Program Director, International Migration Initiative, Open Society Foundations
Commissioner, New York Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs
Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations
Managing Editor, CFR.org
The ninth annual Back-to-School Event will focus on responses to the global refugee crisis, examining causes contributing to the refugee status of 25 million people and reactions from around the world today.
MCMAHON: (In progress)—on our YouTube channel and our website after the fact.
You know, every generation seems to have its refugee crisis. I recall growing up hearing, soon after the end of the Vietnam War, about the boat people in Southeast Asia. There was then the refugees coming out of Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in ’79 and throughout the 80s, the war there. The 90s had civil wars, had genocide in the Balkans and in Rwanda, and there were wars throughout the Great Lakes region of sub-Saharan Africa.
But today’s refugee crisis is a bit different—feels a bit different. We’ll be talking a bit about why that is. And regrettably for many of you, I think, you won’t be looking back on the refugee crisis as much as you’ll be talking about it as an ever-present thing for a number of years, or at least that’s the way, unfortunately, things look at the moment because of the various dynamics involved. It is very, very complicated, very emotionally fraught. It crosses humanitarian, political, economic lines.
And so we have assembled a panel here to really get at the issues here. And I think you have their bio information. I would just stress that, as I introduce them, to look at their record as practitioners, because all three of our panelists here have been dealing with these issues in real life and in ways that I think will lend a lot to the discussion.
So we’ll be talking for about a half-hour or so, and then we’ll open it up for questions so please be ready for questions. And with that, I want to—I want to kick it off.
First, I want to introduce, from my far left to me, Gregory Maniatis. Gregory has worked on the process and the policy issues of refugees for quite some time. Up to last year he was a senior advisor to the UN Special Envoy for the Secretary General on Migration Issues Peter Sutherland, and is at the Open Society Foundations at the moment leading their International Migration Initiative.
MANIATIS: That’s right.
MCMAHON: Meighan Stone, in the middle, is with the Council on Foreign Relations. She’s my colleague there. She’s a senior fellow with the Women and Foreign Policy Program. And she in particular has dealt with working with refugees, and women and girls in particular, in their situations. And whether—and through her work the Malala Fund, or I think the WFP as well, has had upfront exposure to what these refugees are facing and the challenges they face.
Bitta Mostofi, to my direct left, has been working the issues right here in New York as commissioner of the New York Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. And, as her bio says, longtime advocate for immigration rights, for human rights, and I think dealing with a lot of the practical issues that are playing out in the country but in the city.
And I think what we’re going to see in this discussion is an attempt to kind of walk through the nature of the problem as it exists globally and then bring it right to our doorstep in New York City in terms of how it’s playing out here. This is not one of those problems that’s over there and, oh, we have to think about this and try to solve it as it relates to the rest of the world; it’s actually—it’s playing out in our own country. And I think almost a daily glance at the various news media will show something going on involving refugees issues in the United States as well as around the world. Just this past week, sort of as I was prepping for some of these issues, there’s a new set of intense issues involving people crossing the border in the Arizona desert, Guatemalans in particular, fleeing pretty horrible crime conditions, economic privation, and so forth. But, again, it’s something where if you look to whatever your news source is, you’re seeing these issues play out constantly.
I wanted to kick it off with a question, kind of a fifty-thousand-foot question for Gregory, about just, as he’s dealt with the issue at the U.N. level, you’ve talked to a lot of European governments about the issue. We saw the figures on—prior to this meeting we had—we look at some figures about the scope of the refugee issue: twenty-five million refugees, forty million overall internally displaced, I believe. There is migration—U.N. lists, like, two hundred fifty million people as migrants in the world.
MANIATIS: That’s right.
MCMAHON: How did we get here? How did we get to these numbers and this scale?
MANIATIS: So, first of all, thank you. Thank you to the Council for having me here, and thank you to all of you for joining. It is very inspiring to see all your faces and to sense the interest, not to mention how well you did on the quiz. I’m really grateful that we didn’t have to do that at the beginning because I’m not sure we would have been as good as you. (Laughter.)
So I think I’d like—if you’ll allow me to turn the question a little bit in an unexpected way, right? So when people talk about the refugee crisis, they tend to talk about the numbers: twenty-five million—it’s actually twenty-eight million now—refugees, forty thousand of so fleeing their homes every day. And those are just the ones that we can count, right? So lots of folks leave without necessarily being registered as refugees, so there’s others who are displaced. Many people just stay within their own countries. It’s not for them, necessarily, a big material difference whether they cross the border or not or whether they stay in their own country. So the numbers are significant, but the world has also grown—(laughs)—and so the population is greater. I’m not sure if it’s—we can analyze what are called, you know, the root causes of displacement.
But I’d like to turn the question to the other side, right, which is not so much how many refugees are there or why are they fleeing, but how are we responding to them. And that, I think, is the big difference between now and pretty much everything that I have lived through in my lifetime or read about as having, you know, occurred post-World War II. And the Geneva Convention was established on the basis of the memory that people had, or the lived experience of the second World War, and the Holocaust in particular. So there was a regime—an international treaty that was established in the early ’50s that dictated how the international community would respond to people who are fleeing across borders with a fear—in fear of persecution. It’s really worth also noting that the definition of who qualifies as a refugee has evolved over time. It’s bigger than the definition in the convention, and that’s a major source of political dispute right now, is who really should qualify as a refugee.
But what has changed, in my experience both in the field and in my lifetime, is how we’re responding. So in the ’50s, ’56, there’s two hundred thousand people who flee Hungary alone. Those Hungarians are received literally within weeks, most of them, by other countries all over the world. The world organizes. And some of them to go Australia. Some of them go to Latin America. Many of them up end in the United States, other parts of Europe. You mentioned the Vietnamese boat people. During my childhood millions were able to leave Vietnam and end up resettling in other countries.
There’s a story about Canada, which in 1978—’77, ’78—is organizing to be able to take in Vietnamese refugees. And they decide to take in four thousand. And the foreign minister—in an initial wave. And the foreign minister calls up the mayor of Ottawa because they’re trying to figure out if they can organize their communities to be able to take in these refugees. And says, you know, can you take some of these four thousand? And she says, right away: We’ll take all four thousand. And Ottawa’s not a very big town. The Balkan wars in the ’90s, hundreds of thousands. I don’t remember quite the numbers. It’s in the hundreds of thousands or plus from the Balkan wars are essentially given protection in Europe. It was—there was some turmoil around it, but generally it was accepted, and they were absorbed.
The difference today is how we’re responding, right? The difference is not the numbers. It’s proportionately—you know, I’m not sure exactly how they would play out over time. The difference is in how our societies, especially in the West, are responding. And we’re not responding well. The front lines of that response, and the latest crisis—the one that has really elevated the refugee and migration issue into the top political issue in the West and also in some other parts of the world, the Mediterranean crisis 2015. What we saw was an x-ray into European societies, where we thought the Europeans—who were really the reason why this treaty was created—we thought they would be more generous. And they weren’t.
And not only were they not as generous as we thought they were going to be, or organized in their ability to actually take in and protect these people, but there were enough—there was enough—there were enough political forces in Europe and now in the United States who were willing to take the refugee issue and completely turn it on its head, as if we were the ones that were at risk and not the people fleeing a war, right? And so suddenly the refugee protection is about protecting ourselves from refugees. And that’s a kind of madness that exists. And it’s really, I think, worth reflecting on why we have reached this stage in 2018, where the—a population that’s clearly in need, that is screened far more carefully—a multiple—twenty, thirty, forty times more carefully than the average tourist who comes into the country, of which there are forty, fifty million—why are we so scared? Why are we unwilling? Why are we so ungenerous? I think that’s a really interesting question to consider.
