The United States, like every nation, has a dual mandate: to build, enlarge and sustain its wealth in the material as well as in the spiritual domains. America is the richest nation in the world. Yet the decison to close doors to 800,000 young people is one that shows a spiritual deficit that needs to be filled with compassion and enlightened self-interest.
Your Excellency President Donald Trump,
As a Rwandan refugee in the United States, I am deeply anguished by your decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. I am not alone in this regard, as evidenced by the outpouring of concern since the decision was made public. There is no doubt that each of the approximately 800,000 affected lives has descended into further dreadful and paralyzing uncertainty.
Let me use my own life story to explain why I am compelled to add my humble voice in defense of those affected.
I was born in Rwanda during violent transition when Rwanda emerged from a centuries-old monarchy and Belgian colonial rule. The violent revolution claimed the lives of thousands, including my father, and led to the earliest refugees on the African continent. Widowed, my mother had to raise four children during a 30-year journey that took her to refugee camps in Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
It is in a refugee camp in southwest Uganda where I witnessed first-hand the generosity of our Ugandan hosts. In most cases the local people were poor, and yet they demonstrated hospitality to uprooted strangers in their midst. It is here in this refugee camp that I had my first day in a make-shift classroom under a tree, from a teacher who drew ABC, and 1,2,3 on sand and asked for attention from half-distracted and yet enthusiastic 7-year-olds. I would later go through primary and secondary school, and attend Makerere University where I received my medical education.
My education and life experience have taught me much more about what is good and bad about the United States. I was first introduced to America in a refugee camp. The food rations distributed by the refugee relief agency, UNHCR, came packed in boxes labeled “USAID” with words ‘Gift from the Government and People of the United States’. Our teacher read them in broken English and explained what the words meant.
I also recall, as a young boy, joining my younger sister to sing in the local Kinyankole language a song about the killing of somebody by the name of President Kennedy, described as “a son of America”. I felt sad about it. I was comforted by the upbeat conclusion of the song, calling for the burning of those who killed Kennedy. My young mind was then intrigued by America’s generosity and violence.
My education was interrupted three times. Each time, a good Samaritan appeared to rescue me. For the first time, in primary school, it was a pair of Belgian nuns far away in Europe. In secondary school, it was the Ugandan Catholic Secretariat. In college, it was the Government of Uganda offering a government scholarship to a refugee boy! Since then my nomadic life has taken me to all the four corners of the world, in many countries, where my being a stranger is the rule, not an exception.
Millions in this country and all over the world are troubled by the fate of 800,000 ‘dreamers’, millions of other immigrants and refugees caught in the nightmare of an unknown future in the United States. Though I do not know each of the affected by name, I can only relate to their situation because it is one of the many familiar ordeals immigrants and refugees go through.
There are well founded reasons why each one of them is here. Each one of them is a life that has a human story to tell. I imagine each life has a sacrificial mother, a school, a college, some good Samaritans, a church, a government, some place of work, and many other aspects that are part of an on-going life story. You know very well that they are hard working.
It should be a familiar story to America too. The United States is a complex tapestry weaved from, and by, a mixture of people who were once, and sometimes still are, strangers to each other. That is why Neil Diamond’s song, America, resonates with many who have been, or found themselves, on this piece of land called the United States:
We've been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star
Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hang on to a dream
That is the story of America. It is the story of your own family as well, Mr. President.
Notwithstanding the painful lessons of its history and current life, the American people are truly generous at home and abroad. The organization, Giving USA, estimates American giving to be $390.05 billion in 2016. It is the spirit of coming together and generous giving that is being demonstrated in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. It is a spirit that has to be harnessed as this whole nation anxiously anticipates Hurricane IRMA. In things big and small it is a very visible American character on a daily basis.
The United States is a big influence in a world awash with refugees, displaced people, migrants and immigrants. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are 65.3 million refugees and displaced people in the world, most of them in the poorest nations in the world. The number of international migrants reached 244 million in 2015, according to the International Labor Organization. All these are enormous challenges that come with opportunities which a reigning superpower is called upon to shape. It has benefited much from this global order, and contributed to the disorder in no small way. It has a duty and obligation to help repair what is broken, prevent further decline into chaos, and shape the boundaries of shared peace and prosperity at home and abroad. Immigrants are part and parcel of that journey.
The decision to end DACA adds fuel to the simmering fire in America’s highly polarized political atmosphere. Coming fresh in the heels of Charlottesville, anti-immigrant rhetoric and other divisive initiatives, the decision seriously impairs the healing process that this country urgently needs.
The United States, like every nation, has a dual mandate: to build, enlarge, and sustain its wealth in the material as well as in the spiritual domains. Evidently, the United States is the richest nation in the world. Yet, the action to close doors to 800,000 young people is one that shows a spiritual deficit that has to be filled with compassion and enlightened self-interest.
I know that, like me and many billions across the world, you are Christian. I would like to share with you some words of wisdom from the Holy Bible.
You might recall that when Jews were held in captivity in Babylon (perhaps over two and half millennia ago), one of their prophets, Jeremiah, advised his people:
“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:7
Esther, another Jewish figure who was a queen to a Persian king, wrote to her own uncle in very troubling times:
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? Esther 4:14
Later, our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ humbled Himself to be born in a manger, became a refugee as soon as He was born, was crucified, died, and resurrected so that we may have full lives as He proclaimed:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed.” Luke 4:18-19
As the Jewish queen wrote, consider yourself to have come to the most royal position in the world for such time as this, to do no harm to immigrants.
You know, as Prophet Jeremiah advised, that immigrants daily work to enhance the peace and prosperity of the United States.
As Jesus Christ taught, you have been crowned to work for the poor, release those unjustly held in prisons, recover the sight of those blind to human suffering, deliver the oppressed, welcome strangers, and inspire the rich to recover their spiritual well-being and share their treasure.
Your Excellency President Donald Trump,
Help enrich the lives of immigrants. Do not disrupt them. They are not your enemies. They are you allies in making America great, peaceful, and prosperous.
Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa
Former Ambassador of Rwanda to the United States
Contact: [email protected]