Empathy Through Education and Stories


Dekow Diriye Sagar: Refugees already heavily vetted via

The vetting process is already rigorous; I know this because I went through it. The process took two years, from my initial application to getting a plane ticket, and that was in 2007. Today the process is more difficult, complex and time-consuming.

Dekow Diriye Sagar: Refugees already heavily vetted | Opinion | <img src=”″ />

The writer, a former Somalian refugee, is a former lecturer at the University of Kansas. He is currently program coordinator at the International Center of the Heartland. The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Lutheran Family Services.


Since 1948, the United States has recognized that refugee crises are a manmade phenomenon and has offered resettlement opportunities on humanitarian grounds. Today, violence, terrorism, regime changes and civil strife have resulted in 65 million internally displaced persons and refugees.

Of those, 20 million qualify for refugee status. The majority are scattered throughout the world.

Less than 1 percent of this vulnerable and marginalized population gets an opportunity to be resettled in a stable country; I am one of the fortunate beneficiaries. After languishing in a refugee camp for 15 years, I was blessed to come to the U.S. to live, work and study. For this opportunity, I always will be grateful.


The Obama administration authorized 110,000 refugees to be resettled in fiscal year 2017. This is the highest number since 9/11. Former President Barack Obama called for compassion, in lieu of fear and suspicion. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump has turned his back on refugees fleeing from the brutality of terrorism.


Trump suspended all refugee resettlement for 120 days and banned citizens of seven nations from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The administration argues that, during this period, a serious vetting process will be established.


The vetting process is already rigorous; I know this because I went through it. The process took two years, from my initial application to getting a plane ticket, and that was in 2007.


Today the process is more difficult, complex and time-consuming.

The Trump administration asserts that refugees pose a serious security threat. Since 2004, an average of 80,000 refugees have been resettled annually in the U.S. Not a single person admitted as a refugee was convicted of domestic terrorism — out of 960,000 refugees. This talk of “extreme vetting” and “security risks” makes me wonder if the president is ignorant on the topic of refugee resettlement or even working to manipulate public opinion, with the goal of ending refugee resettlement.


Fear of immigrants and refugees is not new. There has been a long history of “refugee fear-mongering.” In the 1930s, America was faced with a decision of whether to accept Jews fleeing from the Nazi regime. In that era, 67 percent of Americans opposed the idea of accepting Jewish refugees. The prevailing rhetoric was that refugees would contribute to communist infiltration of the U.S. “Boat people” from Vietnam were later met with a similar “welcome,” this time by Americans fearful that Vietnamese refugees would steal their jobs.


In the 1980s, refugees fleeing from Cuba and Haiti were perceived similarly. Most recently, the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America has ignited a polarizing debate. Syrian and other Muslim refugees are simply the latest example.


Considering that refugees were once homeless and penniless, one can objectively conclude that the refugee resettlement has been a success. We have not only given people a home, we also have treated them with compassion and given them an opportunity — not a handout.


In return, refugees have contributed to the prosperity, diversity and, yes, greatness of America. During a time of crisis, the leaders who prevail are the ones who act with reason and wisdom, rather than reacting with raw emotion.


When elected leaders initiate disgraceful policies, we have a moral and civic responsibility to oppose them and make our voices heard. Infringing on the rights of minorities and discriminating against some based on their faith violates every American’s civil liberties and marginalizes the values we Americans share.


As Americans, we must rise up for the sake of humanity and be on the right side of history. We must fight so that people enslaved by terrorist organizations and oppressive regimes can live in freedom.

I will fight for the American values of freedom, compassion, independence, pursuit of happiness and to aid the most destitute and refugees because this country called the U.S.A. has given me hope, safety and, most importantly, a home.


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