MCMAHON: So let’s take that then and talk about that population that you’re mentioning. So there’s this new sentiment out there, this stiffer sentiment. And we’ve seen it in Europe, we’ve seen it in the United States, we’ve seen it in Australia, among other places. Meighan, you’ve been visiting people in refugee camps or refugee settlements. Can you talk a bit about what they’re facing, what challenges they have, and what are—you know, what are some of the things they’re trying to do to cope?
STONE: Yeah. Well, I actually want to start with the room here, because I don’t ever want to talk at people about something that they actually know about. Is there anyone in this room that’s willing to raise their hand, is this issue part of your family’s story, or someone you know? Like, somebody that’s a friend, may have been a refugee or been resettled in the United States? I see hands going up around the room. So I’m among friends.
I know that this started for me actually when I was five years old. And that’s why I love actually being in a room of young leaders. And it’s such a pleasure and honor to have you here at the Council. It just makes me overjoyed to see such a full and diverse room. We need more of this in foreign policy. So—and I appreciate all the experiences of the people that raised their hands. When I was five years old, they passed the piece of law called the Refugee Resettlement Act 1980. And I was five. And my family took in one of the Vietnamese families that you were sharing about earlier in the introduction.
And it changed my life forever. And I came down to our kitchen table, and there was a family there one morning that I had—I had never seen before anyone that looked like them. They were speaking a language I didn’t understand. I was on the way to my own preschool. And it’s burned into my heart and my mind, asking my mother who these people were. And she told me they were refugees. And I was like, Momma, what is a refugee? And she told me, a refugee is just a good person that bad people have done bad things to that need good people to come alongside them and help them restart their lives.
And so I think that started this work that led me to work for the World Food Programme and working with Malala Yousafzai at the Malala Fund, where I used to be the president. She, herself, was an internally displaced person in Pakistan. So when she, at the age of seventeen—I always like to say my boss was seventeen, truly. (Laughs.) You know, she got the chance to think about what she wanted to focus on. And because she was an IDP, she really wanted to focus on refugee issues. She knew that story. She was only displaced in Pakistan because of conflict for, you know, less than a year, for a few months. But it was something that really resonated and stayed with her.
And so a lot of our work at the Malala Fund, work I did before at the World Food Programme was on the border of Syria, and in the countries around Syria that were hosting refugees. So a lot of work in Jordan and in Lebanon and predominantly with young people, right? So more than half of refugees are young people, right? And where did you all come from this week? Are you in school? Are you in a university? Right, seeing a lot of nodding heads. That’s the core need beyond safety, right, and basic food, water, sustenance, you know, somewhere to live that refugees have.
But yet, in emergencies, we only spend about two percent of our funding on education, on humanitarian response. So two percent. So you’ve got more than fifty percent of refugees are young people, who I firmly believe belong in a classroom. And we don’t have the aid and the policy aligning up with what the real need is for this population. It’s even more challenging for girls if you’re refugees. So about thirty-nine million adolescent girls are impacted either as refugees or in conflict areas. And right now, if you are a girl in South Sudan, you have a higher chance of dying in childbirth than you do finishing high school. So feel free to tweet that stat. (Laughs.) It’s one that people should know.
You know, and I think it’s getting out these statistics to real life experience. And those who raised their hands, people that I’ve met, especially young women, you know, they’re facing overwhelming challenges, and they’re undaunted. You know, I think of a young woman, Mazoun Almellehan, that worked with us at the Malala Fund. She lived in Azraq camp in Jordan and was so determined to go to school. Come hell or high water, she was going to go. And, you know, the camp, no electricity at night. Very cold. Very hot. You know, her family desperately wanted to work. Her father couldn’t, because he couldn’t get a working permit in Jordan at the time. So he had skills and wanted to work but couldn’t work.
And, you know, it was a challenging time for their family. But the family really came around their daughter and really wanted to support her and make sure that she could continue her education. And she’s fought for that now. She’s been resettled to the U.K. And she just started university. And I think that example—like, the honor and the privilege, you know, of trying to be of service to her. She already knows what she needs. Coming alongside and trying to say, what do you need, how do we—how do we fight for you, I think is at the heart of this work. And I think we have to put these people first.
You know, I think too many times we talk about statistics and numbers, and it’s political. But for all those who raised your hand, and for all the people I carry in my heart that I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with, those are the people—the very real people that I think we always have to put at the center of policy. I think when you do this work, if any of you want to continue in this work, you have to always have those people that you hold close, that you’re right for and fighting with, and never letting it get too far-flung into just statistics and policies. It has to be about values and about people. And I think that’s really at the heart of this debate.
MCMAHON: So that’s a nice segue then to Bitta’s role here then. The people from camps in Jordan, or wherever. They hear, still, I think, about places like New York as a gateway city, as a—as a place where immigrants have traditionally found an open, accepting environment, and a place for opportunity and to start a new life. In your role for New York City, how have you seen—what has the climate been like? Or what is—what kind of people are you encountering? And what kind of challenges are you facing in trying to get sort of the issue of refugees sort of raised, and then clarified for people who might not understand?
MOSTOFI: Yeah. So thank you for the question and for having me. I couldn’t echo the sentiment more about how great it is to see such a young and diverse audience here, who knows already so much about this issue. So I’ll say a few things, kind of starting with some statistics and then talking about kind of local impact a bit.
So you rightly noted that the cap that was just announced for fiscal year ’19 refugees to the whole of the United States is now set at thirty thousand this year. This is the lowest cap that we’ve seen in quite a few decades. I’m sure these guys know exactly whenever. And, you know, I think worth noting that in the last year of the Obama administration it was at eighty-five thousand, and eighty-five thousand refugees did actually get settled in the United States. You heard Gregory talk about the amount of vetting that refugees actually go through, how extensive it is, how thorough it is, how much in many ways it’s more robust than other individuals seeking to travel to the United States. And last year it was set at forty-five thousand, with only about twenty-three thousand refugees actually being settled. And then this coming year, as you all noted, thirty thousand. I think that gives you a little bit of a picture of where we’re headed directionally as a country and what our response has been to the crisis that the world is seeing, with the most amount of refugees in the world since World War II, ever.
And so I think that gives you a little bit of a sense of this question that both Gregory and Meighan have posed around what are our values. What do we care about? And at the local level, how that plays out is in many different ways.
One, I would note very clearly that New York City is not the sort of primary place that refugees get settled in the country. That’s for a number of reasons, including affordability, which can be a struggle for anybody. However, it is a place where you see a lot of secondary migrants, so people who have been settled in the United States and then make their way to New York City because we have this incredible diversity with nearly forty percent of our population being foreign-born. And if you add in the children of immigrants like myself, that takes you to sixty percent. So a lot of refugees who are being resettled may have a friend, a family member, a neighbor, somebody that they have heard of who has opportunity for them here in New York City, and they make their way here.
What we saw last year—and I asked my team to run some new numbers this morning so I could share this—what we saw last year was actually a forty-eight percent reduction in the number of refugees that were settled in the United States. So, in 2016, we saw about 343 refugees resettled here. That means 180 last year. And this year, so far, through October 12—as I told you, I asked them to run numbers today—123 only, so a reduction even from last year.
They overlaid on top of that what the impact of the Muslim ban has been, the travel ban, which has been a huge part of a way to get a cutting refugee admissions, in part because of, as you saw, Syria being the country that has the most refugees, and many countries that are Muslim majority and that were listed as part of the Muslim ban having individuals who are refugees or their family members who are now separated from them who are abroad. And so if you look at the impact of the travel ban on this population, seventy-seven folks from those countries were settled here in 2016, twenty-three in 2017, and zero so far this year.
