Guest Opinion: After vetting, refugees struggle

​St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Feb. 20
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President Donald Trump and his team have had to do a good deal of explaining in court about his now-suspended 120-day ban on refugee entries. On top of overstepping his authority, Trump also ignores that, for refugees arriving in America, starting anew is an ordeal that involves massive upheaval. And that comes after having experienced the terror of war and political or religious persecution in their home countries.

Simply getting here involves an arduous process of interviews, paperwork, multiple background checks and fingerprint screenings. Provided an application isn’t abruptly denied, the entire ordeal can take two years or more.

If they’ve managed to overcome the deliberately difficult hurdles and gain entry, refugees then must overcome skeptics here who are convinced they’ve come chiefly to conspire against America. The text of Trump’s order seems designed to encourage social stigma and exclusion: “It is the policy of the United States to protect its citizens from foreign nationals who intend to commit terrorist attacks in the United States.”

Statistics show that no refugee has ever been behind any U.S. domestic terrorist attack.

Refugees are often victims of torture, sexual violence and forced isolation. And since immigration officials consider applicants’ personal circumstances when granting entry, it’s often those who’ve had it worst who join our communities. The memories don’t go away when they get here but linger as PTSD, depression and other signs of trauma.

Finding a good, stable job is yet another hurdle. All refugees are cleared to work in the U.S., but the jobs they can get are often limited by their nontransferable degrees and by how little English many know. Former professionals might find themselves working construction or other blue-collar jobs.

Haphazard employment only makes it more difficult for refugees to pay living expenses. Government assistance and private donations help some, but they often have a hard time even meeting rent.

Rarely do Americans who encounter refugees hear them complain about these experiences. Their lives in the U.S., no matter how difficult, are vastly improved from what they lived through in, say, Syria, Somalia or the Congo. They don’t need reminding about the harsh reality of their situations. It’s those misled by Trump’s theatrics who need educating.

Certain politicians think there are votes to be won by perpetrating the myth that refugees are dangerous, exploitative and better left in their ravaged home countries. Not only does this foment greater resentment and fuel the image of Americans as hard-hearted and ignorant, it also makes life that much harder for refugees whose suffering goes beyond anything we in this country could possibly imagine.

America has far less to fear from refugees than from unchecked presidential power.