We chose the University of Michigan Law School to advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable refugees. Michigan Law offers unique opportunities to serve refugee communities. Within our first week of law school in 2013, we represented refugees as student attorneys through the International Refugee Assistance Project University of Michigan Law Chapter.
“Aya” is a name we’ll use to protect the privacy of an Iraqi widowed mother of four, one of our clients. Aya’s eldest daughter worked as a translator for the U.S. forces in Iraq. Because of that, insurgents labeled Aya’s family traitors. After her husband was murdered, Aya and her family escaped to Jordan. Still under threat, she enlisted IRAP’s help to apply for refugee resettlement. In 2014, IRAP-Michigan successfully advocated for Aya and her children’s resettlement to the United States. They were able to join a daughter who had already resettled here. For the first time in four years, Aya held her grandchild, and Aya’s children attended school and enjoyed safety.
We were proud to tell Aya she would be resettled in Michigan, then a “welcoming state” for refugees. In September, when President Obama directed his administration to take in an additional 10,000 displaced Syrians, Michigan lawmakers started making arrangements to welcome them. But in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut, Gov. Rick Snyder and others reversed course.
Aya and her children are not security threats. They were escaping the same violence U.S. forces have been fighting. But current legislative proposals would effectively close the doors of safety to them and to other vulnerable victims of torture, targets of genocide.
Nine out of Michigan’s 14 congressional representatives voted for H.R. 4038. The bill doesn’t add any substantive security screening to refugee processing, but does create an additional bureaucratic hurdle to the resettlement process. This legislation is borne out of fear rather than respect for our common human desire for safety.
Our political leaders do not make Michigan safer by supporting reactionary policies that abandon our cultural diversity and community values.
Adrienne Darrow Boyd and Julie Kornfeld are third-year law students.