Trump's unprecedented refugee policy is a huge economic mistake. Here's why.
Tim Mossholder/Unsplash, Bill Frelick/Twitter

At 22 and 24, Mohammad and Hasti Amini are in the prime of their young adult lives—a time when those who haven't been forced to flee deadly conflict are launching careers and making plans for the future. The Aminis escaped from Afghanistan to Indonesia with their mother and two other siblings five years ago, after their oldest brother was killed by the Taliban and their grief-stricken father died of a heart attack.

Now, they are stuck in a country where they have no legal status or protections. They can't legally work, can't get a degree—they can't even open a bank account. Since Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it is under no obligation to care for refugees. The Aminis had only planned to stop briefly in Jakarta on their way to a safe third country that resettles refugees. But for five years, their hopes have been dashed again and again, as wealthy nations like the U.S. and Australia continue to severely limit the number of refugees they will welcome.


Currently, the Trump administration is poised to set the 2020 refugee resettlement ceiling at 18,000—by far the lowest number in the nearly 40 years of our resettlement program. For comparison, the refugee ceiling set by Obama for 2017 was 110,000—approximately the average number the U.S. has resettled annually. Trump cut that ceiling to 45,000 in 2018 (but only resettled 23,000), then to 30,000 in 2019.

The new proposed ceiling of 18,000 is even lower than the year after 9/11, when the government understandably tightened all immigration programs for security reasons. In 2002, after the worst terrorist attack in history, the Bush administration still resettled 27,000 refugees—more than 30% more than Trump plans to resettle this coming year.

Is this really what we want our response to be when the world faces its biggest refugee crisis since WWII? The U.S. keeps bragging about how well our economy is doing, which logically should mean we have more resources to help. Imagine the family with the fanciest house on the block, with plenty of extra bedrooms, shuttering their doors while their neighbors' houses burn and families are looking for shelter. That's us, right now.

RELATED: The refugee crisis is daunting, but Canada offers an inspiring example of how to help.

(Just so we're clear, refugee resettlement is totally separate from the migration situation we're seeing at the southern border. Official refugees who are eligible for resettlement have their situations vetted through official channels, such as the UNHCR, and then come through our official government resettlement program. That program has always operated in a separate sphere from migrants and asylum seekers at our border.)

The 2020 fiscal year began on October 1, and so far, the U.S. has resettled an unprecedented zero refugees. Those who were scheduled to arrive this month—people who have approvals and plane tickets and health checks and all other requirements in place—have been delayed for three weeks in a row. More than 500 refugees we already agreed to admit are standing on the doorstep, bags in hand, waiting for us to unlock the door. And our government is peering at them through the peephole, telling them to wait out on the porch indefinitely.

The U.S. has a long, proud, and successful history of resettling refugees. We have always welcomed far more refugees than any other country, which makes sense, considering our population size and wealth. In 2018, Canada—a country with one-tenth of our population and GDP—resettled more refugees than we did for the first time. And per capita, our refugee resettlement numbers have gone from average to abysmal in the past few years.

But here's the thing: Slashing our resettlement numbers further is not just an international embarrassment—it's an enormous economic mistake.

Mohammad and Hasti are perfect examples of why. We were first introduced through an American friend living in Jakarta, who met them while volunteering as an English teacher at a refugee learning center. He told me about some incredible students in his class, and said countries like the U.S. should be bidding on them, not turning them away.

When I interviewed them for an article last year, I found myself in complete agreement. Mohammad and Hasti both volunteer at the learning center themselves, in addition to taking classes. They spend their time building valuable skills, learning, and preparing for a future they may never see. These are people who embody all of the qualities we want in our society— hard-working, service-minded, courageous, determined, creative, and eager to learn. They would be an asset to our nation, not a liability.

And this isn't just some bleeding-heart, humanitarian impulse to help. The data is quite clear on the net positive impact refugees have on the economy. While resettlement requires an initial investment, over time they end up contributing more to the economy than they cost. Migrants in general are much more likely to be entrepreneurs than native citizens, which helps boost job numbers and economic growth. Refugees are an economic asset in the long run.

