Immigration, Refugee Resettlement and Rogers Park Immigration has been much in the news lately.
Twice since the election, the new administration has tried (and thus far, failed) to impose a travel ban on a handful of countries with predominantly Muslim populations. Certain members of the cabinet have been openly hostile to immigration, both legal and illegal. The new administration clearly intends to make big changes to the immigration policies that have been in effect in this country for many years. A large segment of the electorate supports these efforts. The impact of these changes, if they are put into effect, will be far-reaching.
Few communities in the Chicago region, or nationally for that matter, will be as impacted by changes in immigration policy as Rogers Park. Our community is one of the gateways for new arrivals in the Chicago area. For refugees, the greater Rogers Park and West Ridge neighborhoods are ground zero for resettlement in the Chicago region.
I recently sat down for a long conversation with Cumar (names changed by request) at the offices of Refugee One, a non-profit organization that has become Chicago’s largest refugee resettlement agency. Cumar is a Somali national who has never set foot in Somalia – a strange fact that will be fully explained in a future article. Cumar has been living in Rogers Park with his wife Axlam since mid-February.
Cumar and Axlam are here legally and are beginning the process of integrating into a new country, learning a new language, making new friends, finding new jobs, pursuing educations – in short, beginning new lives and facing new challenges that few of us can even imagine. Cumar and Axlam’s story is fascinating and complex. It is also a direct window into the lives and experiences of people we often hear about, but rarely get to know. America has always been a nation of immigrants; but Americans are also strangely conflicted about immigration. Like so much else in contemporary America, the divergence in opinion about immigration has rarely been more polarized than it is today, ranging from warm welcome to overt hostility.
In telling the story of Cumar and Axlam, we will be looking at the experiences of two people who are at the very beginning of a radically new existence in a strange new land. But the story of Cumar and Axlam is about more than just these two brave individuals. Their story is also about the future of our country, our city, and especially, our neighborhood. No place in the Chicago region will be more impacted by changes to immigration policy than Rogers Park.
I encourage you to read about these two courageous young people and their budding new adventure in America for the simple pleasure of hearing their amazing story. But make no mistake – Cumar and Axlam’s tale is a small piece of a much larger story – one that will, in many ways, determine who we are as Americans and what we are all about.