Afghan refugees are welcome in the South Bay city of Sunnyvale.
That’s the message the City Council made clear this week as they unanimously approved a resolution to support the people in Afghanistan.
The resolution has no real policy implications and does not indicate any sort of resettlement plan for refugees, but rather maintains that it stands against the human rights violations inflicted by the Taliban and in solidarity with the people who are living through and fleeing such abuses.
It also emphasizes that when Afghans do make their way to the Bay Area, Sunnyvale is a safe place for them to start a new home.
“Resolutions and expressions like this will be essential in showing that they are welcome here, especially as they’re being resettled across the country,” City Councilmember Omar Din said.
Din and his collogues enthusiastically passed the measure but not without making two critical changes.
The first was to change the resolutions language to exclude the word “Islamic.”
Originally the resolution drafted by city staff read, “WHEREAS, the Taliban has a history of being a repressive regime with gross human rights violations based on their strict interpretation of Islamic law.”
But Din emphasized that the Taliban’s actions are based on an “intentional misinterpretation of Islam.”
A matter of semantics
“I think the grand view of many Muslims and Muslim leaders and scholars have declared that Islam does not allow for the murder of innocents, does not allow for the abuses of human rights,” said Din, Sunnyvale’s first Muslim councilmember. “And so, you know, using that language I think might accidentally validate the Taliban’s own interpretations.”
The language was changed from Islamic law to “their law.”
“It is very nuanced and might seem like a small change, but it is important in terms of, you know, what it is that the Taliban is doing in Afghanistan and why it’s not a representation of Islamic values or the values of our community and our society,” Din said.
Councilmembers resoundingly supported the language change and helped wordsmith to make it what Councilmember Russ Melton described to be “the highest quality document.”
Another change to the resolution language was to explicitly say that Afghan refugees are welcome, in addition to all refugees.
“The level of desperation, of hopelessness, and just utter fear — there are no words to describe the feeling. But I’m so grateful for the City Council for bringing this resolution.”Harris Mojadedi, Afghan Coalition
Initially, it was more a statement of solidarity to the Afghan community with intentions of creating a safe space for those who flee, without explicitly saying so.
The change came after a short public comment where all three residents who spoke asked for that specific language to be included.
Harris Mojadedi of the nonprofit Afghan Coalition said the past three weeks since the Taliban’s coup has been “some of the most, if not the most difficult time” for the Afghan community.
His parents came to the Bay Area as refugees and many Afghan American residents like him still have family overseas — a reality for many in the Bay Area because it is home to the largest concentration of Afghans in the United States.
“The level of desperation, of hopelessness, and just utter fear — there are no words to describe the feeling,” Mojadedi said. “But I’m so grateful for the City Council for bringing this resolution.”
Another member of the public, Dr. Meghan Fraley, a clinical psychologist in Mountain View, also voiced her support for the resolution and said she hoped to see something similar in her city.
A starting point for inclusion
The discussion around the resolution, both by the public and local leaders, was heartfelt and intentional.
“This as a starting place to really expand the way we’re thinking about (immigrants and refugees) and be inclusive,” Councilmember Alyssa Cisneros said.
Din said, “it’s a testament to why I love the city of Sunnyvale and what makes our city a leader in the region and the area. We lead with compassion and morality.”
Several cities across the country have passed similar resolutions in the past two weeks, such as Austin, Texas; Beaverton, Oregon; and Tampa Bay, Florida.