By Delia Koolick
“Refugees banned from entering the United States” the CNN headline read the day President Trump signed his refugee ban. For the clients of EMBARC, this is scary thing to read. EMBARC, or Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center, serves refugees from Burma and the areas surrounding in Asia. Many clients do not speak English well and seeing a headline like that spread fear throughout the community. Would they see their family members still in Burma ever again? Would they get deported?
My name is Delia Koolick and I am a first-year Psychology Major. I am the Engaged Citizen Corps member working with EMBARC this academic school year. Since starting with the organization, I have learned many things about the big and diverse refugee community in Iowa. I spend a lot of my time working with refugee and immigrant students at the Meredith Middle School ESL after-school program where we work on reading skills. Recently, I have started to conduct research on newer refugee communities in Iowa, such as Syrian and Eritrean, as EMBARC will begin to work with some of these families within the Des Moines Public Schools system.
Back in January when the initial travel and refugee ban was enacted, EMBARC had many curious and fearful clients come in for help. When you understand little English, “refugee ban” is big, daunting topic of concern. Even though none of the effected countries were clients of EMBARC, this executive order still took a toll on these refugees’ lives.
The Executive Order states, “I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order”1. The ban prohibited entrance from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syrian, and Yemen. While no EMARC clients were effected, it became clear to them that they could be in trouble next. Families coming for political freedom and safety could no longer feel safe politically.
Anti-refugee and more specifically, Anti-Muslim immigrant discriminatory acts have risen in America since the attacks on Paris in 2015. This includes Iowa, as Governor Branstad tried to block the entrance of Syrian refugees in late 2015. This rise in discrimination effects all refugees as they get shouted at to “go back from where they came from” and that “we speak English in America.” This unfair reality has only grown worse for refugees since the signing of the executive order as the media has shaped perceptions and influenced that thoughts of people across the country and world.
While at EMBARC, I have learned so much about the refugee community in the United States. However, the most important thing I have learned is no matter how different people’s backgrounds or experiences are, we all have similar goals. Refugees need our help to integrate into society and feel safe. They should not have to worry that every move they make could be grounds for discrimination, hate, or even deportation. By responding with fear and discrimination, we are going directly against the values the United States were founded on. To continue learning my understanding of refugees backgrounds, I plan to continue researching all different types of Refugees in Iowa for EMBARC. By understanding, education, and advocating, the fear and discrimination may lower as people start to realize we all want the same thing; success in the United States of America.