Ibrahim waves a sign during a press conference in Denver on Friday. Community leaders are asking that Syrian refugees be allowed in the United" border="0"/>
Nadeen Ibrahim waves a sign during a press conference in Denver on Friday. Community leaders are asking that Syrian refugees be allowed in the United States in accordance with the strict vetting process that is already in place. (David Zalubowski, The Associated Press)

More than 30 states have decried President Obama's openness to Syrian refugees. And New Jersey Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie said this week that the nation should not even accept orphans under the age of 5.

I am a migrant education advocate for Greeley-Evans District 6. In this small Colorado town, we see firsthand the effects of refugee resettlement. Migrants and refugees from around the world find their way here, mostly for work at the sprawling JBS USA meatpacking plant nearby.

Students in my district speak 68 languages and dialects and come from more than 60 countries.

This diversity and openness is beautiful, not troublesome.

There are 19 million refugees in the world today, and the vast majority of them are victims, not perpetrators, of the crimes we so fear. For refugees, the world is violent and cruel.

Policies of no admittance paint an image of a world that bears no relief, no shelter, a world that is hostile and unforgiving. Hostility and xenophobia only fuel resentment towards the United States and provide further fodder for ideologies of hate.

One of my students, Aden, fled Eritrea with her family when she was a child. She was captured, and while incarcerated, saw people tortured and killed. She managed to get out alive, only to reside for years in a hot and cramped refugee camp in Ethiopia. By some miracle, she now numbers among the 1 percent of refugees who are resettled worldwide.


Eritrean refugees like Aden often flee to Libya, and seek asylum alongside Syrians. They dole out their life savings for smugglers to help them find better lives. Sometimes the smugglers hold family members for ransom. Sometimes the smugglers leave them for dead in the desert. Sometimes the smugglers pack them toe-to-heel in leaky boats in the Mediterranean, boats that capsize and from which there is no escape.

And sometimes they make it to safety.

Refugees are people — people with dreams and desires and pasts and futures and with so much to share. Opening our doors is what makes us who we are and keeps us that way.

One popular strain of anti-refugee discourse focuses on the apparent hypocrisy of a nation that finds it easier to house and feed 10,000 refugees than it is to meet the same basic needs of our nation's homeless veterans.

This rhetoric highlights a number of important issues. We must fundamentally alter our policies towards homelessness, towards mental illness, towards unemployment, towards poverty. But this is not mutually exclusive with the acceptance and admittance of refugees. In fact, after eight months in the country, refugees must pay back the government for all travel expenses they have incurred.

When national security takes precedence over our basic humanity, we have nothing left to protect.

We must avoid knee-jerk reactions and vitriol. We must engage this issue with the nuance and care it deserves, and treat these displaced peoples with the respect they deserve.

Nick Mott is a migrant education advocate in Greeley.

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