So certainly locally we—my office sees this play out in a number of ways. One, primarily, I just spoke to, which is you have so many individuals from Yemen, from Syria, other countries listed on the travel ban—Somalia—who have—Sudan—who have family members abroad who are not able to come and be with them right now, families literally separated by these policies.
Secondly—and you—this was noted, as well, in your quiz a little bit—was the distinction between refugees and asylees. New York City is the home to many, many thousands of asylees. And what’s interesting about that, and an area of kind of importance if we look at what policy should look like for people seeking to be refugees and seek asylum, is that you’re seeing this just tremendous crackdown on the grant of asylum to individuals that present themselves at our borders. And part of the reason that people come to the border is extreme violence that they have in their home country. Largely what you’re seeing now is people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who are fleeing really extreme violence in their home countries, and there isn’t an intermediary country, right, between where they live and the United States that they could go to and go through a refugee process, right? So in many ways families are forced to undertake this really dangerous journey where they pay—you know, sell their homes and their entire life savings to make sure that their children can be safe. They go through this journey and they present themselves at our border or express a fear or return, and then they get put through our asylum process. And we’ve seen this really tremendous crackdown on people who are going through that experience, and that has had a very direct impact on us here in New York City.
One, through the family separation policy that we saw. All of those families seeking asylum or expressing a fear of return, and then having in the most draconian way possible young children, as young as nine months old, separated from a parent at the border and brought to New York City to be in the care of a federally-contracted facility here. We had at the peak of the family separation policy about three hundred young kids who were brought here, as I noted, as young as nine months old. And we still have kids in New York City. There are about thirty to forty children that are still in—I say that because the number changes—that are still in New York City who have not yet been reunited with their parents. I have had—my office has helped families who are struggling over the question of do I reunite with my child now or do I stay separated from them because I really—I’m afraid for them; I don’t want them to go home because they could be killed. So these are just impossible circumstances that families that we put through the worst possible trauma you could think about are now having to grapple with some of these questions.
So, in terms of how that’s, you know, had a ripple effect here in New York City, you can imagine that’s great in many ways, and I can talk kind of if folks have questions later about what the city has done in response. Most recently we allocated four million dollars to representation of children who come to our city who are seeking safety and refuge, and are placed with sponsors here or family members, and who don’t have counsel because you have no right to counsel even if you’re a child in immigration proceedings.
So I think, you know, kind of taking it back to where these guys took it, which I totally agree with, for many of us fundamentally the question is who are we. You know, in our waters at the port we have this incredible statute, the Statue of Liberty, and on the Statue of Liberty this incredible Emma Lazarus poem, right, that speaks—that sort of has with it this beacon of what so many people take pride in what the United States is, right? Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free.
And in so many ways, even immigrants who have the hardest journeys, who have the most difficult times, and end up coming here have this pride in what this country and what the possible American Dream can be for them. And many realize that, from immigrants who, like the founder of Chobani, were refugees and then started one of the most incredible companies right here in New York; to founder of Google; to eBay; you name it. All of these—not to mention our entire health sector in New York City alone and education sector are populated by immigrants who have a vast array of unique stories, many of them refugees and asylees.
So at the local level it’s a—there’s a huge impact that we’re seeing play out. But really kind of fundamentally about both this question and broadly is this question about who we are and who we want to be as a city and a country.
MCMAHON: Well, let’s take up this issue of sentiment, then, as it looms large, obviously, and we can in the course get into what is actually creating these—the increasing flow of refugees or the increasing numbers. And it’s really worldwide if you look at where it’s happening now.
But the—you know, you talk to people who are in favor or stronger methods to shore up the U.S. border, say, and who are—who generally support the president’s move to try to crack down on asylum seekers or whatever. And they would say, as the president does, and as a number of the Europeans do who confronted this issue, especially three years ago, that the situation’s out of control. We are not equipped to deal with the numbers that are coming in to try to advantage of our, you know, greener pastures and get—you know, whether it’s—and to get—you know, to get jobs, to get a better situation, to be connected with family members who are here, or whatever. But that—the country has not kept pace. That we are a nation of laws and we need to keep pace with that, and we need to get our sort of house in order before we can start to—we can open up the gates again and create a—get back to the levels that we have been at in terms of allowing immigrants, asylum seekers, and so forth.
What do you say to that sentiment that both in Europe and the United States in particular that the policymakers were caught, you know, and have been caught sort of flat-footed, and not able to deal with the numbers of this? Meighan, you’re smiling. I’ll go with you first.
STONE: I’m just smiling because I think this is a place where we have to check of American exceptionalism. I think for anyone who’s worked on refugee issues, when you talk about millions of people coming across a border, when you look at Lebanon, which twenty-five percent of their population was refugees over a period of years, so much so they had to run second-shift schools just so serve all the kids. When you think about Turkey, when you think even about the EU process with all of its diplomacy and, you know, not a perfect solution. But, you know, the numbers that are coming are not anything compared to what other countries do. And I think sometimes when it’s other people’s problems, we have criticism. We’re, like, well, why can’t they take them in? Or, why don’t they have a better process? Or why isn’t it more seamless? Or why if we give aid to a U.N. agency like UNHCR or World Food Programme, why are they not more efficient?
But lo and behold, at our own border, with way smaller numbers, we were completely overwhelmed, we were confused. And I think for all those in the room who are studying foreign policy and that’s why you’re here today, you know, it’s a time to go huh, to kind of take a step back and say why? Why? Is the system not working? Are those in control maybe revealing through their policy decisions and what they’re doing or not doing a certain position? And you see this too when you do refugee work in other countries. You know, and it’s the same questions. The host country’s like we’re not sure how we feel about these people being here. And what underlies that can be anything from, you know, xenophobia, to racism, and discrimination. And it plays out again and again in all contexts.
And so I think we see some of the same causes here. I think the refugee ceiling is a great example. It’s indicative of what the true heart on this policy is. They didn’t even achieve the ceiling last year. They had a deliberate slowdown. So, again, for those studying policy a little lesson here. You can say something publicly, and then behind the scenes you can kind of grind things to a halt. And you can blame bureaucracy or whatever you want, but the reality is the intention there is to let in fewer and fewer people. And so they set a policy, but then the real outcome is even a smaller number. So I think you see that.
I think the idea that the U.S., with all of our skill and talent and resources, could not thoughtfully manage the flows that are coming and find a way to align our being a country of laws—which, by the way, other countries that host refugees would say the same thing—with a process that works is just not intellectually tenable. Obviously, that’s not the case. That’s not—that’s not the problem. It can’t. So I think we have lessons to learn from other countries. And we need to change some of the positions of those who are setting these policies.
MCMAHON: I wanted to have Greg talk about Europe a little bit, because I know you’ve done a particular amount of work over there.
MANIATIS: Sure. So I think what you said is right, that the failure that was seen in Europe and what we’re seeing now happen in the United States is not a failure of capacity, right? I mean, there were a million people who came into Europe in 2015 and 2016. Greece was the—bore the brunt of it. Those of us who watched it unfold on the ground and in the halls of political power, it was clear that something could have been done. There would have been the capacity, surely, of the European Union to be able to receive and process half a million, a million people a year. We actually do it in Europe, right? So there’s something like three million immigrants who come into Europe every year. There’s hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers who come in by plane. This year there’s not even one hundred thousand who have come in by sea, but that’s the story that you hear.
