Explaining Recent Changes in U.S. Immigration Policy

A Message from the Red Cross Los Angeles Region CEO, Jarrett Barrios

ICRC Annual Report 2013 - Syria

Fellow Red Crossers,

Greetings to each of you and thank you, as always, for your service to the humble and humbling mission of Red Cross– preventing and alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
In light of our mission, several volunteers and staff have approached me about recent incidents at airports across the country affecting legal residents and refugees.

They have asked about our Red Cross role in the human drama that has played out on television and social media over the past several days. This morning, our national Disaster Cycle Services (“DCS”) team published, “Operations Order 003-17: American Red Cross Humanitarian Services in Response to Recent Changes in U.S. Immigration Policy,” to provide guidance for our teams.  The full text of the Order can be found here. This guidance is important for our service delivery but is also an object lesson in how we translate our Red Cross values into action.

The last few days have been unusually challenging for immigrants and refugees, both core constituencies of Red Cross humanitarian efforts. In light of these very human challenges, this Order specifically reminds us of the seven fundamental principles of the American Red Cross. These principles include Humanity, which drives us “to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being,” and Impartiality, which ensures our work “makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.” Furthermore, impartiality also asks of us to relieve the suffering of individuals based solely upon their needs, and gives priority to the most urgent cases of distress. The Order goes on to say that we will provide services, at the request of and in support of our partners, and work with potential detainees. Personally, I couldn’t be prouder of this Order and its re-affirmation of our core values.

Given the politicized nature of all of these happenings, the DCS Order also reminds us of a third core value of the Red Cross and the worldwide Red Cross Movement: Neutrality. Neutrality is central to our work here and abroad. It was a commitment written into the first Red Cross documents by Henri Dunant in the long shadow of the Battle of Solferino. It was core to Clara Barton’s work in founding the American Red Cross. It was essential in our support of the Geneva Conventions that, while political on their surface, were neutral at their core— especially in applying the principle that all human lives have dignity, even while suffering. More recently, Neutrality has been central to the thousands of Red Crossers committed to a peaceful Syria, including the 40-plus Red Crossers who have lost their lives pursuing a neutral, independent, humanitarian solution to that crisis. Finally, Neutrality is central to our work here in the Los Angeles Region. If we aren’t neutral, the authenticity of our mission may be cast in doubt.

So, just as we hold close our values of Humanity and Impartiality, we also value Neutrality. This is why we will never be “at the barricades” and only rarely in the news for our work.  And, while this means we may not make it into the social media feeds of our children and friends, we are nonetheless exactly where we should be:  present and prepared to offer comfort and care for those who arrive on our shores in need of a helping hand.

I remain grateful for your ongoing support during these challenging times. Rest assured that, guided by our movement’s seven fundamental principles, the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region stands ready, as always, to prevent and alleviate human suffering— anytime, anywhere.

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