The issue of Syrian refugees is on the lips of every politician right now. President Barack Obama would like to take in at least 10,000 refugees, but some in Washington are getting a little nervous. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (R) and Governor Nikki Haley (R) were both in favor of accepting refugees a few months ago, but after the attacks in Paris, they reversed their positions.
They’re not alone. Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently embarrassed himself by writing Obama a letter, explaining he refuses to admit any Syrian refugees in light of recent events. Unfortunately for him, that doesn’t hold up with, you know, the Supreme Court. But is the behavior reactionary, xenophobic, and ultimately anti-American?
In 1939, America turned away a ship of almost 1,000 Jews seeking asylum. About a quarter of them died in the Holocaust. After WWII, the United States took part in what is known as the 1951 Refugee Convention, a U.N. treaty that defines what a refugee is and what their rights are. Here is their definition of a refugee:
“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
We’ve always had a strange relationship with immigrants, forgetting that we ourselves are immigrants. White Anglo-Saxons are no more indigenous to this country than anyone else (Happy Thanksgiving).
Lest we forget that one national monument of ours that decreed, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” and take a moment to reflect on what our values are as a country. The cynical among us might first think of money, Capitalism, fame. But what is the soul of our country? We’ve always had a strange relationship with immigrants, forgetting that we ourselves are immigrants. White Anglo-Saxons are no more indigenous to this country than anyone else (Happy Thanksgiving). What makes our country unique is our status as a melting pot. By turning away refugees, we’re forgetting our identity as a country. If someone wants to live here and be a part of the fabric of America, someone who is being persecuted due to their beliefs, why shouldn’t we welcome them? CNN shows that most refugees hope to go to Western countries, but end up going to Iraq, Turkey, and Jordan — you know, places where ISIS can convert them. France is welcoming Syrian refugees. But the U.S. is frightened? Shouldn’t we be more afraid for them to go to places where they create terrorists out of the displaced and disenfranchised?
Of course, we can’t go about this in a lackadaisical way and have to be cautious. The screening process the Syrian refugees would undergo is intensive and takes two years. It includes, but is not limited to face-to face interviews, an iris scan, collection of biographical and biometric data cross-referenced with information from the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, State Department, National Counterterrorism Center, and a myriad of other agencies.
Refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries already face a more intensive screening process than those from Europe, so it’s not as though the government is unaware of the possible dangers. It’s important to note, however, that three quarters of the Syrian refugees are women and children, and presumably want to escape due to the looming threats of death — not to start a terrorist cell in the US.
We ought to be defined not by our fear, not by our xenophobia, not by our paranoia. America should stand as a beacon of courage and hope, as the leader we always see ourselves as. Closing our borders and closing our hearts to the very people who need it most isn’t just callous; it’s as un-American a sentiment as I can imagine. We’ve started (and won) wars for our freedom and values. Let’s not forget them.