A few weeks ago, I got to meet Mohammad and Hasti in person in Jakarta. Hasti brought me a hand-made makeup bag she had designed and sewn as a gift, and the quality was outstanding. She ultimately wants to be a fashion designer, but she can't go to college, start a business, or even be employed in Indonesia. She sells her bags to individuals and at occasional bazaars where refugees can sell items to earn a little cash, but she has to jump through multiple hoops to avoid legal pitfalls.

With some outside help, she has started an Instagram account for her creations under the name WarNa—a play on words in three languages. "Warna" in Indonesian means "colorful." "War" and "Na" combine the English word "war" with the Persian "na," which means "no." The hope is that if she gets resettled, she'll have some smart business elements already in place so she can hit the ground running.


I could totally see Hasti starting a successful business in the U.S., if she had the chance to do so. And Mohammad could honestly do just about anything—with his intelligence, determination, ambition, and sweet disposition, I would hire the young man in a heartbeat. Mohammad has been trying every avenue he can find for resettlement for years, focusing mainly on Canada's private refugee resettlement program, which seems to be the best hope at this point. But so far, no luck.

RELATED: For refugee women trapped in limbo, 'The Sisterhood' offers a vital lifeline of hope and support

Due to the backlog of resettlements, the UNHCR has told the refugees stuck in Indonesia that they should plan on probably never being resettled. Mohammad and Hasti try hard to hold onto hope, but the vulnerability of their situation is hard to hide. Hasti tells me her mother suffers from high blood pressure and has regular anxiety attacks—an understandable reaction to the trauma she's experienced. As the eldest daughter, Hasti bears the weight of family responsibility on her shoulders in addition to her own personal struggles through all of this.

"That must be really hard," I tell her. She nods slowly, and her gaze shifts to the ground. In a quiet voice, almost as if she's talking to herself, she says, "I have to be very strong."

I wish every American could meet these people. Naturally, refugees are as diverse as the rest of us, but the nature of being a refugee is a character filter of sorts all on its own. First of all, to be a refugee in an official sense, you have to prove that it's too dangerous for you to return to your place of origin, so your claims are already vetted. Secondly, fleeing danger takes courage, fortitude, and problem-solving, so those who have made it out of conflict zones already have these tested character qualities. Third, refugees are motivated to make the most of their circumstances, especially those who have spent years waiting for a chance to build a life—isn't that what we want more of in our society?

I can't do anything about Indonesia's refugee policies, and I can't personally bring Mohammad and Hasti's family here. But as a U.S. citizen, I can pressure my government to do the right thing—the humane and economically smart thing—by resettling far more refugees than we are now.

(P.S. If any Canadians out there want to privately sponsor a stellar refugee family, let me know. I will happily hook you up.)

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

What you look like in a selfie camera isn't really what you look like in real life.

We've all done it: You snap a selfie, look at it, say, "OMG is my nose swollen?" then try again from a different angle. "Wait, now my forehead looks weird. And what's up with my chin?" You keep trying various angles and distances, trying to get a picture that looks like how you remember yourself looking. Whether you finally land on one or not, you walk away from the experience wondering which photo actually looks like the "real" you.

I do this, even as a 40-something-year-old who is quite comfortable with the face I see in the mirror. So, it makes me cringe imagining a tween or teen, who likely take a lot more selfies than I do, questioning their facial features based on those snapshots. When I'm wondering why my facial features look weird in selfies it's because I know my face well enough to know that's not what it looks like. However, when a young person whose face is changing rapidly sees their facial features distorted in a photo, they may come to all kinds of wrong conclusions about what they actually look like.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Dan Fischer takes people's lost loved ones out surfing for "one last wave."

Dan Fischer understands grief. He also has some idea of how to cope with it—and how to help others through it as well.

Fischer has experienced tremendous loss in the past few years, losing both his father and his best friend. As a surfer, he's a believer in what he calls "the transformative power of the ocean." Originally from Montreal, Canada, Fischer has found healing riding the waves off Newport, Rhode Island, where he's lived for the past seven years.

Now he wants to share that healing power of the waves with others.

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The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

From the skies to the ground, these airplanes continue to serve a purpose.

This article originally appeared on 09.18.15


What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


An abandoned 747 rests in a Bangkok lot. Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images.

Decommissioned planes are often stripped and sold for parts, with the remains finding a new home in what is sometimes referred to as an "airplane boneyard" or "graveyard." Around the world, these graveyards exist; they're made up of large, empty lots and tons of scrap metal.

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