A Letter to my Senators

Dear Senators Graham and Scott,

Four years ago I found myself in Iraq. I had decided to take a break from Clemson and was studying abroad in Turkey that semester. For Spring Break, I thought I might never have another opportunity to visit next-door Iraq, so I went. And that’s how I found myself in Dohuk, in conversation with a Syrian refugee. This refugee in particular was Kurdish, an ethnic minority that’s been violently persecuted in every country that they reside. In broken English, he looked me in the eyes and asked: “Help us. We are being slaughtered. Please, why are you not helping us?” Although I knew by ‘you’, he was talking about America, I felt like he was personally asking me: Why are you not helping us? I didn’t know what to say. Neither of us knew at that time how much worse it would get- the hundreds of thousands killed, the millions displaced.

Years later, I was in Istanbul again, taking a break from my service in Zambia to meet a friend for Christmas. We walked together to a Catholic Church. In the courtyard, a bright and festive nativity scene caught my eye. It was adorned with floats, life jackets. A Dora the Explorer backpack. A tiny pair of shoes. It reminded me of a beach-themed Vacation Bible school scene you might find in a SC church. I walked over and read the sign next to it. It broke me. Every item on display belonged to a child killed trying to cross the Mediterranean, fleeing death and destruction.

It reminded me, years later, of that request from the Syrian Kurd I met in Dohuk. ‘Help us’. And I was reminded once again that Jesus himself was a refugee fleeing a Middle Eastern country in his infancy.

I ask you to remember also the shipful of Jewish refugees the US turned back before World War II, many of whom would later be killed in concentration camps.

This moment, like then, is one of those pivotal moments in American history, which will define this generation and by which future generations will judge us. I am writing this letter to you, Senators, to ask you to sponsor a bill that will allow for groups of private citizens to sponsor refugee families, in much the same way as Canadians do now. I know now of many South Carolinians that would be willing to accept refugee families. This would streamline the resettlement process, allowing for quicker placement of refugee families and reducing the burden on state and federal agencies responsible for settling these families.

I also ask that you look into a proposal put forth by Bill Josephson, a founder of the Peace Corps: the founding of a ‘Refugee Corps’ in which volunteers would serve in refugee camps, building schools and latrines, teaching democracy and music and hygiene, organizing soccer clubs, exchanging culture…

I have been serving as a PCV in Zambia for the last 18 months, and it is with a certain amount of horror that I have been watching this epidemic of hate that is infecting our country. What more powerful message could there be to these radicals that support the current Republican presidential candidate than for thousands of Americans- church-groups, colleagues, neighbors- to rise up and welcome refugees into their homes? And for thousands of more Americans to go and serve these refugees before they’re able to make it to Europe and America?

And, as a Christian, what more powerful expression of Christ’s love could there be, than for groups of Christians all over the country to love and support these most vulnerable among us?

And what more powerful rebuke to the message of these Islamist radicals –that this is a holy war, that Western countries don’t want Muslims — than to accept as many as we could?

As a Christian, as an American, and as a South Carolinian, I’m asking you to consider these proposals. 
For years, the question of that Syrian refugee has haunted me. I’m asking you- let’s offer a response.

And let us never forget those words that adorn our Statue of Liberty, which has welcomed so many immigrants and refugees to our country:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breath free…”

And again, thank you both for the tireless work you do on behalf of our state and our country.

Grace and Peace,

Brian Elmore

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