OPINION: Stories untold: How refugees, immigrants are giving back

Shams Mustafa

We’ve all heard about the “American dream.” But what is this “American dream?” Writer and historian James Truslow Adams explained it in his best-selling 1931 book “Epic of America” as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

The United States of America is known as the land of diversity, freedom and refuge from poverty and persecution. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump’s administration is eliminating immigrants’ rights, like The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Chain Immigration. We’ve all had our bad moments before, but immigrants and refugees have the potential and will to give back in their communities. Are you willing to give them a chance?

Police officer Germain Dosseh escaped to Ghana when he was a teenager after the civil war broke out in Togo. He spent 14 years in refugee camps with high hopes to resettle and start a new life. After seven years of security checks and interviews, the Resettlement in America program gave him the opportunity to build a peaceful life and receive a proper education. “I felt that I belonged to an organization. I felt that somebody appreciated me,” he said in an interview by The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


Show your support:

–  Donate on the United Nations’ websites for many countries in need of food and shelters.

–  Know your neighbors. Don’t be afraid when you see a woman wearing a head scarf or a man with a beard. Talk to them and learn more about them.

–  Hire a refugee or an immigrant and help them support themselves. Learn from their talents and skills.

–  Fight for their rights on the ballot. You have a chance to vote and refuse banning and building walls.

Dosseh was given an opportunity to live a decent life and in return, he showed gratitude by joining the Phoenix, Arizona, police force. “I want to help people. The American people gave me an opportunity to live in this country freely. I don’t have anything materialistic as a way of saying thank you. The only thing I can do is to serve them,” he said.

“I am an American and I love that,” Dosseh said. “A refugee is a person that lost everything, has no hope. A refugee is a person who is looking for a second chance. For me, to be an American is a big deal … living here is a blessing.”

This feeling of gratitude is mutual among the majority of refugees and immigrants.

Studies estimated that the rate of violent crime in the U.S. fell by 48 percent between 1990 and 2013, when the number of undocumented immigrants tripled. Immigrants and refugees are not criminals or drug dealers. They are contributors in their communities.

The DACA program gave Kenia Lopez a chance to work as an ESL teacher. When she arrived in Virginia from El Salvador in 2005, an ESL teacher embraced her, as she was new to the country. Lopez was inspired and encouraged to get a degree in education and help students in the same way. “All of us with DACA are working and striving to help people of all races in our communities,” she told newamericaneconomy.com. “We want to give back.”

DACA, which helped around 800,000 young undocumented immigrants work and live in the U.S., is now in limbo after Trump’s administration stopped accepting applications. The future of DACA will also determine the future of more undocumented immigrants, either giving them a chance to achieve their dreams or be deported and, too often, killed.

Many businesses depend on immigrants, as they bring different skills, languages and educational backgrounds. They are filling jobs that few Americans are interested in and without their inputs, the economy would decline.

Independence Day is not taught in schools for nothing. It’s a reminder for kids that the U.S. created its own identity. This identity wasn’t British or French, but rather a union of different nations who decided to build a land together.

We must not underestimate the contributions that immigrants and refugees are making in this country. They do not bring their problems with them, as Trump once tweeted. The only things they bring are their potentials and dreams.

Shams Mustafa is a guest columnist. Contact her at [email protected].