Jenny Martinez hugs her son, William Martinez, as they talk to the media about her trip from El Salvador and her need for asylum in America because of domestic violence and her fear for her life as they join with protesters in front of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services building. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

How to Support Refugees in a Racist Time

We are in the middle of the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with 22.5 million human beings displaced by violence and fear of death.

In response to this, some U.S. elected officials and other public voices have chosen to sow disgust or fear about people whose only crime has been being born in one country over another, with a particular skin color, or choosing to pray in a certain way. Their goal is to make these individuals appear somehow less worthy of pursuing the American dream.

As we all saw yesterday, the president’s comments about what constitutes a “shithole country” reinforces this dangerous trend: the belief that some people are inherently worthier than others.

So what can you do when faced with language like this? We took some tools from AIUSA’s “The America I Believe In” toolbox:

1. Contact your Member of Congress or Senator and demand they take a stand against the president’s statement. Call upon them to advocate for an immigration bill that protect and embrace refugees, no matter what country they come from.

2. Call upon your school, union, or local company to pass a resolution in support of refugees. Write a letter to administrators or company managers asking them to solidify their support for refugees with a resolution and/or statement.

3. When engaging your community in response to this kind of language, if you see others close to you making racist or anti-refugee comments, consider your response. If you feel safe responding and if you think engaging that person will foster meaningful interaction, address their behavior head on with one of the following statements:

“What you just said made me very uncomfortable, and what did you mean when you said ________?”

“The statement you made struck me as really sad. Don’t you think we should treat all people equally, no matter their skin color or country of origin?”

“Can you explain your viewpoint to me?”

When addressing discriminatory statements or behaviors, the offending party will usually respond back in a defensive posture. Be ready to listen to them but at the same time hold them accountable for the impact of their actions.

Once they respond, engage them in a conversation rooted in values the two of you share. Remember that arguing with a friend or relative very rarely changes their mind. Instead, empathy is the root of all advocacy.

“I think you and I can both agree that the country is particularly divided right now. Do you think this kind of statement divides the country further?”

“I think you and I can both agree that the U.S. aspires to treat people equally, no matter what someone’s skin color is or what language they speak or where they were born. Do you think our policies should follow those same values?”

“Both of us are scared and want to feel safe. I feel less safe when I hear statements like this. I believe we’re stronger when we stand united as people of all faiths and backgrounds, and we’re weaker when we let statements like these divide us as a country and look at innocent people with distrust. What do you think?”

This won’t always work, and this isn’t a foolproof method. People need to talk through their feelings many times as they form an opinion about something like refugee rights. But if you start a conversation with someone who makes shocking statements like the president’s, you may find a new ally in the fight to increase the number of refugees allowed into the country.

For more tips on how to support refugees and immigrants, Americans who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim, and end the use of torture, check out our toolkit here. And if you have other ways you see as effective at responding to the president’s statement or other anti-refugee or immigrant, racist statements, leave them in the comments below.

We've been fighting the bad guys since 1961 - you can join us! Official Amnesty International USA profile.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store