattered life.

Another refugee from Afghanistan had been a driver and mechanic working with the US Army for eight years, where he was shot in the arm and the ear. Now here in Albuquerque, he has eight kids, a wife, and a brother who is a deaf mute. He has no job and he worries how he can possibly survive. As I sat there, I thought about how this man had risked his life to work with our Army and he now lives impoverished in Albuquerque.

Another refugee was from the Congo, a father of 9 children with a wife who had been systematically raped and tortured and now is so traumatized she can neither work nor care for her children. He is one of the few in the group who has found work: he earns $700 a month. His rent is $925.

Another refugee from Syria, a highly articulate man who was just completing his doctorate before his world began to disintegrate. He spoke of life in Aleppo and the daily routine of digging out women and children from rubble. He spoke of how after WW II, Syria had accepted tens of thousands of European refugees and, while conditions were not ideal, they were welcomed. In tears, he asked, “Where is the humanity now?”

refugee-1Another woman refugee from Syria spoke of washing up on a Greek island only to be greeted by men with guns who beat the men and boys in her group.

A refugee from Afghanistan lost all of her family and is now living in Albuquerque, alone. She has been a refugee for 28 years but has been in the US just a year. She told us of being so depressed she often contemplates killing herself.

I ask you to sit with all of this for a moment. You are reading only words, words that can’t nearly convey the pain that was etched into their faces and voices. And despite their suffering, they were so humble and so appreciative for all that was being done for them.

But as I heard their words of gratitude, I could not help but feel utterly guilty and ashamed of my privilege. It was our wars that brought them to Albuquerque, that cost them so much — the destruction of their countries, their families, and their futures.

For four days I have sat with these thoughts, wondering how to shape them, how to conclude this post. I am writing to people, many of whom have been advocates and activists for decades, who very likely have protested the wars and put in much more time than Roxanne and I combined. Is the plight of these refugees our fault?

I really didn’t know how to make a final point, because in truth, I didn’t have one. And then as so often is the case, I spoke with Roxanne and she found a path. Her point was that it is not really the people’s fault that our government so often disregards our voices. If we act, if we call out, if we stick with it, and we are ignored, we must somehow persist for one important reason: truth and justice are on our side, not theirs. It is our duty to speak out and it is our responsibility to reach out to our neighbors and friends and family and colleagues and invite them to join us.

As we prepare for what is looming ahead, we must support each other for, as Dylan sang: ‘a hard rain’s a gonna fall.’ And we’ve got to stick together, but most importantly we must act together, every single day. Right now all we have is each other and our truth and the reality that inaction has real human consequences, as about 400 people saw first hand last Sunday. It may be a very long haul, but justice will prevail.

If you are moved to help the refugees in Albuquerque, you can send checks to:

Islamic Center of New Mexico

1100 Yale Blvd. SE

Albuquerque, NM 87106


Lutheran Family Services

4105 Sliver, SE

Albuquerque, NM 87108

Please indicate that your support is for the refugees who appeared in Santa Fe on Jan 8.

Below is information on how you can get active today.

Expansion of Pre-School in Santa Fe

Town Hall on Expanding Pre-K
Saturday, January 14, 10am
Boys & Girls Club at Zona del Sol
6600 Valentine Way, Santa Fe

Santa Fe is pursuing an exciting initiative to ensure that all of Santa Fe’s three- and four-year-olds have access to high-quality Pre-K so they can begin kindergarten better prepared to learn. The Mayor is hosting a Town Hall this Saturday to discuss the Pre-K plan and the benefits to Santa Fe, answer questions, and welcome public comment. Efforts to bring early childhood education to New Mexico have been stalled by the state legislature and the Governor for several years. Meanwhile, 33% of Santa Fe’s children live in poverty and New Mexico ranks 49th among states in child welfare and education. Santa Fe’s children cannot wait for state lawmakers to act.

New Mexico Progressive Coalition

The NM Progressive Coalition: Three Planning Sessions this Saturday, Jan. 14

Location: UNM Law School, 1117 Stanford NE, Room 2401, Albuquerque

RSVP here: https://goo.gl/forms/BowGwfSkN6r22fEc2

1. Legislative Advocacy Training: 10 AM-12 PM
We will hear a uniquely Progressive and people-powered perspective from former NM Legislators Sen. Eric Griego and Rep. Eleanor Chavez. This is a great opportunity to prepare yourself to be a strong advocate in Santa Fe for the Progressive movement at the People’s Rally and beyond!

2. People’s Moral Monday Rally Planning Meeting: 12 PM-2 PM
Beverages will be provided at this meeting to continue planning the People’s Rally at the Roundhouse on February 20, 2017! This will be a discussion about how we organize on that day – setting up, lobbying, publicizing the event, inviting participants, lining up speakers. Bring a lunch as we are working through the lunch hour.

3. Transforming the Democratic Party Meeting: 2 PM-4 PM
If you believe an important aspect of this movement is to have a stronger Progressive voice in our government, then one step is to transform the Democratic Party. All Hands on Deck! We need to have a strong progressive voice within the Democratic Party to steer it in the right (or LEFT) direction! Find out how you can be involved by becoming a voting party member, precinct chair, or other role.

Please RSVP here: https://goo.gl/forms/BowGwfSkN6r22fEc2

Any questions/comments can be sent to: nmprogressivecoalition@gmail.com

Stand for the Affordable Care Act

To give you a sense of how dire the situation is, a quote from a NY Times article from today:

“In its lengthy series of votes, the Senate rejected amendments proposed by Democrats that were intended to allow imports of prescription drugs from Canada, protect rural hospitals and ensure continued access to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, among other causes.”  This is the face of the GOP and its assault on our most vulnerable neighbors. Bold faced greed.

Sunday, Jan. 15: Democratic leaders are calling for a “day of action” on Jan. 15 to mobilize grassroots opposition across the country to Republican plans to “end Medicare as we know it and throw our health care system into chaos.” Click here for information about Jan. 15 events in Belen at 11 am,  in Albuquerque at 1 pm, and in Santa Fe at 2 pm. Click here for information on this national effort.

Friday, Jan 20, 6pm-7:45pm: UNM’s Domenici Center for Health Sciences Education. What is Medicare for all? An Evidence-Based Presentation on Single Payer and the Future of US Healthcare will be presented by Steffie Woolhandler, MD, MPH and David Himmelstein, MD, Professors of Public Health at CUNY School of Public Health and Lecturers in Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Go to Single Payer Workshop for details, precise location, and how to get more information.

Categories: Actions, Activist Organizations, Boycotts, Economic justice, Healthcare, Healthcare coverage, Immigrant Rights, Justice

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4 replies

  1. “… truth and justice are on our side.” Thank you Paul and Roxanne.

  2. Paul- Judie Fein & I appreciate your thoughtful coverage of Refugees Speak. Jade

    Sent from my iPad


    • And I appreciate your appreciation. That was one of the more powerful afternoons of my life and it is going to have a strong ripple effect in how we develop messaging moving forward. I think it is time to move from focus on ‘experts’ and how we need to act and spend some time listening to those we want to support.

  3. Lutheran Family Services says you can also send Walmart gift cards, items for setting up a household, children’s books, in addition to money. If you can commit to weekly involvement with a family as a cultural mentor, that would work also.

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