The day after Donald Trump won the elections, Alisa Wartick decided to focus her energies on helping refugees because she knew it was going to become harder for these people to find a home in the United States.
“The rhetoric and campaign promises of Donald Trump made me feel like this is a group that really needs help in America right now,” Wartick said. “They really need more support.”
She partnered with RefugeeOne, a resettlement agency in the Chicago area, and reached out to local moms for volunteers. With over 38 volunteers, the moms held fundraisers to help sponsor an incoming Syrian refugee family of three: a 34-year-old husband, an accountant; his 23-year-old wife, who has a degree in literature; and their 16-month-old daughter. (RefugeeOne has asked that they not be named because of safety concerns.) They are still living in a refugee camp in Turkey.
The moms raised over $10,000 for an apartment, furnishings and groceries. They spent two months collecting sofas, beds, toys and housewares for the kitchen. Fortunately, the wife’s parents and siblings, who had arrived earlier that fall, lived in the same apartment building. At one point, while the volunteers were moving furniture into the apartment, the parents and siblings came by the apartment to video chat with the family in Turkey and give them a virtual tour of their new home.
The refugee family was expected to arrive Monday. Buckets of toys lined the walls and a wooden crib stood in the corner of the bedroom with a single stuffed rabbit. The volunteer moms had planned to pick them up from the airport and host a welcome dinner.
But Trump had signed an executive order Friday that prohibits entry of refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. The moms were told that the family could no longer come.
Wartick feels devastated for the family, who were so close to being reunited with their relatives.
“I just feel so awful for them that they are going through this right now,” she said. “I imagine a young family raising a child in a refugee camp. I don’t know exactly what the conditions are there, but it cannot be comforting.”
With growing uncertainty in the aftermath of the executive order, Wartick is unsure of what will happen next for the family. In the meantime, RefugeeOne advised the volunteer moms to hold off on doing anything with the apartment for the moment. “We are hoping that means that there is hope they will still be able to come,” Wartick said.
On average, Wartick said, refugees undergo two years of thorough vetting and background checks, and are not a danger to anyone in the U.S.
“We know that these are people who don’t have the type of extremist views that would make them sympathetic in any way to a terrorist organization,” she said. “[The ban] doesn’t make anyone any safer. This is an un-American thing to do and it doesn’t represent American values.”