My mother's grandparents, immigrants from the Levant

Pictured: My mother’s maternal grandparents, immigrants from the Levant (at the time known as “Greater Syria” including what is now Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine/Israel), pre WWI

There is a petition circulating right now in Pennsylvania asking Governor Wolf to reject Syrian refugees. Over 70,000 people have signed it. One of the most frequent reasons petition signers give for their position is that there are hundreds of thousands, millions even, of people in our state who are suffering, and who don’t have what we need. If you signed this petition you may have real concerns about your neighbors, friends and even family members who are trying to make ends meet and dealing with unemployment or underemployment, challenges around housing, healthcare, education or childcare, or caught up in the system in some way.

And you’re right that there are altogether too many people here in Pennsylvania who are struggling. One fifth of our children are living in poverty. We have over 15,000 homeless people, and 50,000 thousand people locked in cages due to mass incarceration. The number of our homeless veterans increased by nearly 50% in the last six years. Nearly one and a half million Pennsylvanians live in poverty. That’s over 1 million/10% of whites and 28.7%/370 thousand African-Americans. A full-time, full-year minimum wage worker earns $15,080 annually, an amount still below the poverty line for a family of four.

However, we have to ask ourselves, are the Syrian refugees the source of these problems? Will not admitting refugees fleeing war and poverty solve the problems that we as poor and working people have in Pennsylvania? Will refusing refugees help homeless veterans? Will it house those who need housing? Will it provide medical care to those who need it? Will it feed the people who need fed? Will it educate the students who need education?

Not only will refusing refugees fail to make any of these situations better, it also won’t create more resources for any of these things – because as we can see, we are already don’t have them. The only way to get what we need is to stop blaming each other and come together. By doing this, we can begin to understand how we got here and what we need to do to change it. We only get what we are organized to take and we aren’t asking for anything but the basics that we need to live. You are right to sense that the priorities of the powers and principalities are not working in your interests. But the refugees are not to blame.

Let us not allow ourselves to be motivated by fear. Let us now allow ourselves to be motivated by despair. Let us not be fooled into thinking that there isn’t enough to go around. Love knows no boundaries and no borders. Let us feel and be motivated by love. And in doing so work for a world in which the last, whomever and wherever they are, shall be first.

Discussion Questions:

Pennsylvania has a flat tax system meaning that whether your family makes $15,000 or $15,000,000 dollars, we are all taxed at the same rate. Do you think that is fair? Why or why not?

Has anyone in your family/anyone you know ever held a job that hurt/polluted themselves, other people, or the air, land, and water? How do you feel about the choices that we have to make to survive?

What is the history of your family? How did your ancestors come to be in the US? Were they brought here by force as enslaved people? Were they immigrants? Refugees? Are they Indigenous people?

Have you or someone in your family gone to war? How did it impact you/them? What were the stated reasons for the war? What were the real reasons?

Sources and further reading:
http://www.pennlive.com/editorials/index.ssf/2010/03/living_below_poverty_in_pennsy.html
http://www.spotlightonpoverty.org/map-detail.aspx?state=Pennsylvania
http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/philadelphia/62343-despite-national-trend-more-veterans-homeless-in-pennsylvania

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