Posted on May 21, 2009, by Hanna Ingber, under Immigration, International, Politics.
The ongoing violence in Iraq has forced 4 million people to flee their homes and communities in search of safety elsewhere. About 2 million remain displaced within Iraq, whereas the other 2 million or so have fled to neighboring nations. In countries like Syria and Jordan, these Iraqis, many of whom were professionals back home, now live a life of poverty and fear. They struggle to find jobs to feed their families and can get kicked out at any time.
For years the Bush administration refused to acknowledge the humanitarian crisis caused by the war. After significant political pressure, the administration began to allow a limited number of Iraqis to resettle in the United States. President Obama, who made it a campaign promise to help displaced Iraqis, has acknowledged that the United States has a moral responsibility and security incentive to help people displaced because of a war the United States started.
However, despite the apparent political will in the Obama administration to help those Iraqis still in danger, the United States now faces a massive financial crisis. The economic downtown threatens to derail Obama’s efforts to resettle more Iraqis and provide more aid to the countries that harbor most of the refugees. The crisis has also caused a financial nightmare for the Iraqis who have already resettled in the United States. Struggling to compete for a limited number of jobs with laid-off Americans who speak the language and have experience working in this country, these Iraqis face a dire situation. Many Iraqis, who came to America in search of safety and a better life, now live on the brink of homelessness.
Read my LA Weekly cover story about the Iraqi refugees who have resettled in El Cajon, California. Most are Chaldean Catholics who fled religious persecution in Iraq.
If you weren’t paying close attention, it would be easy to mistake Main Street, El Cajon, for any other Main Street across the USA that has been transformed by its immigrant population. Kebabs and falafel are on the menus of most of the restaurants, and the local supermarket sells green olives, hummus mix and a wide assortment of olive oils. The television in one café shows a woman in a head scarf delivering the news in Arabic. Outside another, 2-foot-high hookahs sit on a table, ready to be smoked. These are sights we’ve become accustomed to in many California neighborhoods. But there are other details that make this street a little different. The word Babylon, for instance, is all over the place. There’s Babylon Hair Style, Babylon Restaurant, Babylon Jewelry, Babylon Hookah Lounge. And inside a small deli, where a clerk’s computer screen saver shows a photograph of men in traditional turbans and robes gathered on the floor around a feast of Middle Eastern delicacies, Iraqi flags are for sale near the lamb shanks and the ground meat preferred for a certain type of kebab favored in Iraq.
Where most of Los Angeles’ Middle Eastern neighborhoods are dominated by Armenian and Lebanese shops and restaurants, El Cajon, just two hours south of L.A., is the epicenter of Iraqi relocation in the Western United States. With tens of thousands of Iraqis living in San Diego County, El Cajon is home to the second-largest community in the U.S., after Detroit. The neighborhood Catholic church, St. Peter Chaldean Cathedral, with its distinctive domed roof and large cross, boasts some 37,000 Chaldean Iraqi members. A sign outside the church lists the times for mass in English and Aramaic. And one of its walls is dominated by a stone replica of Iraq’s famous winged Khorsabad bull sculpture.
Continue reading here.
If you would like to find out how to help Iraqis displaced in Southern California, please contact Catholic Charities, Department of Refugee Services, 4575-A Mission Gorge Place, San Diego, CA 92120. You can call Lejla Voloder, their Resettlement Program Manager, at 619-287-9454.