Country was founded based on freedom

Published 9:34 am Friday, June 19, 2015

“I never knew people were against refugees coming to America,” I told my wife after reading some terrifying remarks online. I was clearly quite ignorant, as my quick research revealed there is a whole movement against allowing refugees to come into the country. I was surprised, to say the least, that this was a real movement.

It seems the argument being made is we welcome these people to America and they become too much of a burden on tax payers. I understand the concept of their argument, but I feel like the people behind this movement are forgetting a few things. 1. These are people. Real human beings. 2. They are literally fleeing their country for safety. 3. When they come here and work, they are paying taxes and working towards financial stability.

The U.S. State Department defined a refugee on their website as, “someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.”

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Refugees coming to America may not be understood by certain people because some Americans don’t have a concept of needing to flee their country. I know people who have decided to leave America to pursue work or retirement in other countries, but I have yet to meet someone who has fled. There certainly are people who have left the country to avoid persecution — Edward Snowden comes to mind — but they are incredibly low in number. When you live in a country placing a high value on freedom, government persecution doesn’t occur in the same life-threatening way it does in other places.

Shortly after reading the discouraging words, my wife and I watched, “The Good Lie,” a movie based on refugees from Sudan, often known as the Lost Boys and Girls. About 3,800 of these refugees arrived in America in 2001 after a civil war broke out in Sudan. Around 2.5 million people were killed in the war. Thousands of children were orphaned, traveling for months, sometimes years, to reach refugee camps in other African countries.

I had the privilege of meeting one of the Lost Boys back in 2008. Now a grown man, John Bul Dau shared his powerful story to a room packed full of college students and community members. He shared the difficulties he and thousands of others faced on the journey from fleeing his home country to reach the refugee camp. His transition to America as a refugee brought on new challenges as he adapted to cultural norms and began to earn a living and college education. He shared in a 2014 story published in National Geographic how his time in America has changed his life and in turn, the lives of so many others.

“When I came to the U.S. 12 years ago, I thought, I am so blessed to be in this country where people are generous. The way to give back was to do something for people in South Sudan, so I came up with the idea of building a medical clinic. People in the U.S. responded positively, fundraising started and we started seeing people in 2007. We have treated over 111,000 people for almost everything you can think of, from eye diseases to malaria to HIV/AIDS to pneumonia to diarrhea. We have treated 600 people who were blind from cataracts and glaucoma and now can see again. It’s what I call the big heart of America.”

I hope those people focused on the financial burden American taxpayers had to bear for these Sudanese refugees can recognize their investment was worthwhile. Other lost children have returned to Sudan and hold political positions, shaping their country’s future for the better.

Our country was founded based on the principle of freedom, and that is exactly what we’re providing to these refugees. It is my sincere hope Americans never have to become refugees. If that were to happen, I’d like to hope other countries wouldn’t be closing their doors to us because the cost of our freedom would be too high.


Rochester resident Matt Knutson is the communications and events director for United Way of Olmsted County.