Throughout this country’s history, refugees have come to the United States and enriched our communities. Fleeing dangerous and war torn lands in search of safety and freedom, they have come and embraced the American dream: educating their children, opening small businesses, giving their lives in defense of our freedoms and contributing to the scientific and technological breakthroughs that have made America the leader of the Free World. Many of us are the product of immigrants who came to this country hoping for a better life and finding that the United States was indeed the “shining city on the hill.”
West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry (WVIRM) was created with the goal of making Charleston just such a city, a safe haven for refugees from war torn Syria. Working with the Episcopal Migration Ministries, we have submitted the application to the U.S State Department to resettle approximately 100 refugees. The majority of them will be children. We have begun the work of creating the network necessary to help those coming to our Valley find transportation, housing and health care, learn the language and transition into life in America.
WVIRM consists of members from all faiths and walks of life who understand the humanitarian disaster that is taking place in Syria. With estimates of 500,000 killed, 1.5 million injured and 11 million displaced, the United States can extend a hand to rescue many of those seeking safety and a better life. We are all too aware of what happened during World War II when we closed our borders; millions perished.
All of us are concerned about national security and each refugee coming to America under The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is subjected to the most intense vetting program imaginable, taking up to two years and using multiple U.S. government databases including the data from the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, refugees undergo more rigorous vetting than anyone else allowed into the US. Refugees from Syria are subjected to even greater scrutiny with additional layers of review. According to US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers, “while no system is foolproof, our record to date speaks to the system’s efficacy. Of the approximately 800,000 refugees who have been admitted to the U.S. since September 11 of 2001, not one has carried out an act of domestic terrorism”.
A growing pool of research suggests that helping refugees benefits the cities that welcome them. Much of the initial investment is from new federal dollars that are a different line item, and are in addition to any funds already helping people here in our State.
WVIRM is fully committed to this endeavor, not just because it is safe and would benefit our community, but because it is the right thing to do. We are commanded by all of our faith traditions to welcome the stranger in our midst: “The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:34).
In our hearts and from the stories told again and again from immigrant families who came to these shores, we know this Country’s great strength has been those who came looking for the land of safety, opportunity, and a chance to start again. Refugees, as much as anyone, have become our spiritual leaders and our loyal community members. They contribute to the artistic vibrancy of our cities, the scholarly, legal and medical advancements of our society.
But most of all, they are human beings, desperately reaching out for help. We hope you will join us in this most enduring American imperative, an act of love that is a testament to our Country’s strength and greatness.
Ibtesam Barazi (Vice President of Islamic Association of WV)
Rabbi Victor Urecki
The Rev. Marquita L. Hutchens
Dr. Greg Clarke
Rabbi James Cohn
John N. Ellem
Mary Fitzgerald (Senior Warden, St. John’s Episcopal Church)
Bishop William Boyd Grove (retired)
Bishop Mark Van Koevering
Helen Van Koevering
Rev. Sky Kershner
Bruce Perrone, attorney
Margaret Chapman Pomponio
Dr. Angie Settle
Stephen N. Smith
Jean and Elliot Urecki
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