When you think about Colorado, you may not think about Burma or Somalia, but the reality is that refugees and immigrants from these and the other countries are making Colorado better. These countries are among those affected by the Trump administration’s travel ban, which the president recently expanded and which now includes 13 predominantly Muslim countries.
So how does this travel ban affect Coloradans? You can start in Denver, where there lives a vibrant neighborhood full of refugees from all over the world, including Burma, Somalia, Iraq, and Eritrea. I am privileged to work with this community as a Master of Social Work (MSW) intern for the Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning.
Last September, I walked around meeting families from many different countries with vastly different experiences who came together to create community. The sun was shining, so people were sitting outside, chatting and enjoying tea together. Later in the day, there were over 30 children outside laughing and singing songs as they jump roped. When it was my turn to try to Double Dutch, I was met with encouragement, and then a lot of laughter when I could only last a few seconds.
The refugee narrative in the United States usually focuses on the trauma that many refugees have faced. That trauma is an important part of the story, but only focusing on the past does an injustice to them. The travel ban should be lifted because people are facing violence and genocide in the countries now banned. But that’s not the only reason it should be lifted. The United States serves as an immense opportunity for refugees, and their presence here is making our country and our states stronger.
Refugees help Colorado’s economy. For every $1 in assistance received by refugees, $1.68 is generated in output and for every $1 earned, $25 are generated in outputs. Refugees play a large role in our communities. They are our bus drivers, caregivers, nurses, and advocates, and their children are in school with the hopes of being doctors, teachers, scientists, and more.
I want to leave you with a few stories that reflect the real refugee narrative. One of my favorite memories in the neighborhood is a going-away party for an employee. Families gathered to enjoy food together and say their goodbyes. When I arrived, I could hear sounds of excitement coming from the party. As I walked into the room, I noticed one of the Somali mothers brought her newborn baby. Afghani and Burmese women were huddled around the family. The baby was giggling and smiling while being adored in an array of languages by the women. Regardless of their cultural differences, you could feel a strong sense of trust.
Another picture of community is our karate class. Once a week the community room is a hub for children who come to play and learn together. They walk in full of energy, sharing stories of their days. Despite their differences, they watch out for each other and have deep friendships.
My experience in this neighborhood is not unique. Refugees and immigrants across the country are creating communities and spreading kindness. Trump’s travel ban is a moral issue: people are facing horrific violence and persecution and are now forced to stay in danger. The ban affects Colorado because we are missing out on many amazing refugees and immigrants who are making waves in our state. We must stand up against racism and xenophobia. We must spread the true narrative of immigrants.
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