Watching the migrant caravan edge north through Mexico, I’m reminded of my own family’s long, dangerous journey to America in the 1990s. These days, I’m a proud US citizen and a successful business owner — but I’m only here because the United States helped my family escape persecution.
We’re from Somalia, where my mother was a bank clerk and my father was a successful food-industry entrepreneur. But when civil war broke out in 1991, my father bundled my pregnant mother and my older brother into a car and fled across the border into Kenya. I was born soon after, and spent the first four years of my life in a Kenyan refugee camp before American Catholic missionaries helped us resettle in Tennessee.
My earliest memories are of growing up in Nashville, and I’ve always felt every bit as American as any of my native-born neighbors. That’s why President Trump’s efforts to close our doors to refugees and asylum seekers is so upsetting. The White House is cutting the refugees we admit to just 30,000 people a year — a third lower than current levels, and a dramatic decline from President Obama’s target of 110,000 in 2017. The Trump administration is also implementing new policies that will make it harder for Central Americans to obtain asylum at our country’s southern border.
As someone whose family once benefited from America’s generosity, I believe that the Trump administration should walk back those policies. Our country must stay true to its core values, and that means reinstating Obama-era refugee quotas, and working to make it easier, not harder, for refugees to gain the help and protection they need.
Besides helping people fleeing persecution, war and gang violence, doing so would also be good for our nation’s economic wellbeing. Everywhere refugees go, they work hard, pay taxes and start businesses, supporting local economies and creating countless jobs for native-born Americans. According to New American Economy, 13% of refugees start their own businesses, compared to just 9% of the US-born population; in total, our country now has more than 180,000 refugee entrepreneurs, running businesses that bring in $4.6 billion a year.