At the Najjar family home in New York, traditional Syrian dishes were served side-by-side typical American fare for the holiday feast. On one plate, the earthy flavors of stuffed Syrian grape leaves mixed with the creamy, melted cheese of Italian lasagna.
The feast celebrates one of the most important days on the Muslim calendar. Eid al-Adha, also called the “Festival of Sacrifice,” commemorates the story of Abraham and his readiness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as an act of obedience to God. As Abraham begins to comply, a messenger form God interrupts him, and Abraham sacrifices a ram instead.
To honor the story of Abraham, many Muslim families sacrifice an animal to share with friends and the poor. It is also customary for families to donate to charities that benefit the underserved.
Over the holiday feast, the Najjar family reminisced about their journey from Syria to the United States.
Feryal and Hisham Najjar immigrated with three young children to New York City from Syria by way of Saudi Arabia in 1986. Like many immigrants, the couple moved for political freedoms, economic opportunities, and a better future for their children.
Once in New York, Feryal and Hisham started English language classes, and the children enrolled in school. “You have to be strong from the beginning,” Feryal said. “It was very hard during the first two years.” She worried about the children: facing discrimination as immigrants from a predominantly Muslim country, excelling in school, and adjusting to their new life.
In 1987, after one year in New York and learning English, Feryal opened her own business, a children’s clothing boutique in Brooklyn. Hisham found work as an engineer, working on projects for the city. In 991, they became citizens and established roots in their new country.
In 2018, after 31 years in the United States, the Najjar children established their own roots. The daughter, Lina, is a mother of two and a homeowner on Staten Island and the oldest son, Louai, is a father of two and the owner of a bagel shop in New Jersey.
In many ways, the Najjars are a typical Syrian immigrant family in the United States.
Syrian immigrants make real contributions to local economies in the United States. A 2016 study found that Syrian immigrants are fitting into American life and excelling in the country, both socially and economically. Syrian immigrants learn to speak English, attain high levels of education, earn good wages, and have extremely high rates of business ownership.
Despite this data, Syrians seeking to immigrate to the United States face many oppositions. Since assuming office in 2016, President Trump has, including multiple travels bans and caps on refugee resettlement. This year, from January 2018 to July 2018, only 23 Syrian refugees have resettled in the United States. Meanwhile, there are more there are some 5.6 million registered Syrian refugees and more than 25 million refugees globally—the highest ever. Despite the refugee crisis, resettlement is at an historic low.
During the Eid al-Adha holiday, 120 faith-based organizations and 636 faith leaders sent a letter to members of Congress and President Trump urging the administration to set the fiscal year 2019 refugee admissions goal to at least 75,000. This action by faith leaders on behalf of refugees came after reports that President Trump intended to further lower refugee admissions from 45,000 to 15,000.
Refugee and immigrant rights groups have mobilized. From letter-writing campaigns and the social media hashtag #Welcome75, the groups have drawn awareness on the low refugee admission levels and pressured lawmakers and President Trump.
From January 2011 to July 2018, the United States has resettled just over 20,000 Syrian refugees. For comparison, Canada has welcomed more than 50,000, and Germany has accepted over 800,000.
For the Najjar family in New York, the opposition to refugee resettlement is not only bad economic policy by turning away highly skilled workers, but also a violation of human rights.
Hisham argues that the United States is not taking advantage of highly educated and skilled Syrians applying for resettlement. “Many Syrians [seeking to immigrate] are educated—doctors, professors, engineers.” Hisham said. “Look at Turkey. They took the most educated Syrian people, and they gave them nationality. They gave them Turkish citizenship.”
Lina believes that refugees have a fundamental right to safe asylum.
“It’s in human nature to want to protect yourself—to want to save your family. I think every country should let refugees in, America included,” Lina said. “It’s refugees’ human right to want to live. I think to deny a person something that is so innate within them is immoral. It dehumanizes the person.”
Feryal cleared the plates and brought out platters of sliced melons, Syrian maamoul cookies, and cannoli for dessert. Sitting down to the table with a cup of tea, she captured the family’s sentiment. “America must change her policy,” Feryal said. “If not, then move the Statue of Liberty— because it is a lie.”