At 24, Tresor Alin Nahimana has spent an alarming amount of his life in flight from oppression.
Ethnic violence drove him from his home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He lived through the murders of his parents and the rape of his sister, while being assaulted himself, before he fled, seeking safety.
He moved to Uganda, then Turkey, where he married and now has two children. Seven months ago, he left his young family behind — temporarily, he thought — while making his way to Massachusetts, a job as a barista at a Starbucks at Logan International Airport, and the dream of a better life.
Now he wonders when he will see his family again.
“I hope I will see my family,” he said Tuesday. “I need them around.”
His family’s planned reunion is on hold for now. That’s thanks to a draconian policy change by the Trump administration. For the third consecutive year, it has slashed the number of refugees that will be allowed to enter the country to 18,000 — the lowest level in 40 years, and less than a quarter of those admitted in the last year of the Obama Administration. The change went into effect on Tuesday.
The new limit sharply tightens America’s borders to people fleeing military and humanitarian crises, people this country once welcomed with open arms and hearts.
At a roundtable discussion Tuesday co-hosted by the Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition ad Oxfam America, advocates for immigrants assailed the new limits as deeply un-American.
“We are sitting at a crossroads,” said Fatema Sumar, vice president of global programs for Oxfam America. “What kind of country do we want to be?“
US Senator Ed Markey said he has co-sponsored legislation calling for a big increase in the number of refugees accepted into the country, to 125,000 a year. That number, Markey stressed, is intended as a goal rather than a limit. Though it would have little chance of being signed into law under this president, Markey said he believes passing the bill would elevate the issue of refugees in the minds of voters, in advance of the 2020 election.
As it stands now, America is joining the ranks of countries that seek to close their borders, just as the problem of displacement gets even worse around the globe. That’s a retreat from this country’s historic — and bipartisan — support for people fleeing violence and oppression back home.
“For decades, the United States has resettled more refugees than any other country,” said Eva Millona, executive director of MIRA. No more.
The question of how many immigrants the country should allow may seem remote to many Americans who have never had to ponder it deeply.
But it’s anything but an abstraction to Nahimana.
After an attack on his family in Congo that took the lives of his mother, father and a brother, he was urged to flee the country, and did. He was in Turkey for a little over two years, he said, when his wife urged him to go to America. They had one infant, and another child on the way. But work in Turkey had become scarce, and the United States loomed as a land of opportunity.
Nahimana settled in Lynn last winter, found a job, and began learning English. An advocacy group — the International Institute of New England — helped him get settled, and he hopes to get a green card, and bring his family to his new home. He’s never seen his younger child, born after he left Turkey.
Nahimana said he speaks to his family every chance he gets. And he hopes their path to joining him won’t be cut off for long.
“I call them every day,” he said. “Every single day. I have to call them so they can feel that I am with them, even though they can’t see me. To give them hope that some day we’ll be together.”