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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I Was There: Refugees and the Summer All My Hair Almost Fell Out

Do you know that the Social Security offices close at noon on Wednesdays?
I do. I know that because I was there three times this summer.
THREE TIMES. THAT'S A NIGHTMARE ON ANY LEVEL.

Three times I drove two Iranian refugees to apply for social security cards.
They left Iran because, as a Muslim 16 year old girl and a Christian 20-something man, this brother and sister had futures that were already dark.

They paid illegal smugglers a lot of money to get them out of their country.
They spent 3 years being moved from detainment camp to detainment camp.
They woke up to learn they were being deported to Los Angeles, California, a place where they had no friends or family.
Their immigration agency picked them up at the airport, dropped them off at a motel and said good luck.

I was very scared to ask them the biggest question in my mind.
Were they sad because they'd lost their family in a bombing?
Had they seen their closest friends killed?
That was the picture of the Middle East I'd seen on the internet.
The answer was no. Their family was still alive and living in Iran.
They just had either no power or no desire to give these two a right to live freely.
That answer turned out to be sadder than I had anticipated.

No one to defend them.
No one to stand up for them.
No one to speak on their behalf.
They ran from their homes because, as young as they were, there was no life there for them.


Suddenly becoming responsible for two refugees meant having to do all the paperwork for all the life milestones at once. Being born, turning 16, going to college, all of it:

A social security card.
Insurance.
Welfare.
Drivers license.
Cell phone contracts.
Bank accounts.
Signing up for college ESL classes.
Housing.

It's a lot of paperwork. And it's all terrible.
And as a natural-born American, even I was every day at peak stress level. My hair was falling out of my head like piƱata candy. You would not believe how little you know about how your country works until two refugees are asking you for help becoming one of you.

In full transparency, can I tell you that I only found myself on the front lines of their experience because my boss asked me to step in? My boss has arranged for the welcoming and resettlement of two other Muslim refugee families and more to come in the next 3-6 months. She did that. She is a saint. Please do not think I'm a saint. I'm whiney, if anything. But I'm now grateful I was there for a lot of reasons.

I have heard their stories.
I know the names on their Iranian birth certificates.
I am aware of the years of trauma counseling both will require.
I know their clothing sizes.
I remember how excited the girl was when she got her first job at McDonalds (!)
I know their social security numbers.
Why? Because I was there when they got them.
I cried when every other task we tried to accomplish that week (getting insurance, applying for welfare benefits, signing up for medical screenings) fell through without having a social security number and we sat at the social security office for 2 hours hoping one thing would go our way.

The social security clerk said "oh no, you have to wait 10 days and it's only been 8. I'll see if I can process this early, but it's not likely..."
We held our breath and we sat in silence holding giant manila envelopes full of the only documents that could prove they deserved to be in this country.
I was there when he said "It looks like their files are in our system early. I can order their social security cards immediately."
I was there and I cried.
I was there.

Recently I read a Facebook status that said "If there's even one homeless child in America, we don't have room for refugees."

Oh my loves. I understand what you mean. But that's not how it works.

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 
Deuteronomy 10:18-19

The book of Deuteronomy isn't a super cool one. It's a lot of rules, a lot of seemingly boring stuff.
It's the part of the Bible that people usually associate with an angry god. I get it. Stoning people and such. But here we see a god who cares about the foreigner. Also the fatherless and the widow. But he doesn't forget the foreigner either.

Faithful people, you don't get to decide who doesn't matter.
You don't get to cross one person off the list.
You don't get to forget where you came from.
Because you're supposed to believe in a (g/G)od that isn't worried about scarcity.
We're supposed to believe in a (g/God) that is for people.
We're supposed to be a people that is for people.
And I'm sad because this election feels like we voted against people in a lot of ways.
It feels like we voted against people because our own people haven't felt heard and I'm sincerely sad about that as well. I am so sorry for that.

When people don't feel heard, what we eventually get is refugees.
I know because I've been there. I've seen them.

So listen. Figure out who or what you're really mad at.
People have been leaving countries for ages because no one would speak for them.
Those people are not the cause of our problems. It is the people with the deaf ears.
Be a voice FOR something.
Be a voice FOR someone.

It will not always be glamorous. It may come with enough paperwork to make your hair fall out.
You may have to go somewhere worse than the social security office and that is the DMV.
But when everyone starts crying (for good or bad reasons), you'll be there.
So you'll be together. And together is always better.

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