Passing the Mic: A Review of After the Last Border

November 19, 2020
Title: After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America
Author: Jessica Goudeau
Publisher: Viking
Publishing Date: August 4, 2020
Pages: 368 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 978-0525559139

At the time of this writing and a month overdue, the President finally set the U.S. refugee admissions ceiling for fiscal year 2021 to 15,000—the lowest level in U.S. history. Due to these delays, the refugee resettlement program was shut down for 28 days—a devastating blow to refugees that were ready and waiting to be admitted to the U.S.

Since early September, my team in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice has been equipping CRC members across the country to advocate for a robust refugee resettlement program so that our denomination can continue in its longstanding commitment to walking alongside refugees. We proudly witnessed people of faith from California to New Jersey sending emails, making phone calls, meeting with legislators, and changing the conversation in their communities to express their biblical call to welcoming the world’s most vulnerable.

Despite these efforts and those of many other advocates, the widely respected refugee resettlement program, established by the bipartisan-supported Refugee Act of 1980, has been nearly dismantled.

I imagine that the current state of U.S. refugee resettlement is no surprise to writer Jessica Goudeau, who describes the United States’ predictable pendulum swing between “restrictionist” (limited admissions) and “liberalizer” (more open admissions) refugee policies over the decades in her book, After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America.

Through an intricate telling of two refugee families’ stories and a fascinating overview of U.S. refugee policy, Goudeau brings us both an intimate account and a bird’s eye view of U.S. refugee resettlement that moves readers to stand up once again for our country’s noble commitment to welcoming those fleeing violence and persecution across the globe.

Readers will meet Mu Naw, a gregarious and brave young mother resettled with her family in Austin, Texas. As a targeted ethnic minority, Mu Naw fled Myanmar as a 5-year-old girl and grew up and started a family in a refugee camp in Thailand. Readers will also meet Hasna, a fierce and loyal mother, grandmother, and well-respected neighbor, who had to flee her beloved home in Daraa, Syria, following increasing violence and military attacks in her community. She, too, was eventually resettled in Austin, Texas, with her husband and youngest daughter, waiting for the rest of her family members to be reunited with her.

As Goudeau weaves all the pieces of these heart-wrenching narratives together, readers will appreciate her uniquely graceful ability to humanize what is often viewed as merely a “policy issue.” In doing so, though not explicitly through a Christian worldview, she helps us identify the inherent dignity and image of God in all people—in the widow, the orphan, and the refugee.

In my advocacy and mobilizing work in the CRC Office of Social Justice, we prioritize uplifting the voices of those impacted by the world’s injustices. This looks like “passing the mic” to immigrants and refugees themselves. Though Jessica Goudeau is not a refugee herself, she rightfully uses her talents, privilege, and platform to uplift refugee stories in an intimate, contextual, timely, and page-turning way.

As a person of faith striving to keep up the spiritual discipline of advocating for the marginalized, I highly recommend reading After the Last Border as part of your journey to love your neighbor and to understand the real life challenges they face.

About the Author
  • Melissa Stek is a Justice Mobilization Specialist for the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice. She holds a Bachelor of Social Work degree from Calvin University and a Master of Social Work degree from University of Michigan. Prior to her work with the CRC, she served as legislative staff to a member of congress who was actively working towards immigration reform. In her current role, she equips people of faith to seek justice for and with their immigrant neighbors. You can follow her writing on Medium, Reformed Journal: The Twelve, and Do Justice.

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