Saturday evening, at Seattle’s historic El Centro de la Raza cultural center, Lt. Governor Habib welcomed twenty newly-settled Syrian refugees and a roomful of supporters, at the Salaam Cultural Museum Medical Missions’ fundraiser dinner.
Salaam Cultural Museum Medical Missions is a non-governmental organization dedicated to serving refugees affected by upheaval in the Middle East. Recently, their efforts have been focused on serving Syrian refugees through volunteer-run refugee centers in Jordan and Greece, medical missions in Syria, and an orphanage in Idlib. The primary purpose of this weekend’s fundraiser was to expand their work in Washington, and to open a fully-operational refugee resource center in Tukwila.
In his keynote address, the Lt. Governor spoke to the nexus between Salaam Cultural Museum’s work, and Washington state’s role in responding to the current refugee crisis and political climate. The Lt. Governor first acknowledged the damage the Trump administration’s travel ban wrought on Washington state — both for its impact on student travelers, and for its impact on friends and families wishing to visit loved ones to or from any of the seven originally banned majority-Muslim countries.
It is for our state’s widespread repudiation of that policy, the Lt. Governor said, that it is a “proud time to be a Washingtonian.” Across the country, he said, Washington state is seen as an example for its success in securing the first nationwide legal block of the Trump administration’s travel ban, and for demonstrating massive political support for immigrants and refugees at the municipal, county, and state level.
“I’m particularly proud we have this legacy,” the Lt. Governor said, “and that we’re building it.”
The Lt. Governor recognized that the work of making Washington a welcoming place for refugees has been going on for a long time, and has been carried out by organizations like the Salaam Cultural Museum. For years, and long before the Trump administration, Washington State has ranked in the top ten states in the country for refugee acceptance and resettlement.
“To those that are new to our country ” the Lt. Governor said, “whether as a refugee, whether as an asylum-seeker, as a student visa-holder, a work visa-holder, a green card-holder, or as a new citizen – I want to welcome you on behalf of the State of Washington. I want tell you that I, like you, am a new American.”
The Lt. Governor described his family’s own experience, leaving Iran in 1979, during the Islamic Revolution, and the time of the Iran Hostage Crisis. The Lt. Governor said that his own mother had had to wait, in those difficult political times, to come to the U.S. – and for that reason, he, perhaps more than most elected officials, understood what it was like to have one’s family connected to this type of global upheaval.
On the strength of his own personal history, and in the spirit of Washington’s leadership on global inclusiveness, the Lt. Governor welcomed the new refugees, and affirmed the universality of their struggles.
The Lt. Governor described “What has always been the American commitment: welcoming people here, saying that you are every bit as American as we are; your problems are our problems. The need you have for healthcare, and housing, and education, and clothing — those are the same needs that we have had, we have faced. And so we are here, together – irrespective of religion, irrespective of where someone was born, irrespective of gender, or way of life.
I want to extend that same word of welcome that was extended to my family, when my parents came to this country — I want to extend it on behalf of the State of Washington.”