I am a father of three girls, a husband and an immigrant from Iraq. Despite that most people often move from place to place for practical or economic purposes, I believe I came to America for a reason anyone can sympathize with. I left my country due to injustice and to protect my life and my family’s well-being. Due to threats on my life and the increasing impact it was having on my loved ones, I came here in what I consider a fight, an impassioned act of defense for my life, my family and a search for justice.
As early voting starts throughout North Carolina, the constant Islamophobic profiling that my family and I experience as well as the estrangement of refugees and immigrants in public and political life feels very present.
I write this letter with one simple message on behalf of refugees and immigrants in the Triangle area: I am not your enemy, please do not choose to be mine. As new Americans, immigrants to this country, just like those who claim to have founded the United States on the principle of “justice for all,” we demand freedom from political uncertainty, the right to feel safe in our communities and the right to belong.
I see this country as incredibly unique. A beautiful painting, orchestrated by a controlled balance of colors. The potential to build something amazing feels so present here; why then should we isolate and problematize our contributions? If we had the desire to illustrate our world with all that is available, what could be possible? If we all made a personal attempt to reach out and touch the truth, using feeling and intellect, what kind of relationships could we have?
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Too many times have we felt the burden of being perceived as violent people, who some would like to refer to as “killers, rapists and terrorists.” I can feel just by the way someone looks at me that I am not being perceived in the way I perceive myself, like I am an alien until I speak English or introduce and explain myself. My wife especially, who wears a Hijab, is sometimes greeted by friendly smiles but most often with avoidance.
It doesn’t feel all that surprising. I learned recently that there have been over 50 anti-refugee bills proposed in 20 different states. Bills that seek to stop refugee resettlement programs, require further surveillance and “vetting” of new arrivals, restrict arrivals based on religion and background, as well as prohibit state agencies from using resources to support refugees and immigrants.
I consider myself a refugee, an immigrant and soon-to-be American who has gone through intense security checks by U.S. security agencies prior to being granted a permission to travel to the U.S. I am disturbed by the impact these laws would have on people’s lives and skeptical of the integrity of a community that believes new arrivals are threats to American society.
I have a deep appreciation for those, during my life in Durham, who have come to my home for dinner, shared their experiences with me, taken me fishing and for themselves, reached out to touch the truth.
I want to request that we create bonds instead of differences. That we recognize that all aspects of this nation are foreign, except for those who were here first. That we value the experiences and contributions of new arrivals just as much as we do America’s Founding Fathers. That we need to do better because our racism affects everyone, causes suffering and increases oppressive stratification.
My belief is that everybody would desire to live in a place where they are loved and respected. Let some sunlight shine through the mist and support new arrivals by seeking the truth for yourselves and encouraging your loved ones to do the same. Vote, act and join refugees and immigrants as we rally for respect and march to the polls at 2 p.m. on Sunday at 5 points plaza in downtown Durham. We will be marching to the polls to demand the right to belong, in every meaning of the word.
For more information on how to get involved, become an advocate, co-sponsor, or volunteer for refugees please contact Sijal Nasralla at email@example.com
Sufyan Abdulla of Durham is an Arabic/English interpreter and community organizer with Church World Service.