And the same thing here. I mean, what the administration currently is doing, I think, is simply trying to shut down the Refugee Resettlement Program. And it’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy if you start to shrink the infrastructure that processes asylum seekers and refugees, if you start to shrink—which is what they’re doing—those agencies out across the country that are welcoming refugees and integrating them, settling them, then, yeah. I think in a few years or maybe even next year they’ll say, you know, we don’t really have the time or the capacity. This is not where American money should be—should be spent.
So it’s definitely the case that there are those both in Europe and in the United States who see an opportunity with the refugee crisis to be able to fulfill a vision of having fewer foreigners in their countries, right? So that is what we’ve seen, the rise of anti-foreigner, anti-immigration, anti-refugee—it’s all confused now—sentiment is being flamed by Salvini in Italy and Orban in Hungary and our president here. And it is a means of being able to seize power, right? And it’s—the really tough aspect of it, the really hard part of it is that it’s much easier to create fear in somebody—(laughs)—than confidence. So it takes just a little bit of effort to make people scared of foreigners, and a whole lot of effort to try to build up confidence in foreigners.
And I think that there is different streams of thought within this administration in the United States about what they’re doing with respect to immigrants and refugees. I think some of them just simply see it as an easy kind of electoral win because, quite honestly, I don’t think of people as being pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant. I think that everyone has the potential to be both, or most people do. At least the middle 80 percent do. There are some who are purely open borders folks, and who wouldn’t mind seeing, you know, lots of people come into the United States. There’s others who would never want to see a foreigner come into their community or into their country. But most people are open about it, right? If you can allay their concerns, if you can allay their fears, they’re willing to do the right thing. But if you create an ambient sense of, well, they’re taking our jobs, they’re diluting our identity, they’re using our resources—our hospitals, our schools—then it’s pretty easy to silence the middle, the exhausted majority in the middle who are tired of this polarized debate around migration.
I think there are others in the administration here, but frankly also in Europe as well, who see this as an opportunity to change the demographics of the country and to change the electoral reality. I mean, we’re seeing that through a whole range of policies in the United States. The goal it seems for some is to reduce the likelihood that people of an immigrant background vote, right? That is the big story, I think, in the United States right now, that we’re trying to freeze out people from voting, and especially immigrants.
MCMAHON: In terms of attacking the problem at its source, in terms of what’s creating immigrants—or, what’s creating refugees, excuse me—and Bitta mentioned it a bit in terms of what they’re fleeing—there was a meeting just this week, I believe it was yesterday, that Vice President Pence had with leaders of Central America and Mexico, talking about ways of kind of getting these countries back on their feet and so forth. I haven’t seen the reports about what they agreed on yet, but is that the kind of thing that—you know, that you, Greg, or Meighan or Bitta want to see more of in terms of—as part of the issue? Obviously there’s an issue of dealing with the humanitarian and the—as you mentioned, the appeal to values, and just embracing people who are fleeing hard places, but also to deal with the actual problems at their core, which is—whether it’s the horrific crime problems, say, in Central America or the intractable civil wars of—you know, of the Middle East and North Africa, whatever. So talking about the event on Central America, for example. Is that—
MANIATIS: So, just to give a quick answer. I mean, I think it’s a foreign policy crowd. It’s the Council on Foreign Relations. Clearly the question of conflict, and preventing conflict, and ending conflict should be really high up on the agenda. Most of us can’t do very much in that respect. Surely you want to start with the causes. And one of the—one of the big emerging causes is drought and conflict over natural resources. So climate change is one of the major ways, I think, to prevent future flows, or addressing climate change is going to be one of the major ways of addressing future flows of migrants. Clearly conflict prevention. We’re undermining our own diplomatic capacity in this country. I think the foreign services of many other countries have been—have been hurt since the austerity years, especially, of a decade ago. The amount of foreign aid that we give is far lower than it should be. What we do once conflict breaks out is also a source of concern.
But again, I would take it back to the crisis of our values, right? So there’s a displacement crisis and there’s a crisis of American values, of European values, which is something that we can address every day in our own lives. We can do something about it. It can—it can disable you to think, well, how are we going to end the war in Syria? President Obama couldn’t do it. Others couldn’t do it. But we can do something about this crisis of values every day in the United States.
STONE: Yeah. I mean, I would just add, I think these are the two core issues around refugee issues in the United States, right? So there’s a lot of domestic groups that you were talking about that are doing really incredible work and have been doing it for decades in communities to resettle, and groups that care about refugees and want to see a high refugee ceiling. But by and large, the vast majority of refugees will not be resettled, and they will not be resettled to the United States, even if we did have a high ceiling. And that gets to this place of, like, where can you intervene in terms of policy?
So, you know, Muslim ban, other issues like that, who sets that? Which branch of government? Shout out.
STONE: Executive, right? Who sets our foreign aid budget? Congress. Congress.
So all of you are students. I don’t know how many of you are from here. But I want to encourage you to stay registered to vote in your home districts and states—(laughs)—come on—and I want you to, if you’re inspired by this session, like, make sure that you talk to your elected representatives. You know, I think one of the things that has been heartening about American leadership is that the administration—every president’s budget request, which is how we start the budget process, that’s been sent to the Hill—which, by the way, is nonbinding, and often even if the president and Congress share the same party they still kind of throw it in the waste bin and they say, thanks so much, we’re going to do what we want over here in Congress with the power of the purse on the budget—but it’s been sent to the Hill and it’s gutted aid that helps the vast majority—millions and millions—of refugees.
And this is a place where American leadership’s been a wonderful story. Like, we have been very generous with many conflicts around the world in terms of humanitarian assistance, and then ongoing systemic international aid that hopefully will address some of these core stability issues over the longer term, right?
But the people that have been defending those numbers, that money that’s going to serve the most refugees, have been people on the Hill, and I’m proud to say bipartisan. There are bipartisan champions in the Senate, in the House that have come together and they’ve defended this money the last couple budget cycles.
So I really want to encourage all of you to make sure you’re registered to vote, make sure you’re a constituent, and go back after this session and go see who represents you and what committees they sit on. If you don’t know that answer today, totally cool; your homework is to figure it out by the end of today. How about end of today? Do we agree? You already did the quiz. This is your homework. But, you know, I want to encourage you to go check. Check and see. Do they sit on the Foreign Relations Committee? Do they sit on an Appropriations Committee that has say-so over these issues? Because if you’re a constituent, you matter to them. And so I want to encourage you to continue stepping out and defending it, because that is a good story of support on the Hill.
MCMAHON: Bitta, I want to mention something about—Greg triggered it in my mind—talking about climate in some ways, in that cities are sort of running their own foreign policy in some ways, or issues that relate to foreign policies, and cities have stood out in the—in the refugee/immigrant debate as well. I mean, are you—is New York in touch with other cities? And do you see sort of an effort to share information and best practices and what have you in terms of trying to deal with what seem to be problems that are pretty common?
MOSTOFI: Yeah, thank you for the question.
So the answer to that is yes. So we—New York City should be extremely, I think, proud of the work that’s done on this question of what does it mean to have immigrant communities in our city and how do we best advance the overall health and well-being of everybody in the city through our integration and inclusion work.
And I can say that Mayor de Blasio has been exceptional on this issue. The mayor has dedicated over $30 million to immigration legal services, which is an unprecedented sum across this country. He has launched IDNYC, which is the city’s municipal ID program, which is available to anybody regardless of immigration status. And really kind of raised the bar of what it means to be an inclusive city and why.
And cities certainly in the U.S. at this moment are really at the forefront of this work, along with sort of the climate work, in that we are being directly attacked by the federal government for doing this work at this time. So many of you, I’m sure, have heard about sort of sanctuary cities and what that means, and certainly in the early days of the Trump administration an executive order that specifically said that they would seek to end support to sanctuary cities. We have sued the Department of Justice over a grant that they have tried to condition on our cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, including essentially opening up city information and jails to ICE—Immigration and Customs Enforcement—to be able to come and get anybody that they want.
