Over the last two weeks, there has been extensive news coverage about the impact of the government shutdown on various services.
We've seen headlines about WWII veterans trying to visit a closed WWII monument in Washington DC; About frustrated families having to rearrange, cancel, or postpone their vacations to national parks; About death benefits being denied to those killed in combat since the shutdown; And about sick kids being unable to start clinical trials.
No doubt, all of these things are important.
But so, too, are the ways in which our government shutdown is impacting people who have already been to hell and back, including refugees who live half a world away and are anxiously awaiting resettlement to the United States.
Along those lines, yesterday, this tweet caught my attention:
On Metro to DC to talk with politicians about peace in Congo... War never "shuts down".— Belinda Bauman (@belindajbauman) October 10, 2013
I saw this tweet just days after receiving the following e-mail from Exodus World Service, an incredible organization that mobilizes the Christian community to welcome refugees:
"I am writing you with some sad news. Some of you may have heard already that there is a moratorium on refugee arrivals until at least October 21st because of the government shut-down. This means that we will likely receive no new families until then. Nearly all of our families who were scheduled to arrive in the coming weeks have been put on hold. Please pray for these families, especially those who were already scheduled to arrive, as I am certain this is a huge disappointment to them. Please also pray for a resolution to the government shut-down, so that families can continue to find safety in the United States."
This message made me want to weep.
As I read it, I wondered, what exactly does it mean for a refugee family scheduled for resettlement to be put on hold?
I found out the answer to this question a short while later, when we talked to our friend Emile. Emile is a refugee from the Congo who, after years of living in Kiziba Refugee Camp in Rwanda, was resettled in the US about two years ago.
Emile told us about his friends from Kiziba who were scheduled for resettlement in the US this week. Mind you, Emile's friends are refugees who have already passed the required medical exams and security checks that are a prerequisite to being resettled in the US. Months before shutting down, our government approved and scheduled these refugee families for resettlement in the US. As a result, they saved up the necessary funds, purchased new clothes & bus tickets to Kigali, and even traveled to Kigali to begin orientation. Once in Kigali, however, they learned our government was shutdown and so they were sent back to Kiziba.
I cannot even begin to imagine how heartbreaking and demoralizing this scenario is for a refugee family who's already stuck living in the in-between – unable to return to their homeland and now, through no fault of their own, unable to begin a new life elsewhere. Instead, they remain stuck in limbo, prisoners of a government shutdown over which they have no control.
Certainly, it's easy to forget people like refugees. They are, in so many ways, invisible, especially since they are not the constituents of the very people holding them hostage.
But I am.
And so today, I am choosing to use my voice to speak on behalf of those who have no voice.
Ironically, I thought this was the job of our elected officials – people like my own representatives, Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Mark Kirk, and Congressman Peter Roskam.
To those representatives and others, may I remind you:
You weren't elected to fight for your own interests. You were elected to fight for ours.
In an era in which people are quickly losing faith in our government, at the very least, we thought we could trust you to keep our government open. We trusted you to work on behalf of WWII veterans trying to see their memorial, families trying to vacation in our national parks, families attempting to bury those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, families searching for medical treatment for their sick children, and yes, even refugee families desperately hoping to begin their lives in our country because their own is filled with unspeakable horrors.
Do not forget that the lives of these people - real people with names, faces, and stories – are hanging in the balance because of you.
May you find the courage to use your power to represent us - and especially those with no voice - well; To fight for justice on our behalf; And to lay aside your own interests or politics in order to do what is good and right.