New York Times Magazine: A Sudanese Refugee’s Story

When a major humanitarian crisis is in the news, there’s often an intense burst of interest in the people who are running for their lives, whether from war, insurrection, or disasters, be they natural or man-made. We in the United States tend to respond with heartfelt generosity, to help however we can, as long as the media spotlight still shines on the problem. Eventually, though, new crises claim our attention, and the cycle begins anew.

A recent piece in the New York Times Magazine reminds us that these crises can have very long tails indeed. In the middle of the last decade, a great deal of attention was focused on the so-called “Lost Boys of Sudan,” [See A Lost Boy Grows Up, by Kevin Sack, New York Times Magazine, 08.Dec.2013.] separated from their families – many of them orphaned – by a long-running civil war in their homeland. Among the Lost Boys – and girls – who survived the arduous trek to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, some were lucky enough to be resettled in the United States. Books like Dave Egger’s critically acclaimed “What Is the What,” and the documentary film “God Grew Tired Of Us” impressed this narrative on the public consciousness.

The New York Times article points to a phenomenon long noted by refugee-resettlement experts: for refugees, escaping immediate danger is just the beginning of a long struggle to start a new life in a new country. The Times tells the poignant story of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan – Jacob Mach, now in his 30s – and of the challenges he has faced – and overcame – since his arrival in the United States as a refugee twelve years ago, “with one change of clothes and a three-month guarantee of government support.” In the intervening years, Mr. Mach put himself through community college, working two minimum-wage jobs, eventually graduating from Georgia State University with a 3.3 GPA, while supporting family members on two continents with his very modest income, and struggling with the lingering aftereffects of his traumatic experiences in Africa.

It’s an inspiring story about immigrant grit and determination to succeed, but it also points out the shortcomings of our nation’s refugee-resettlement system, which provides very limited support to help refugees, once they’re resettled here. Congress is aware of the problem, judging by the raft of new immigrant-integration provisions that were included in the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed in June 2013. [See Side-by-Side Comparison of 2013 Senate Immigration Bill with Individual 2013 House Bills, Migration Policy Institute, Aug.2013.]

Whether the House of Representatives will consider similar provisions remains to be seen. One hopes at least a few House members will have read this compelling article by the time the immigration debate resumes, sometime next year.

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