So cities are really at the forefront of articulating why integration and inclusion matters. And that we set policies around working with all communities regardless of immigration status because we believe that it fundamentally is what advances public safety and health for everybody. Very simply on that front, if my neighbor is the—is a crime victim but my neighbor doesn’t actually feel comfortable reporting that crime to police, I am no safer. If my daughter’s classmate is undocumented and therefore can’t access health services, my daughter is not safer in school. And the reality is we live in a country and a city that has an undocumented population, it has an immigrant population that sort of spans different spectrum(s) of status, and so it is fundamentally the job of government to keep everybody safe and healthy, and to advance policies that do that.
And so when we—you sort of hear this derogatory rhetoric that seeks to put sort of all immigrants in this really negative, frankly false category of being criminals or, you know, operating in an illegal manner on a regular basis, or taking our jobs, or this, that, or the other, all of which are not truths that can be very far advanced if you look at the research, it’s actually not the reality in cities. And that’s actually why you have cities across this country—we have a coalition called Cities for Action, that we lead, with over 175 cities across the country. We are deep in Texas—(laughs)—Austin, Dallas, Houston, El Paso; in Tennessee; in Florida; all over the country because cities have fundamentally seen that advancing policies around integration and inclusion makes us better. It makes us stronger. It allows us do to our work more effectively.
We’ve taken that work that we do, sharing best practices but also advocating around immigration policies at all levels of government together, and started to work with cities internationally around this work, most recently through the negotiations around the Global Compact on Migration that have been—that have been happening through the U.N. processes. And Gregory has been a leader on this front as well in much of this work. And, you know, it’s really amazing, because when you get cities around the table talking about this, it’s a very different conversation than when you have nation-states and national governments doing it.
I was very honored to be invited back a few times by the ambassadors who were leading this work from Mexico and Switzerland because the voice was so distinct from what they were hearing from national governments. And in reality, much of the work that national governments are debating happens on the ground. It happens at the local level. That integration work, all of that, it happens on the ground. And so it’s really amazing, conversations from New York To Sao Paulo to Montreal to—you know, to Bristol, all over the world, are taking place, and very much I think city leadership taking up a mantle of pushing change forward in a way that you saw decades ago with climate change.
MANIATIS: And just to add to that point, to give it an example. So you mentioned the Global Compact on Migration, which is a nonbinding agreement that was concluded this summer, the negotiations. And last fall, in November, before it was even a thing, before there was a word on a page, the Trump administration, amazingly, at the level of the National Security Council and the president, decided the United States was going to withdraw from the negotiations, from a nonbinding agreement about how to improve international cooperation on migration. It was just scoring political points. And I think it was within, what, twenty-four hours, led by New York City, that a whole series of American cities said, well, the U.S. government might be pulling out, but we’re in. And they in that way really asserted an American voice at the—
MCMAHON: Sort of similar to the Paris climate and pulling of that.
MANIATIS: Correct. Correct. On an issue which is, I think, even more controversial than climate. And they have been—Bitta and New York City have been in the lead on being part of the negotiations over the past year. And as you say, the voice that mayors bring, and cities bring, to the conversation is completely different than what national leaders who can just invoke security, identity in the abstract. But you can’t do that at the city level. You have to deal with housing and education and the reality of people who are different from each other living side-by-side.
MCMAHON: Greg, I’m glad you mentioned the global compact as well. I was going to get to that. That was going to be my segue to open up. But I think we’re ready to open it up to the room now. And please get ready—questions ready. And when you’re called on you’ll stand, identify yourself, and I think you’ll be provided with a microphone, so everybody can hear you. So with that, we’re going to go to the Q&A portion of our meeting. And any initial questions then? I see a hand right back there. Yes.
Q: Oh, thank you. So I was just—this is kind of a general question—
MCMAHON: Just please identify yourself, and then go ahead with the question.
Q: Oh. I’m Tamara Moctezuma. I’m a student at NYU.
And I just kind of had a general question to you three, asking for what advice you would give to those of us who are just starting out in our careers, and who feel really passionate about helping with refugees but who maybe are—like, I—at least, I know I feel kind of daunted by such a complex and such a(n) intricate problem. And so I don’t know, like, in which ways I could be the most impactful helping with refugees, or how to, like, even begin to tackle working in—with refugees. So I was wondering if you had any advice on that.
STONE: I mean, I would suggest getting involved locally here. You know, it’s a—I’ve been through the experience many times with UNHCR, who does incredible work. And then when those refugees are resettled, they need an incredible amount of support at the local level. And there’s a lot of opportunities where you could reach out to some of the organizations that do resettlement and, where appropriate and able, you know, you could come alongside. You could be a tutor. You could help them navigate services and systems with the direction of someone that’s a trained, you know, senior professional, and really can help do that with you. But I would encourage you to reach out to those organizations because, much like you’ve said, they’ve been gutted.
They’ve been systematically dismantled, because a lot of the domestic resettlement organizations benefitted from funding that was linked to policies that have now been changed, and so, like, they’ve let people go that were doing this work for decades and really felt like it was a calling. It was something that they had really dedicated their life to. And they’ve shuttered those offices. And so there’s an intense need. And I think that’s a great place to start, because you get to learn from someone about their context, their challenges. I think we have to be so careful, you know, not to come in too fast thinking we have answers and solutions because we want to help, and really just take a minute, listen, and take a stance of service. You know, and coming alongside, I think that’s a great—a great place to start.
MANIATIS: So NYU, like most colleges, universities in the United States, frankly, it shocked me during the refugee crisis. And they didn’t step up. They have—it took us years to get some of these schools to offer a scholarship to a refugee, right? So that’s your community. Start there. Start with NYU. Try to get NYU to—what—what does it cost to have add an additional three, four, five, ten students who are refugees and who otherwise will end up languishing in camps or in really untenable situations. That’s your community. You can do it. You can get the administration to provide scholarships to refugees. And, while you’re at it, to, you know, others—vulnerable populations, whether American or not. There should be a much bigger effort on that front.
So that’s something that in Canada university students—just to give you an example—have organized votes over the past decades to take a very small fee as part of their tuition. I mean, it’s literally like $5. And then each university campus sponsors refugees in the Canadian system of private sponsorship. That’s a way that you can organize that would have sustainability that would—you organize so that different sources of funding are made available on a—on an annual basis to provide scholarship. That’s just one idea.
MCMAHON: Bitta, do you want to—
MOSTOFI: I think those are fantastic ideas. I would almost just add to them, in terms of the kind of getting yourself—giving your experience to understand the issue, I couldn’t echo how important that is more. I spent over a decade before coming into doing policy work actually just—I’m lawyer representing people. And understanding their journeys, and why they took them, and how—what was difficult, and why, and how, and all of it. And it is what I pull on day-in and day-out in doing my work. It is hands-down the single most important part of my background that lends to my ability to do my job. So I totally believe in rolling up your sleeves and getting personal in understanding what it actually means to be talking about these policies and issues in the abstract, but in a(n) intimate way. So you’re not abstract.
And then in terms of the scholarship, I would even go beyond that. I mean, I don’t know—how many of you know that—or know if DACA recipients are eligible for aid?
Q: (Off mic.)
MOSTOFI: They are not, correct. So DREAMers, right? People who have been in the United States since before 16 years of age who—many of whom are extremely accomplished, work at the mayor’s office, work with the NYPD and others, but are in eligible for financial aid to go to school. That is a fight that’s happened here in New York state that, should the state choose to pass the DREAM Act at the state level, they would become eligible. There are ways you could get involved and really ensure access to education for young people who find themselves here and ineligible to be able to get that assistance and aid.
