City celebrates Austin Refugee Day Festival

When asked to list her interests, 17-year-old Austinite Tiba Al Khafaji, rattles off "drawing, television and soccer." Saturday, she was able to play a game at the "Fourth Annual Austin Refugee Day Festival and Soccer Clinic," hosted by the American Red Cross. 

In 2013, Al Khafaji immigrated to the United States with her family, from Baghdad, Iraq. "People treated us differently, I was in middle school and kids you know... I was treated like an alien." 

She didn't let those challenges hold her back 

"It made become my own leader in a way, it made me stand up for myself." 

The honors student is University of Texas at Austin bound. She hopes to become a dentist.  She says her days are brighter. But lately, she's been feeling uncomfortable with the rhetoric surrounding immigrants. "People are getting the idea that the middle east, all of it is ISIS, and they think that we are part of it, but actually we came here to escape from them." 

Recently, President Trump has been using the threat of ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, as a tactic intended to pressure congressional democrats into immigration reform. "I feel attacked personally because I know when people see this news, when they see me they're gonna think ‘oh I came from there' --- ‘oh I am a part of this.' I feel like sometimes they look down on me, and it does not feel good." 

Initially, President Trump said the raids would start in several major cities this weekend. But, called off the operation last minute at the request of congressional democrats.

Saturday, he announced that he would give congress two weeks to reach an agreement before giving ICE the green light to proceed. "With the ICE raids that were threatened or looming starting [Saturday], our partners did take some precautionary steps. Because as much as we work with our refugees, we also work with asylum seekers, who they are here legally but their cases are still pending, so they don't know what their future holds." said Reihaneh Hajibeigi, volunteer services director at the American Redcross serving Central and South Texas. 

Hajibegi says she believes the festival shows what Austin "truly stands for." "In the last several years that we've had a rhetoric of hate and uncertainty against impoverished communities and communities that have been persecuted. It's that much more important for us to stand up."