Press Conference at Syrian Community Network

In response to the Trump administration’s recent lowering of the refugee resettlement quota from 45,000 to 30,000 for the upcoming Fiscal Year, The Syrian Community Network (SCN) held a press conference on Tuesday, October 9 to address the new presidential determination. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky spoke in support of SCN, along with Syria Faith Initiative, the Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, RefugeeOne, Heartland Alliance and other faith leaders, civic partners and advocates for refugees.

Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, the Founder and Executive Director of the Syrian Community Network opened the conference by stating that the refugee resettlement program of the U.S. has reached a historic new low. The implications are that thousands of children and families will not have access to education or be able to rebuild their lives in safety and security. Only 60 Syrian refugees have been
resettled in the United States as of 31 August 2018. This past year, SCN has served 4000 refugees nationally and serve 1000 refugees in Chicago with vital services such as case management, mentorship and after-school programs. With SCN’s efforts to support Syrian refugees in cities all across the U.S., Suzanne Sahloul brings to notice that many refugees are still awaiting to be reunited with their family members and loved ones, despite undergoing rigorous vetting processes for three years or more.
Senator Durbin emphasized during World War II, America would have been embarrassed for having turned it’s back on refugees from Europe who sought to escape the Holocaust. The Senator also highlighted America’s history of welcoming Cuban population, the Vietnamese, Soviet Jews and many others from across the world. His conviction is that refugees are a part of the fabric of this country and we are better for it. Quoting President Ronald Reagan, the Senator said “We shall continue America’s tradition as a land that welcomes peoples from other countries. We shall also, with other countries, continue to share in the responsibility of welcoming and resettling those who flee oppression”. Comparing it with the Trump administration’s stance on the refugee resettlement program, Durbin exclaims at the state of Reagan’s Republican Party today. With regard to national security concerns, Durbin says that there should, of course, be a careful screening process of every refugee to ensure that there is
no threat to the security of the United States. However, “This decision by the Trump administration is not about security. It is about a sinister, political strategy to divide America, to build on fear and hate… America is better than that, and has been, under the leadership of both political parties.”
A majority of refugees who have resettled in Chicago are in Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s 9th Congressional District. Being a first-generation American herself whose family fled persecution, the Congresswoman exclaimed that while there should have been 1900 refugees resettled this fiscal year, only 626 have been resettled so far. Congresswoman
Schakowsky highlighted that there are 400 Rohingya families residing in her district, and Devon Avenue hosts the only Rohingya Cultural Centre in the country. She says, “I believe that America should remain the country of hope and opportunity for people around the world, a place where people facing persecution and domestic or gang violence or war or famine or
poverty can come because they want a better place and a better life for their children. Under the Trump administration, the statue of liberty must be grieving now.”
Jims Porter, Policy and Communications Coordinator of RefugeeOne, expressed concern over the administration’s decision to forfeit the nation’s role as the global leader of refugee resettlement. Last year, the U.S. admitted fewer than half the 45,000 refugees authorized by President Trump. Despite this decision, Porter says that his organization will continue to support refugees and work with Congressmen on both sides of the aisle and continue efforts to hold the administration accountable for the new low ceiling of 30,000.
Fred Tsao, Senior Policy Counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, brought to notice that this administration is turning its back on not only Syrian refugees but also Central Americans who are fleeing domestic violence and gang violence, which are no longer valid basis for asylum. It has phased out temporary protective status for 300,000 long-
term immigrants and sent them back without any guarantee of their safety. As to what can be done about this issue, he reminds us that four weeks from today, voters have a choice to say no to these policies and yes to advocates for humanitarian assistance.
Dr. Zaher Sahloul, Founder of MedGlobal and Syria Faith Initiative, narrated a personal account of Aya, a young child from the Aramaic tribe, who he met during a medical mission to a refugee camp in the Syrian-Lebanese border. Aya taught his team the word ‘Hubo’ in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, which means love, a term that has universal meaning. However, keeping refugees in a refugee camp for decades would only breed instability and extremism which would come back to haunt the U.S. 75% of Syrian refugees are women and children. Despite being a small country of only 4 million, Lebanon opened their arms to 1 million refugees. That means every one out of five people in Lebanon is a refugee. Dr. Sahloul posed a question directed not to Trump but his supporters- Would Jesus Christ have
slammed the door on Aya’s face or opened a door of hope for her?
Among others who spoke out against this policy was Fatima Adrees, who was resettled in the U.S. with Catholic Charities. Fatima has been an ardent advocate for refugees and spoke about how this policy is also keeping families apart, including her own loved ones.
Representing Syria Faith Initiative, Reverend Gregory Livingston concluded the session quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, “If one is not free, all are not free.” The Reverend argued that if we claim to be a country based on Christian values, we need to welcome strangers with open arms because this is our duty, our faith, and our heritage as Americans.