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Something important happened last week: We stopped Congress from slamming the door on Syrian families seeking refuge. Against the odds, compassion and our best American values prevailed—beating out fear, hate-baiting, and xenophobia.1
It didn’t just happen. We fought for it. And we won.
In the middle of this holiday season, we wanted to share what happened—and celebrate—with you.
Just weeks ago, an anti-refugee backlash had enormous momentum. Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates were shamelessly stoking fears and scapegoating refugees in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Dozens of governors declared Syrian refugees weren’t welcome in their states.
Congressional offices were “hearing more on this refugee issue than they have heard on any other issue in the last eight years, more than Obamacare, more than anything,” according to insiders quoted by Politico.2 The U.S. House quickly passed a draconian bill, with a veto-proof majority, to effectively stop Syrian resettlement programs.
Everyone thought the anti-refugee bill would sail through the Senate. Or if it didn’t, then surely it would be attached to the must-pass spending bill, as conservatives were demanding. Either way, thousands of Syrian families would find their hope of safety suddenly disappear.
But something happened that Washington wasn’t counting on: our community stood up.
We signed and delivered hundreds of thousands of petition signatures. We flooded Congress with phone calls—at least 25,000 calls from MoveOn members alone. We marched in the streets at dozens of vigils and rallies with “Refugees Welcome” signs held high. We conducted polling research showing that Democrats can confidently stand with refugees. We used social media to share more than 150 digital posters celebrating legislators who did the right thing—and calling out those who caved in the face of fear.
And we welcomed refugee families into our homes for Thanksgiving-themed dinners. I hosted one at my home—where newcomers to America broke bread with civic leaders, my family members, and our member of Congress, Representative Jan Schakowsky.
Through all of this work, we gained momentum in our work to defend America’s highest ideals. First, the Senate refused to pass the terrible House bill. Then, when Republicans tried to tuck the anti-refugee measures into a big, must-pass spending bill, we kept fighting back—and by the time House Speaker Paul Ryan counted his votes, so many representatives had changed their position that he had to abandon the effort.
There is so much more we can—and must—do to tackle one of the greatest global migration and refugee crises since World War II. But last week marked an important victory in turning back some very dark impulses in American politics.
As many of us prepare to spend holidays with family, we also remember that there are many people who have no home to turn to, including more than four million Syrian refugees—half of whom are children—and millions more around the world.3 Over the past month, we have taken small steps to help these families. In the new year, with new resolve, let’s continue to work to live up to the essential values proclaimed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”