My advisor had another house party last week, during which I fell into conversation with a young woman who, early on, announced her affiliation with the United Nations High Council on Refugees. (Note: I was celebrating the recent announcement of my coming publications, so the details of this conversation may get a little hazy through the blood-alcohol level.)
Φ: Wow, the U.N. has offices out here in [flyover country]?
UNHCR Babe: Well, actually, I work directly for Catholic Social Services, but we do contract work for UNHCR.
Φ: Oh. So, what work is that?
UNHCR CSS Babe: We resettle refugees.
Φ: Where do you resettle them?
CSSB: Here in the U.S.
Φ: For how long?
CSSB: Oh, permanently. They get green cards and can apply for citizenship.
Φ: Where do the refugees come from?
CSSB: Iraq, mostly.
Φ: Iraq. So, help me out here: last I heard, there were American soldiers in Iraq making Iraq, you know, safe for Iraqis.
CSSB: Yup. My husband is in the armed services, and has been deployed to Iraq several times. We have a private joke: he breaks countries, I clean up the pieces.
Φ: Yeah, there's something to be said for just staying home. How does an Iraqi qualify for refugee status?
CSSB: Well, as long as they can make a claim to having a fear of persecution, then they become eligible for resettlement.
Φ: So . . . are they part of Iraq's Christian minority?
CSSB: Actually, no. We get a handful of Chaldeans, but mostly, they're Muslims.
Φ: Muslims. Now, you're going to have to help me out here again, 'cause the TV said that Iraq is, you know, a Muslim country. So how do Muslims get to claim persecution?
CSSB: It doesn't have to be because of religion. They can claim persecution for having been friendly to Americans.
Φ: How many Muslims are we talking about?
CSSB: Last year, it was 20,000.
Φ: Twenty thousand. I didn't know we had that many friends in Iraq. So, just out of curiosity, how do we keep Muslims that aren't our friends from being in that 20,000?
CSSB: Oh, we're very careful! Refugees from Iraq have to go through four times the number of interviews we normally require.
Φ: Wow. Four times the, um, interviews. So, what's your angle? What part of the resettlement process do you handle?
Φ: How's that working out?
CSSB: Frankly, it's very difficult. The refugees we get were typically professionals back in Iraq, but their degrees are from, say, U. of Baghdad.
Φ: Their credentials don't transfer?
CSSB: No. And they don't want to do unskilled labor, and the economy is bad right now, so they tend to be bitter.
Φ: I thought you said they were our friends.
CSSB: Well, their attitude is, hey, you Americans invaded our country and created this mess, so now you should take care of us.
Φ: Okay . . . my brain is a little foggy, so let me run through all of this again. Basically, your job is to help bring 20,000 angry, entitled, unemployable Muslims, from a country we just invaded, into the United States in the middle of a recession. Is there anything I'm missing here?
CSSB: Well, it was only 20,000 last year. Obama just signed an agreement to bring in 80,000 this year.
Φ: Eighty-thousand Iraqis!
CSSB: Well, no, they're not all from Iraq. We also get a lot of Rwandans and Burudis.
Φ: Rwandans and Burundis. Let's see, that would be the Hutus and the Tutsis, right? So, which are we taking, the Hutus or the Tutsis?
CSSB: We take both.
Φ: Both! That's mighty damn multiculturalist of us. Any place else?
CSSB: We also get refugees from Vietnam.
Φ: Vietnam still. Wow, that's a war that keeps on giving. Hey, that's a cool looking cell phone you have.
CSSB: It's a Palm Pre.
Φ: Who's your carrier?
CSSB: Sprint. I get a big discount for banking with BigBank.
Φ: Really? I bank with BigBank. I wonder if I can get that discount . . . .