On Saturday, Nov. 21, I had the privilege to attend a rally in support of refugees in Idaho. I looked forward to hearing speeches from many who were welcomed to Idaho and are grateful for the opportunity they have to live here and that allows them education, shelter and security for their families. Counterprotesters across the street did their best to drown out testimonials being given on the steps of the state Capitol in a variety of ways.
I respect their desire to voice their opinion. We all have the right to assembly. We all have the right for our voices to be heard; although, disagreement for the opinions of others seems to be expressed mostly by who can shout the loudest.
During the rally, these two diverse groups united twice — in song. All sang the national anthem and then, later, a Christmas carol, “O Holy Night.” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” our anthem written by Francis Scott Key, expresses his relief and pride to see the flag for the nascent United States still raised over Fort McHenry after a night of bombardment and battle. That flag “so gallantly streaming” was his beacon of hope for our nation. “O Holy Night” represents a beacon of hope for the good of mankind. Those two songs temporarily united two groups with opposing views.
In all the years that I have lived in Idaho I have known people from many countries — as classmates, co-workers, good friends and family. They have come from countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Taiwan, France, Germany, Bosnia, Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Russia, Poland, Cuba, Chile ... the list is almost endless. Some have been willing migrants to a new country with new opportunities. Others have been refugees with no place to go because war and terror destroyed their livelihood, community and country. They have all had different religions. Not one has been a terrorist or tried to force their religion on me. All have been grateful for the security this country has provided them. Many became proud citizens of the United States. The only divisiveness and discontent I have ever noticed is that driven by certain ideologues in our country whose intent is to perpetuate misunderstanding and suspicion of people of different cultural and religious backgrounds.
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The rallies illustrated that all who gathered — those in support of refugees and those not — are concerned for the safety and security of their families, friends and community. Refugees today face a much more security-laden and in-depth background review process than those who once entered this country through Ellis Island. While undergoing this process, adults and children languish in camps meant to provide temporary refuge, not permanence of home and country. Upon finally passing an amazingly detailed list of background checks required by multiple international and government organizations to reach the stage where they can be sent to another country, they have gone through more rigorous tests and checks regarding their lifestyle, habits, religion, political affiliation, family, associates, means of financial security or ability to work, and health than any native-born citizen in the countries that those few fully vetted refugee families are finally able to call “home.”
At this stage of human existence, we should all be more welcoming to those less fortunate. We can respectfully listen to opposing views, and then unite to create solutions rather than create further division. In the instance of the refugee resettlement program, I believe that the United States, and Idaho, should proudly welcome refugees vetted to come here, including those from Syria.
Alison Perry is a library/business information professional and has lived in Idaho for more than 30 years.