MCMAHON: Great. There was a question actually right there. Yes.
Q: I’m Susanna (sp) from the New School for Social Research.
And I strongly agree with that sentiment, that it is, in fact, a crisis of our values, a crisis of indifference. And I was wondering, how do we break through those reactive, anti-refugee, anti-migrant, you know, rhetoric, especially as we’ve seen that fears are stronger than facts? How do we convince those that, you know, there are actually benefits to opening up to refugees? You know, if, like, the moral imperative fails?
MCMAHON: I would just add to that too—and we can go across the panel—you know, there was a period of fear directly after 9/11, for example. And many of you were much younger. There was a real, palpable fear about—you know, and it was directed at Muslims. And the country dealt with some tough times, but it seemed like it worked through a number of tough issues and go through it, at least in that time set. And some of those things have resurfaced again. So if you could all address maybe either that or some other areas, both the fear as well as the—maybe the counternarrative.
So, Greg, why don’t we start with you, and then come back around?
MANIATIS: Sure. So let me share a couple of thoughts on that. In terms of the fear question, I think that you have to get used to living with risk. And I think we’re definitely at a period in history, especially in the West, of having such great wealth and such a great sense of security that one of the problems that we face is that we don’t want any risk at all. (Laughs.) And that is a really big problem. And so when it comes to refugees, though, the relative risk of refugees entering the country is just miniscule relative to crossing the street or being attacked by another—fellow American—(laughter)—or any of the other risks that you face in your life. It’s relatively small. And the reason is because it takes up to two years, and sometimes more, to vet each refugee who’s resettled into this country.
So the second point about how do you reduce that fear? And I think the simple answer is through contact. And one of the statistics that we—or, themes in public attitudes data which is always striking is that anti-immigrant sentiment is strongest where there are fewer immigrants, OK? And that generally tells you that contact with refugees, with immigrants, is really important in changing how people think about it. So one of the major initiatives that we have at the Foundation undertaken—it was launched two years at the U.N. Summit on Refugees and Migrants—is called the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, which tries to take the experience that Canada has.
And it was really the only country—it’s been tried in a few other places just for brief periods of time—but Canada resettles refugees in part in the way that other countries do, which is to have social service agencies meet the refugees at the airport and settle them in public housing or in housing, and have a social worker help them integrate. In Canada, you have a model that is now bringing in—I think this year it will be seventeen thousand—refugees through community groups, through sponsorship groups. And we’re trying to take that model, and we have now taken it over the past two years. There’s five other countries that have launched or are piloting sponsorship programs.
Each of those groups that brings in a refugee family can number from five to two hundred. In the U.K., I was just there last week for their first annual community sponsorship awards. And they have groups—eighty, one hundred, one hundred twenty people—who together organize—self-organize and help bring in refugees. And so just to give you a sense of what that means in terms of—in terms of numbers, something like seven million Canadians claim—this isn’t really—cannot be true. (Laughter.) But seven million Canadians claim that they have been involved in sponsoring one of the fifty thousand Syrians who have come into the country since 2016. And it’s—I mean, maybe that’s true. Maybe just going to your neighbors and giving them a box of diapers for their newborn counts as being involved. But what it says, is that you feel as if this is part of who you are.
And the fact that the Canadian system with a relatively small number—I mean, fifty thousand, seven million, it works out to over one hundred people per refugee—maybe not so extraordinary. That will change, I think, the way the public—the people think about it. But it doesn’t have to be so extreme as to take on the responsibility of sponsoring a refugee for year. Right after we launched that Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative in 2016, I had the pleasure during that summit of meeting one of the founders of Airbnb.
STONE: Joe Gebbia?
MANIATIS: Joe Gebbia.
MANIATIS: And so I went out to San Francisco two weeks later and met with him and his stuff. And we decided to try something really on very short notice, which is to ask Airbnb hosts to host refugees for Thanksgiving dinner. And that one effort which involved—it was—it was—it was not easy, because it was a short period of time and because you’re dealing with companies with Airbnb and also resettlement agencies you had to vet both the hosts and the refugees in a matter of weeks. (Laughter.) But that experience of hosting a few hundred refugees by a few hundred Airbnb hosts has spawned a whole series of initiatives just from that one evening, right? So one outfit called Hello Neighbor in Pittsburgh was the result of that—those dinners. And they have now organized in their community in Pittsburgh to be able to provide sort of sponsorship life support to newcomers.
And so once you start—right, the way I think about this is building the infrastructure—the sustainable infrastructure for engagement. And I’ll just say one more thing, which is was in the U.K. last week and the British government—which is not—which is the product of Brexit, and which is not necessarily—it’s a Conservative government—
STONE: I love you’re naming names today. You’re naming names. You are naming names. I love it. (Laughs.)
MANIATIS: So I guess I don’t have the discipline of the Council on Foreign Relations. (Laughter.) No, but it’s a—it’s a good story, right? It’s a good story. It’s the Conservative government was so excited about the sponsorship program they brought different directors of different departments because they wanted to see how the sponsorship model could help them deal with other vulnerable populations, like homeless people, who—you know, so you could—what we’re missing really is that infrastructure for engagement and for people—not the government, not just the private sector—but for people to be able to support others who are in need.
MCMAHON: So I want to give you both a chance as well, and then we’ll keep going. I wanted to also, Meighan, with your response, you’ve done quite a bit in the media as well, and entrepreneurially. So if you can talk about maybe how media can be used effectively.
STONE: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I’ll just start with strange bedfellows is the first thing I’d say, which is, like—and this is a great policy lesson. Like, if you want to win a policy fight, you’re going to have to work with people that are unexpected. You know, it’s like, why would Airbnb be the front to that? It’s funny, because we—at the Malala Fund, we actually took Job Gebbia to a refugee camp for the first time. He had never been to Africa. He had never been to a refugee camp before. And he came with us on a trip with Malala and myself, and it was transformative. And so these experiences really matter. And, you know, maybe you wouldn’t think that this tech company would be a great partner, but they’ve become an incredible voice on this issue, and really showing that you can earn a great profit, you can have an incredible, thriving, scaling business, and actually take on some pretty tough social issues, and do it in a way that actually is on-brand and engages people. And, you know, how incredible is that?
I think another example is I think we see a lot in the press about the Evangelical Christian community. Guess who has been running a lot of the refugee resettlement programs in the United States for decades? Evangelical Christian community. I got invited to come to a briefing to a group of Evangelical Christians from the Midwest and the South that were so passionate about showing up to Congress when they were debating the refugee ceiling. They wanted to come and talk to their elected representatives and tell them why they care about this, and why it’s important to them. You know, and that’s kind of counternarrative, right? So there’s unexpected allies, strange bedfellows, wherever you look.
In terms of the media, we haven’t talked about media, we got to get real about the press. We haven’t said the word media or press. The press has laid a very, very strong foundation for this administration to come in. At Harvard I did research not looking at partisan outlets, looking at mainstream media news broadcasts about how immigrants and refugees are discussed and who’s the protagonist usually. If you use the word “Muslim,” who’s the protagonist? Overwhelming, it’s ISIS. Who’s the spokesperson who’s quoted when you talk about Muslims or refugees? Overwhelmingly it’s Donald Trump talking about the president’s views on the community. We don’t hear from refugees in the press. We do not see fair depictions of people of color, of refugees, of, you know, anybody from the Muslim diaspora, Muslim countries at all.
And these are—these are media outlets that you would like think were on side. You know, and they’re often staffed by people that have spent time in bureaus overseas. But what happens when headlines get written and social media optimization starts, you start to get a very specific picture that’s presented. So I think we have to hold the media accountable for how we talk about communities.
