Bill Clinton, the Mariel Boatlift and Refugee Politics Today
What did Jesus Say About Your 401 (k)?
In 1980, when 125,000 Cubans fled to the United States in the Mariel boatlift, some 25,000 of those refugees were housed for processing in Arkansas at Fort Chaffee. Locals feared the new arrivals. Some of the refugees rioted, and the footage of burning buildings was fodder for attack ads that helped defeat Arkansas’s young governor, Bill Clinton. Clinton went down with Jimmy Carter, the president who had sent the refugees to Arkansas.
It was a political lesson not lost on Asa Hutchinson, then a young lawyer practicing law in Fort Smith, about 25 miles north of Fort Chaffee. He’s now the governor of Arkansas.
It’s also likely that it’s a lesson one that the 30 or so other governors who jumped on the anti-refugee bandwagon had learned as well.
But despite Gov. Hutchinson’s concerns over admitting refugees, he is working with an Arkansas group that has brought hundreds of refugees to the state since President Trump’s election. And that partnership began at a meeting that started with a piece of pie at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The Pro-Refugee Republican Governor
He didn’t say anything about 401 (k)s, says Rachel Webb.
He said, “Go outside the camp.”
That’s Bible speak for get out of your comfort zone.
I adore Rachel. She’s a crazy-busy mother of three, a podcaster and uber volunteer. She’s cool, she’s funny. She admits to being fallible. And one reason I really love her is she’s a Southern Baptist who I think blows the cardboard stereotype about Southern Baptists. She’s nonpartisan—she votes on issues over party. “Our culture, it’s so polarizing and extreme that we fall into the trap of believing we have to pick a side,” she said. Not Webb. “I am much more issues based.” She has friends with diametrically opposing views. She’s intensely concerned about the polarization she sees in this country. And working with refugees through her church, Christ Community Church, has given her a way to counter that polarization—and get out of her comfort zone at the same time.
A Pastor's Dark Night of the Soul
Utah Governor Gary Herbert is a staunch Republican in a solidly red state. But when 30 or so governors jumped on an anti-Syrian refugee bandwagon in 2015, he wasn’t on it. He supports refugees. In 2017, as the new Republican administration in Washington sought to ban Muslim refugees, he welcomed a Pakistani refugee family to Utah, calling them “new pioneers” in this Instagram post.“The fact that refugees pose a danger is a myth,” Herbert told me. He agreed security is important, but refugees aren’t the threat. How does he reconcile the differences between his party’s leadership and his own beliefs?
The Soccer Ball and the Stained Glass Window
Meet the traditionalist who wanted to circle the wagons to protect the Lutheranism that he grew up with who now has coffee regularly with a local iman. John Kline is the kind of guy who goes to the Lord with his doubts and his fears. And every once in a while, he makes a request. “Please don’t let me be bored.” And the Lord clearly heard him on that one.
The Bread and Salt Between Us
Refugee resettlement can be messy. Donations pile up in the church entry. Pizza gets squashed into carpeting. A volunteer driver from Iraq drives the church van the same way he drove in Bagdad. “When driving the church van, you have to drive like Jesus,” jokes John Kline, pastor for Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Des Moines. And sometimes a kid might kick a soccer ball through the church's hundred-year-old stained glass window.
How to Help Refugees Right Now!
Working with refugees can bring you lots of joy and this new cookbook, The Bread and Salt Between Us, is one example. It's by Mayada Anjari, the extremely capable young matriarch of a Syrian family co-sponsored by Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City. Mayada, her family and the whole Rutgers crew--who behind their mild-mannered facade are a bunch of wild and crazy Presbyterians (click here to see my quote about them in the New York Times)--are just a few of the amazing people you'll meet in my book.
There’s so much we can do to help refugees here, right now, despite news reports that might make you think otherwise. There has been a sharp downturn in the flow of refugees coming to the U.S. , but those of us working with refugees are busier than ever.
We’re all everyday people. We’re Democrats and Republicans, Trump supporters and Clinton supporters, pro-choicers and pro-lifers, the religious and the secular.