From Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger to Madeleine Albright and Gloria Estefan, the U.S. has a long history of welcoming refugees who are fleeing violence and persecution.
The rise of Nazism was making life increasingly dangerous for Einstein, a German Jew. So in 1932, when he was offered a position at Princeton University, Einstein made his way to the United States. Similarly, Kissinger, fleeing Nazi persecution, migrated to the U.S. in 1938. He went on to become an American diplomat, the secretary of state under former President Richard Nixon and a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Albright, not unlike Kissinger, fled Czechoslovakia — first from Nazis and later from Communists. In 1948, Albright and her family traveled to the U.S., where, under former President Bill Clinton, she went on to become nation's first female secretary of state. Estefan, in the 1960s, fled the oppressive Cuban dictatorship of Fidel Castro. She came to the U.S. as a toddler and went on to become an award-winning performer.
But it’s not just the refugees themselves who contributed to American society — their children have, too.
Today, Christian vocalist Audrey Assad is known for breathing new life into old hymns and telling the story of her faith through her own piano-driven melodies. But she might not be the woman she is now if not for her father’s journey from Syria to the United States, she said in a video message posted shortly after President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily freezing the refugee resettlement program.
“I have this deep sense that, if I never quit, I’ll figure it out,” she said, “and I get that from my father.”
Assad’s father, Riad, was born in Damascus, Syria. When divorce and eventual poverty struck his family, Riad’s mother, a single woman struggling to raise her children in Lebanon, applied for refugee status and came to the United States.
Riad went on to become a successful businessman, get married and raise a family. In her late teens, Audrey Assad decided to make music her career and, as she told TheBlaze, she’s “never looked back.”
Now, under the Trump administration, Assad is using the platform she’s built to advocate for people like her father: Syrians fearing for their lives and hoping to find safety in the United States.
For Assad, it’s personal. The 33-year-old songwriter grew up celebrating her Syrian heritage, hearing the music and eating Arab food.
“In spite of the distance that we have physically from it, I sit there at home — almost every day — catching up on what’s happening in the different cities in Syria and weep with grief because of how many innocent people are caught in those battles,” Assad told TheBlaze of the Syrian civil war and the Islamic State's destruction in the Middle East. “I carry a burden for it, and I’m thankful to do so.”
In fact, following ISIS radicals’ execution of 21 Coptic Egyptian Christians in 2015, Assad wrote the song “Even Unto Death,” in which she sings, “Even unto death, with my every breath, I will love you.”
But she doesn’t feel Trump understands the gravity of the crisis in the Middle East. The president’s executive action, which is now caught up in litigation, instituted a 90-day freeze on travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, and a 120-day moratorium on the refugee resettlement program.
While Trump has argued the order is for Americans’ protection, Assad feels the president “is out of touch with what a Syrian refugee might be experiencing” — a problem she perceived as being a symptom of his “wealth and circumstance and because of his politics.”
And she’s not alone. The president of World Relief, an evangelical humanitarian organization that has worked with refugees for decades, told TheBlaze last month that he disagrees with the “notion that security and compassion are mutually exclusive.”
Assad struck a similar tone, saying: “We don’t have to choose between helping our own citizens and helping more refugees.”
“I think the U.S. can take on a lot,” she later added. “I think we have a lot of room, I think we have a lot of space and I think we should welcome contributing members to our society. Refugees are not just pity cases — they’re citizens waiting to happen.”
And regarding concerns about safety, CNN reported in January that no refugees entering the U.S. have carried out fatal terror attacks since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, which established procedures for accepting refugees into the country.
Prior to 1980, three Cuban refugees successfully carried out terrorist attacks, killing a total of three people and, in November 2016, a Somalian refugee injured 13 people in a knife attack at the Ohio State University. There were no deaths.
Some Christian leaders, though, have a different perspective. The Rev. Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, supports Trump's temporary refugee freeze. He told CBN News that the U.S. needs to step up security and argued it should be the church — not the government — aiding refugees.
Refugees, in Assad’s view, have a lot to offer American society — they just need to be given the chance. “Refugees don’t just come and take. They work. They produce,” she said.
“My father’s an amazing example of someone who came here and created many jobs because — and this is going to sound so silly — Syrians are educated, smart, intelligent, capable people,” Assad continued. “A lot of people don’t think of them as that, and I think that’s a very sad thing and I encounter it all the time.”
While Assad is certainly not aligned with the president on matters of immigration, she’s hoping the opposition to his actions so far — from people on both sides of the aisle — will bring about positive change.
She said Christians in the U.S. have “fallen into a little bit of a stupor” when it comes to issues of race and immigration and is hoping that, somehow, this new administration will spark an awakening in American society.
“I’m hopeful … that people of good will and conscience and faith in whatever God they believe in will find ways to work together for the common good because we’re aware of the deep divisions that exist and we are aware of what’s at stake,” she concluded.