Boston Bombing Should Not Change Our Perspective on Local Refugees, Immigration Reform

April 17th has passed, but  it's not too late to call your congress member!

April 17th has passed, but it’s not too late to call your congress member! Click here to get more involved.

By: Stephen Johnson / Photo Courtesy of the Evangelical Immigration Table

Note: This op-ed was submitted to several local media outlets last week. Please note that the opinions below do not necessarily reflect those of World Relief. For an official WR statement on the proposed immigration bill, click here.

As the Senate immigration reform debate continues, we must not let the attacks in Boston stifle the energy behind passing common-sense legislation. Even before the suspects were identified last week, there were calls for caution from senators who have traditionally opposed the bill. Xenophobia has been palpable in the streets. Language across social media platforms has turned benign followers into vitriolic fear machines.

Washington would benefit tremendously from immigration reform and we know it. The labor shortage in the agricultural industry has been well-documented by the Seattle Times over the past few years. Providing a legal path to citizenship for our approximately 230,000 undocumented neighbors will offer needed workers for our labor-intensive industries.[1] Thousands of talented young people brought here as children would immediately escape legal ambiguity and add a fresh jolt to our aging labor market. Families would be reunited, creating more stability within our society’s most valued institution.

In South King County, there has been a tremendous increase of refugees and immigrants over the last two decades, with the vast majority settling in suburbs like Kent and Tukwila.[2] Having worked with this population for years, we know firsthand the untold benefits of inviting more refugees and immigrants to our state. Resettlement programs attract millions of federal and state dollars to our communities each year. Entire apartment complexes in King County have transformed from dilapidated, half-empty units into thriving epicenters of the American Dream. Our new neighbors have added valuable diversity to our schools and workplaces. They bring an entrepreneurial spirit to our city with needed skills and unique experiences. We have assisted thousands of refugees as they get their first jobs in the USA. We can vouch that most are working and self-sufficient shortly after their arrival, paying taxes, buying homes and contributing to society.

As President Obama noted in his January speech on immigration, this is not about “us versus them” because “most of us used to be them.”[3] Even Mark Zuckerberg highlighted his own family’s path to the U.S. through Ellis Island in a recent article published in favor of immigration reform.[4] The act of terror in Boston should not arrest our determination on this issue; rather, it should encourage us to push even harder. Last week’s events provide even more evidence of our broken system. In a joint statement last week, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham spoke out against any excuses or delays by saying, “In fact the opposite is true: Immigration reform will strengthen our nation’s security by helping us identify exactly who has entered our country and who has left – a basic function of government that our broken immigration system is incapable of accomplishing today.”[5]

The most profound damage often wrought from acts of terror is not necessarily the destruction itself, but the aftermath of self-destructive division among Americans. We have seen what happened to our country after 9/11. After the dust of resiliency and resolve settled, more hate crimes and violence resurfaced. Our nation collectively retreated into our homes for fear of “the other “next door. We must not let immigration reform become another casualty of our own paralyzing insularity. We must not let terror win.

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