Response to the Refugee Ball has been overwhelming. It looks like we have essentially reached capacity, and it should be a fantastic event with amazing musicians, artists, and food.
Here, though, I want to talk about what we are celebrating, and why. The “reason for the season,” as it were. The Ball takes place a day after the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Dr. King famously said, the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Of course, the arc does not bend by itself. People have to work hard to push it in the right direction.
One purpose of the Ball is to celebrate the people who help bend the arc by assisting refugees and asylum seekers: Lawyers, doctors, social workers, activists, students, and advocates.
But more than those of us who are helping refugees and asylum seekers, the purpose of the Ball is to celebrate the refugees and asylum seekers themselves; people who have worked and sacrificed and struggled for justice. Attending the Ball will be activists for democracy and peace and women’s rights, journalists who have stood up for free speech against tyrants, advocates for gay and lesbian rights, members of religious minorities who have risked their lives for their faith, members of oppressed ethnic minorities and oppressed nationalities, interpreters and aid workers who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our own country’s soldiers and diplomats in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. These people—asylum seekers and refugees—have risked their careers, their property, and their lives in order to help bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
And so the Ball will celebrate and honor their work. It also gives us an opportunity to express our solidarity with them, and our commitment to them.
Critics of our humanitarian immigration policies claim that asylum is a gift, given to needy people because Americans are nice. They say that we dole out this generous benefit and get nothing in return. This view of asylum is false.
Since its beginning—during the Cold War in the 1950s—asylum was about advancing America’s strategic interests. In those early days, it was about demonstrating our moral superiority to our Soviet adversaries. We celebrated famous dissidents, athletes, and artists who defected to the West.
Now, the Soviet Union is gone, but asylum remains an essential tool of U.S. foreign policy. We gain tangible benefits from asylum. And I am not talking only about the influx of talented, brilliant people who add to our nation’s strength.
When we give asylum to interpreters who served with our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, we demonstrate our loyalty to those who work with us. When we grant asylum to women’s rights advocates, we show our support for the cause of gender equality. When we support journalists, we show that we stand for free speech. And when we grant asylum to religious minorities, we reinforce our founding principle of Religious Freedom.
Imagine for a moment what it would mean to deny asylum to Iraqi interpreters, woman’s rights advocates, journalists or members of religious minorities. Imagine what that would say about us, about our country. Imagine what message it would send to those around the world who are working for the values that we, in our best moments, embody.
But when we offer asylum to those who have stood with us, and who have risked their lives to advance the values that we cherish (and which we too often take for granted), we send a powerful message: When you work with us, when you work for the values we believe in, America has got your back. We are with you. And when activists around the world have confidence that America is on their side, it helps them continue their struggle for justice.
And it helps us too. If we want their cooperation and loyalty going forward, our allies need to know that we are there for them. That we will protect them if they need our help. If they do not have confidence in us, they won’t support us. Our asylum and refugee systems demonstrate –in a tangible way—our loyalty to those who stand with us, and this helps us advance our own national interests and moral values.
And so at the Refugee Ball, we will celebrate our humanitarian immigration system. We will celebrate the people who work within that system, and those who have come to our country through that system. We hope to see you there.
To learn more about the Ball, visit our Facebook page.
To donate, please visit our Go Fund Me page.