MCMAHON: And social media is another important point to raise there, which is a whole other avenue. We can get to that—we can talk about that. But, anyway, that’s a good point.
STONE: Yeah. And the last thing I would just say is political leadership. You know, if your elected leaders aren’t doing what you think is the right thing, it doesn’t reflect the best of American values, like, that’s a—that’s a street fight. You need to get out, and you need to vote, and you need to knock doors. And you need to talk to people about issues, which doesn’t have to be partisan. It doesn’t have to be political activity. That can be nonprofit activity, to educate elected leaders about these issues. And so, you know, it’s on us as Americans. If we think this doesn’t reflect us, we need to elect leaders on both sides of the aisle that we feel like do uphold those values. And there are candidates out there, and there are people on the Hill right now both sides of the aisle that are champions. So.
MCMAHON: Do you have anything to add to that, Bitta?
MOSTOFI: Yeah, just briefly, because I think everything that they said is right on. I would just say, you know, you see the majority of this kind of confusion or negative perception of immigrants and refugees in places that are siloed, as you heard. You’ve got these very incredibly welcoming policies on both coasts, less so in the middle of the country, right? and a lot of that is cultural. And a lot of that is not having a connection or access. That was a—I think a part of what was so compelling about the DREAMer movement, right, was that you had these young people coming out and telling their stories and traveling across the country and doing the hard work of just, frankly, being really brave and coming out and being honest about who they were and why they were here. And they really led that right that realized something for them.
I think similarly, on the other side, with the LGBTQ movement, right, it was about personal stories putting front and center that this was not—this was not a cultural thing. This was a human thing. It was about love and loving of other people, regardless of who they might love, right? I think those are the ways that you kind of win the hearts and minds and shift the overall perception and understanding around an issue. And people who have—and I will add to that, rhetoric matters. The fact that you have really, really anti-immigrant rhetoric on a day-in, day-out basis from leadership, and that’s what’s getting talked about and pushed out more and more and more and more, actually has impact on the ground.
We have seen here in New York City a spike in hate crimes immediately after the 2016 presidential campaign. Some of that has leveled off, but not crimes against Muslim communities. That’s still up. And that’s because of the rhetoric. And as much as we’ve done to combat against that, it’s still out there and it’s still real and pervasive. And so it really takes everybody sort of stepping up and owning a role and leadership and pushing back against those narratives, and being creative about who you’re talking to, and partnering with. And fundamentally, if you—if you want to arm yourself with the data of why immigrant communities are important for the economy, it’s there. If you want to arm yourself with the data about who immigrants are in terms of crime and lack thereof, it is there, right? That stuff is there. It’s just that it’s been so twisted and convoluted that the negative narrative is what controls the conversation. And trying to overcome that is the challenge.
MCMAHON: Questions again. I see a number of hands. So I’m going to try to bundle a few so we can squeeze in as many as possible for our remaining time. So I’ll start here in the front row, and then I’ll take two more after that. And I’ll do them in groups of three.
Q: Hi there. I’m Rachel Williams (sp) from Union County College.
And I have a question about arguing, and rhetoric, and how I can do that in a manner—in, like, the nitty-gritty, in the trenches of family dinner tables, and so on, and so forth. How do I go about arguing how it is not sound that we can blame infrastructure, and capacity, and minutia like that? Why is that not a sound argument? Why is that a fallacy? You mentioned that, you said the capacity—just that’s a fallacy. Why is that?
STONE: Well, I’d actually give you a different answer. I mean, how most—how many of us have had some awkward family conversations in the last couple—I mean, regardless of how you stand politically? You know, I’m talking to everybody, you know? You know, there’s—I think we have to be strategic. I think sometimes when we feel something really, really in our hearts or firmly, or through direct experience or data, you know, we feel like we have to convince everybody. And I think one of the—one of the core things about being an advocate around policy change or funding for that policy is getting really strategic about who you need to convince. And I would actually encourage you not to waste your time convincing just anybody. (Laughs.)
I would say, if you have energy to give, you know, aim that at people who actually hold a pen on a policy or make a decision about money. Because this issue’s challenging right now, we need to be efficient.
Q: It’s exhausting.
STONE: Yeah. It can be exhausting. But I think there’s always a way to—the way that I always try to approach advocacy work is be clear, get your facts right, be diplomatic, be gracious. There’s a way to be candid and clear and still make a space for someone to sit next to you. And I think that’s the core. You know, even if you’re meeting with somebody on the Hill that’s on the opposite side of the aisle or has a policy, they may be the person that’s, like, carrying the banner on the policy that’s the opposite of what you want.
You know, I used to work for Bono from U2 at the ONE Campaign and RED when it first started. And he did incredible work going to the Hill and getting people onside for PEPFAR and for, yeah, you know, that were very unlikely allies. And so I think there is a way to make a case and still create a seat so that that person can still sit next to you eventually. But I would say in this—in this critical time, don’t waste your breath. There’s some people that aren’t going to come along. They’re just not. They’re not going to come along. And that’s OK. We can be respectful, and gracious, and we’ll talk to the person that may be able to be moved. You know, and that’s the job of being an advocate, I think, on policy.
MCMAHON: I want to go to this side of the room because I’ve neglected them wholly so far. (Laughter.) I’ll go with you over there, and then you. OK? So we’ll do two and two.
Q: Hey. I’m Chris Hollis (sp). And I’m at Brooklyn College.
And I just wanted to ask—I just moved here from Lebanon, actually. So I’m glad that you mentioned that.
MCMAHON: From Lebanon?
STONE: You know Mazoun?
Q: From Lebanon, yeah.
STONE: Oh, how great. What a great moment today. Thank you for sharing that. That’s incredible.
Q: No problem. And so my question is, what can we do about refugees that really don’t have a hope or, like, a foreseeable timeline of returning to their country? And what comes to my mind is the Palestinians stuck in Lebanon, and what we can do about them. Because in many cases, it’s not only they are refugees, but their kids are refugees, and their kids are going to be refugees, because they truly have nowhere to go and they’re stuck in a country where—I mean, you’ve seen the conditions. These camps are truly horrible. And there’s nothing there. And, I mean, what can we do other than keep them there and basically wait out for something to happen between Israel and Palestine?
MCMAHON: Thank you for that. And then take another question.
Q: Hi. My name is Eleanor Abraham. I received my Master’s from NYU in international relations.
And I conduct a lot of research on women and how the impact they live in—conflict regions, and the impact that conflict has on them—so when they come to the United States and they suffer from PTSD, or they’ve been sexually abused. Is there some sort of organization that focuses on that trauma, so that they could assimilate into society?
MCMAHON: Thank you. I might try to squeeze a third question in, and then we’ll go to the panel. And we’ll take you right here, please.
Q: Hi, everyone. I’m Chris Naraz (ph) from Baruch College.
I just wanted to see, how are you looking at the situation in Venezuela, and what impacts the United States could possibly have on it, since it already named it on the travel ban list?
MCMAHON: Thank you. So we started out with sort of how to—how to provide or inject some hope for people in long-term refugee situations, whether it’s the Palestinians, which are a special case in many ways, or people in Lebanon, as the speaker asked.
Greg, do you want to start?
MANIATIS: Sure. I also want to just address Rachel’s question, which I think your answer was absolutely right, if you’re not going to have any shot at winning the argument maybe you should spend your efforts elsewhere. But start where they are, right? So start where your family is or start where you friends are. And really think hard about how what you’re arguing for might be relevant to their interests. So one of—the weird thing about this battle over the refugee ceiling and the presidential determination about the number of refugees that would be allowed into the country, is that our strongest ally to increase the number was the secretary of defense, because it’s the military that has really make the case most forcefully for keeping that ceiling high. And so that gives you a sense that there are allies in unexpected places, as Meighan is, I think really correctly, underscoring.
