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Scarcity, Immigration and Having Enough

In the human world, abundance does not happen automatically. It is created when we have the sense to choose community, to come together to celebrate and share our common store.

 – Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Seven Years of Waiting

Arooj leans back against the refrigerator in her dimly lit kitchen, her head resting heavily atop postcards and family photos. She holds a brightly lit cell phone out in front of her.

“Yeah, but they never informed me clearly of what clearance they need,” her husband Sunny’s voice is heard from the speaker. “They are only sending me the emails — we are waiting for some clearance from the U.S., please wait… So I am living here alone, you are living there alone.”

Arooj closes her eyes, breathing deeply before she speaks.

“Yeah. Just keep praying…Be strong. Be faithful. Everything will be alright.”

Arooj and Sunny fled their home in Pakistan in 2013 when Muslim extremists threatened to kill them and their families. Arooj made it to Sri Lanka, but Sunny was caught and kept from joining her. While Arooj was resettled in the United States in 2017, her husband’s resettlement has yet to be approved. The couple has only been physically together for six months out of the last seven years. Now they’re waiting — waiting on a process that seems ever-changing and ever more difficult to complete.*

A Culture of Scarcity

The United States has historically been a place of refuge for people fleeing violence and persecution, but drastic changes in immigration and refugee resettlement policies have left many, like Sunny, in a state of limbo. At its best, the U.S. has been known as a place of hope and opportunity, where dreams can come true regardless of race, socioeconomic, ethnic or cultural background. Recently, however, our national rhetoric has shifted. Phrases like, we’re full,’ ‘there’s no room for you,’ ‘you’ll drain our resources,’ and ‘we don’t have enough’ have replaced a culture of compassion and unearthed a deeply seated culture of scarcity. 

In 2012, author and researcher, Brene Brown published a book titled, Daring Greatly. In it, she discusses a cultural shift she’s noticed in the United States over the last several years:

“The world has never been an easy place,” she writes, “but the past decade has been traumatic for so many people… From 9/11, multiple wars, and the recession to catastrophic natural disasters and the increase in random violence and school shootings, [we’ve survived] events that have torn at our sense of safety with such force that we’ve experienced trauma…

“Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when we’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability), we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.”

That description is eerily accurate of our current culture.

If you’re like me, you struggle with scarcity almost daily. You wake up thinking there’s not enough time to get everything done, not enough resources to get what you want, not enough know-how to accomplish your goals… simply, not enough. But if scarcity and this pervading belief that you don’t have enough — that we don’t have enough — is driving the policies we support and the rhetoric we use, then what does that say about the God we serve?

What Does God Promise?

All throughout scripture, God promises to provide for our every need. He says to look at the birds of the air and how he feeds them. Are we not much more valuable than they? He also promises to keep us safe, to be our place of refuge and to shelter us beneath his wings. And at the same time, he calls us to be compassionate — to care for the vulnerable and welcome the foreigner among us. We take this call seriously at World Relief and consider it an essential task for followers of Jesus.

At World Relief, we do not advocate for open borders. But we do advocate for policies that are both compassionate and secure. These ideals need not be mutually exclusive. We also advocate and call for a church — God’s people — to be a voice of compassion and to trust God when he says that he is enough and he will provide enough.

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that anytime there are gaps in our knowledge, fear fills those gaps. If we’re fearfully believing that immigrants and other refugees are draining our system and we don’t have enough, could it be that we just don’t know enough about the facts?

The Facts

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a report that revealed between 2005 and 2014, refugees and asylees contributed $63 billion more in government revenue than they used in public services. These findings, however, were largely ignored. A fact sheet was released later that year detailing all the ways refugees spent public money without providing any of the details about how much they contribute.

What’s more, according to the National Immigration Forum, immigrants are twice as likely to start new businesses than U.S.-born citizens. Immigrants have founded more than 51% of the country’s new start-up businesses, and in 2016, these companies employed an average of 760 people.

Immigrants and refugees like Arooj are grateful for the refuge America has provided for them and are eager to rebuild their lives and contribute to our economy and our culture.

“We have a big plan, actually…” Arooj says smiling, “that whenever we have kids, one of our kids is going to go to U.S. Army… that’s what we believe!”

Trust A God Who Who is Enough

Author Parker Palmer once wrote that “whether the scarce resource is money or love or power or words, the true law of life is that we generate more of whatever seems scarce by trusting its supply and passing it around.”

As we move forward, let’s be conscious of the ways our internal stories and misinformation might be shaping our national narrative and choose to generate knowledge, trust and truth rather than letting scarcity and fear win out.

Learn more about Arooj and Sunny’s story.

*Arooj and Sunny’s story was originally adapted from “They Are Us,” a video produced by Jordan Halland. In 2023, 10 years after their separation and three years after we first shared this story, Arooj and Sunny were finally reunited in the U.S. We are thrilled for Arooj and Sunny! Their story reminds us why we do the work we do. If their story inspires you, you can join us in this work by advocating or giving today. 

Rachel Clair is a Content Manager at World Relief. Alongside an amazing team of marketing colleagues, she manages the curation and creation of written and multi-media content for World Relief’s global platforms. With more than 10 years of experience creating content for churches and non-profits, she is passionate about developing content that challenges both individuals and communities to lean into all of whom God created them to be. She holds a BFA from Stephens College and is currently participating in a spiritual formation cohort through the Transforming Center in Wheaton, IL.

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