June 17, 2017
“I’m sorry, but the current waiting list for your spouse to be able to join you in the United States is roughly 12 years.” Imagine having to look someone in the eyes and deliver that news. I had to do that when I worked for a Congressman and handled immigration cases. Depending on the country, many waiting periods were shorter, but all of them seemed too long.
It was easily some of the hardest work I’ve ever had to do. Not because the paperwork and laws were complicated, though they were, but because it was about people. Real people sitting in my office, following the law, crying as I delivered the news. These were separated families, trying desperately to reunite and start a new life here, just like I’m sure my ancestors did a century before.
Even harder were the refugee cases. I heard stories of persecution and terror you wouldn’t believe. I was told stories of entire families being killed, of lone survivors escaping looking for a new life. It opened my eyes to a world I didn’t know existed and I could not imagine going through what some of these people had experienced. Yet, their resilience was astounding. They were determined to survive and succeed.
As Emma Lazarus’ wrote in her sonnet, now inscribed at the Statue of Liberty “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Oh, the breaths of freedom those people were taking once they were finally safe in America. That’s what made the heartbreaking job so much easier. I wasn’t just doing paperwork and making calls, I was reuniting familiies – and that’s a pretty darn good feeling.
Carrie Symons, an assistant professor of education, is dedicated to helping refugees and young immgrants have successful futures. As a volunteer at the Refugee Development Center in Lansing, she works to instruct and support these new members of our community. Check out her FACULTY VOICE: Inextricably interconnected, to learn more about her work.
Ramie Taher was born in the U.S. but lived in Syria for some time. His family left in 2012 and now he’s studying finance at MSU. His background gives him a different perspective on refugees and his curiosity led him to learn more about possible economic benefits of refugee programs. Read his STUDENT VIEW: Refugees and entrepreneurial spirit, to learn more about him and what he learned.
I don’t miss immigration work, but I do miss the people. I loved learning about new cultures and being around people with very different experiences than my own. Luckily, I can still do that here at MSU. Here on campus there are multiple opportunities to learn about the world around us and meet people very different from ourselves. We Spartans are a varied group. We welcome different view points and exchange of ideas. We are a greater Spartan nation because of our diversity. No matter where we’ve come from or how different we are, we’re bound together with the same Spartans Will.
Photo by Derrick L. Turner