On the question about long-term displacement, there has been a shift, I think, over the past few years. If there’s one good outcome of the very large public debate about refugees it is that what was challenged over the past few years was the model of encampment, of keeping refugees in camps. And that there has been a really big push to try to, both as the U.N. Refugee Agency but the international community, to try to persuade countries where—that are hosting large numbers of refugees to allow them to integrate, to allow them access to the labor markets. That is really the engine of integration, is to be able to work.
And that battle, I think, has had some successes. So there are really—the models for this kind of policy are in Africa and the Middle East. So Uganda has been really exceptional in allowing refugees to work—actually, even giving many of them plots of land to be able to own and to be able to become farmers. Guinea-Bissau, a really small country, has done a really great job of giving citizenship to refugees. Jordan was really the laboratory for a lot of this in the current Syrian refugee crisis, in that the international community really honed in. There’s just tons of foreigners in Jordan, from the World Bank, from other agencies, trying to figure out how to not only persuade the government to give work permits, which they have—something like two hundred thousand—to Syrian refugees, but also to attract foreign investment into Jordan and develop various programs that would allow refugees there to work.
So I think that the shift has been from keeping refugees in camps. Most refugees are now in urban centers, something like sixty or seventy percent. And the next step is to really allow them to integrate into schools and workplaces, and those communities where they find themselves.
MCMAHON: Great. I’m wanted to go—I’m going to have Bitta field the question about the women in conflict zones and sort of PTSD, and then move to you, Meighan. So, Bitta, if you could respond.
MOSTOFI: Sure. Yeah. Happy to. I’ll start there, and then add a couple more thoughts on this. So there’s many organizations, certainly locally, that do some of this work. Women For Afghan Women comes to mind as one. The Arab American Family Support Center comes to mind. First in Queens, the second in Brooklyn. A lot of—Arab American Association of New York actually. I’m thinking of those organizations, because they’re the ones at this moment having the greatest impact on this issue. There’s wonderful community-based groups like those who are in New York City who do this exact work.
I would add that the first lady of New York, Chirlane McCray, has a new initiative called Thrive NYC, which is a 365-days-a-year, twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week hotline for anybody that has any mental health needs or concerns and needs to be connected with somebody who can speak their language. You can, yourself, learn to—go through a training, and learn how to become a better aid and a sister for people who are going through mental health challenges. It is, I would say, probably at this moment, one of the number-one things that me and my team hear when we’re in communities right now, is just that the just severe onslaught that immigrant communities are facing at this moment in the city, and the deep amount of fear and stress that that’s created. Mental health concerns are one of the number-one things that we hear right now. So if you’re interested in getting involved, there are different ways to get connected through smaller organizations or through the Thrive program. You can get trained and become active there.
I would also just add, in terms of kind of conversations that are being had, is, like, it is not all rosy, right? Like, not to paint, like, oh, everything about immigration is amazing and perfect, right? I think there’s a real reality here that we have a totally broken immigration system in this country, right? And there are so many things about it that are not great, and that ought to be looked at and talked about. And that kind of grand bargain that everyone was hopeful for in 2013 with comprehensive immigration reform, it had some good things in it and some not so good things in it. But it was important to kind of move the ball forward. And I think acknowledging that it’s not perfect is really important.
Acknowledging kind of basic things about, of course, nobody is saying no vetting. Of course, nobody is saying that security isn’t important. But that this stuff is in place, and that it’s important to continue to look at it, and that we know fundamentally that, of course, if you silo somebody or you force them into the shadows, and you don’t give them opportunity and you don’t give them ability to grow and care for themselves and feel included, that is much more dangerous, right, than having kind of proactive policies on welcoming people and including them in society. So I think having honest conversations about things is so important, especially at a moment in time where this issue in particular is weaponized by a faction of our country.
You know, we’re heading into midterm elections, and there’s two conversations that are happening that aren’t getting that much attention here, necessarily, but are playing out in the campaign trails around immigration. One is the issue of they’ve proposed literally indefinite detention for individuals who are families who come to this country seeking asylum. At this moment in time, they’re limited. They can’t keep kids in detention centers for more than twenty days. They’ve literally put out a proposal that would say indefinite detention while they’re seeking asylum. Kids. I just came back from being in Texas and volunteering for a week at the border helping prepare mothers and their children for a credible fear interview, so they could establish their asylum cases. I saw the regression in kids, some kids going back to breastfeeding with their mother. Every kid in that facility was sick—hands down, across the board. There’s no adequate medical care. There’s no great oversight over these facilities. And they’re just there for twenty days. Imagine what indefinite detention looks like.
You can yourself right now take an action on this. There’s open comment period for people to submit comments around this proposal and say: We don’t agree with this or we do agree with this. Public discourse, public sentiment has persuasive value. The more comments, the more people are active, that’s so, so, so important. They’ve also just thrown into the debate just before the—this was sort of calculated just before the midterm elections—a new proposed rule that would essentially seek to limit access to benefits for immigrants who are otherwise eligible for them as a way to sort of penalize people who might eventually become permanent residents. So if you’ve received certain benefits, like Medicaid, even for emergency Medicaid for pregnant women, that could be a jeopardy to you being able to get a green card in the future. That’s a new proposal.
They have weaponized these policies, these anti-immigrant policies, to infuse midterm elections. And they’re kind of falling under the radar. And this is a moment in time where they’re—you responding to these comments, you organizing classmates to say what your sentiments are, what your research has shown you, all of these things is the way for you to really get active and get involved.
MCMAHON: I wanted to give—we’re just about out of time. I wanted to give Meighan a chance to just respond, especially to the one about the hope and despair of the camps. But if you had other thoughts you wanted to conclude us with, carry us out.
STONE: I’ll just—I’ll just say very briefly, I mean, the average refugee is displaced, what, like seventeen years? It’s the course of your entire education. We need to accept that migration is part of life. That we shouldn’t continue to be surprised. Oh my God, there’s migration. This has been part of human history. We need to change the system.
On UNRWA, thank you for bringing up that question. That is a perfect example of how really worthy work has been caught in a political vise and needs champions. At Malala Fund, Malala won some prize money. We gave it to UNRWA schools. And within moments, Rosanne Barr was tweeting back at us some criticism. We got a lot of blowback, but people need to stand up and do the right work, which is humanitarian principles, which is we serve children and those in need. We do it every day. And we keep doing it, even when it’s politically difficult. And then I’d just close by saying: There was an amazing piece of news that happened a week ago. Nadia Murad, the Yazidi activist, was named one of the Nobel Peace Prize winners. We need more Nobel women, so I was excited to hear her announcement. And, you know, she has been campaigning about sexual assault in conflict. You know, in her case it was with ISIS in Northern Iraq as a Yazidi woman. But it’s time for those issues to get more attention. That’s why we need women like you working in foreign policy. And congratulations on your master’s degree. I hope we’ll see you in these halls more so.
MCMAHON: All right. On that note, we have to conclude. I was worried that given the subject matter we were going to end with an air of despair here. I think with our having—the benefit of having three practitioners up on the panel here, these are can-do people. They have, obviously, lots of ideas, that we’ve actually ended up with a note of some sense of purpose. So I want to thank all three of them, Greg Maniatis, Meighan Stone, and Bitta Mostofi. (Applause.)
STONE: Thank you.
MCMAHON: And that concludes this podcast—I mean, this livestream.