We sit on a thin cushion in one of the two rooms that make up the apartment in East Amman, Jordan. Our host, Mohammed, sits on the floor, having given us the best seating. His legs are tucked under him as he pulls out a tattered manila envelope that contains his family’s official refugee documents. His wife sits beside me, their 4-year-old son tugging at her, crying for falafel. He is hungry.
Mohammed tells us how his family had been granted asylum to Texas when the Trump ban was put into effect. Now he does not know what is next for his family. He has missed three rent payments in the past six months.
A trained welder and construction worker, he takes odd jobs when they are available, which is rarely. His family is completely reliant on food vouchers for their survival. And still the vouchers are not enough. Mohammed’s family’s struggle is the norm, not the exception.
As President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE proposes new policies that would charge fees to asylum seekers and prevent those crossing a border illegally from obtaining a work permit, families who have suffered extreme human rights violations will now be subject to increased suffering and without any tangible benefits for the American people.
With the United Nations High Commission of Refugees estimating more than 68 million refugees and displaced persons around the world — higher numbers than ever before documented — it is vital to national and global agendas to find a way to support these families to become productive members of the societies in which they are living. Yet we are failing.
For Syrian refugees in Jordan, it has only been in the last year that there has been an opportunity to find legal employment — and only then in a limited number of sectors, working in construction or service industries.
Before these legal permits became available, any work that refugees were able to find was illegal, putting them at risk of abuse and exploitation. Even now, many continue to work illegally, and suffering the consequences. And those who do hold legal permits are often still only finding work sporadically.
The ongoing strife in places like Syria, Venezuela, South Sudan and elsewhere around the world make it unlikely that refugees and immigrants will be able to safely return home anytime soon. And while families wait indefinitely for permanent resettlement, they spend years ‘temporarily’ residing in countries that prohibit their involvement in national economies.
These families are often seen as the equivalent of "welfare queens", sucking up limited humanitarian resources. Yet, they don’t want to be. In fact, the families with whom I spoke wanted desperately to work and to be able to support themselves. As I heard individual after individual recount the horrors of war — from the man who was arrested and tortured to the boy whose house collapsed on him after it was bombed — it was clear that these were not the stressors that were occupying people’s thoughts. Instead, it was the worry about where a next meal was going to come from or how a family was going to afford diapers or pay for medicine for a child.
To be sure, many of the economies where large numbers of refugees reside, including Jordan, are struggling. Yet, denying skilled individuals the right to work and to be contributing members of society is not in any one’s or any nation’s interest.
It is time to change the way we support refugees and immigrants and it is in everyone’s interest to do so. We need to encourage hosting countries to support refugees and immigrants to enter the workforce. And, as Americans, we need to remember that our country was built by those who have come here seeking a better future for themselves and their families.
As I sat and listened to Mohammed tell me how his family has lost their chance to move to Texas as a result of the current administration, my thoughts turned to the positive contributions that refugees can and want to make. By creating policies and programs to help refugees provide for themselves, there is no telling the positive ways those opportunities will be repaid.
Mohammed left me with these words: “I am a simple man and we are a simple family. We don’t have much to dream about. I don’t see a future in this country. I just want a future for my children.” To me, this is not too much to ask.
Lindsay Stark is an associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis and a Public Voices Fellow withThe OpEd Project.