The decision by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder not to receive any Syrian refugees for the time being is now being shared by many other governors around the United States. By last Tuesday, November 17th, 26 governors had stated that they would not allow any Syrian refugees to resettle in their respective states.
Although this is an international crisis, lack of real, unbiased information is affecting decision makers and large numbers of voters in the United States, However, to ignore the plight of thousands of men, women, and children who have been forced out of their country through violence is not welcome by everyone.
Previously, when refugees have arrived in the United States, they have received from the government special help, such as English lessons, job training, and schooling for their children. Today, even though governors do not have the authority to ban refugees, they do however have the authority to deny them benefits, making the situation even more difficult for locals and foreigners alike.
On November 19th, 2015, Mark Hetfield, President and CEO of HIAS, formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the oldest international migration and refugee resettlement agency in the world, spoke before the House Judiciary Committee about the situation.
“We are confronting the world´s most horrific refugee crisis since WWII with 60 million displaced across the globe…. This is an extraordinary crisis requiring extraordinary leadership, and so far the United States’ response has been tepid at best”, said Mr. Hetfield.
“The security protocols [in the US] are stronger than anything I have ever seen in my 26 years working in this field… The fear to resettle refugees here is based on erroneous assumptions. ..”, explained Mr. Hetfield. He continued to say that potential refugees coming to the United States are screened before they arrive, so it is an entirely different situation from Europe.
Mr. Hetfield also criticized the reaction of some politicians: “[who have] diverted the focus away from fighting terrorism and toward keeping refugees out of our country and out of their states. They’ve blamed the victims. This plays on people’s fears, turns prejudice into policy, and weakens our national security and our national character. I mistakenly thought that attitudes and signs such as ‘Irish need not apply ‘, ‘No Coloreds’, ‘No Jews or dogs allowed’, were ugly relics buried in the past, but apparently not”, continued Mr. Hetfield.
Michigan Rep. John Conyers, who also testified at the hearing, declared that “Rather than slamming the door on the most vulnerable, we should be considering to strengthen and expand the refugee program”.
Refusing access to refugees can have historical connotations. Documents released in 2007 by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research show that Anne Frank’s family applied for a visa to come to the United States, but they were denied. We all know what happened to them.
On the other hand, it is a proven fact that refugees can boost a country’s economy, as is the case of Germany at the moment. Germany urgently needs young workers, in the face of an important demographic decline, and refugees are making up for this reduction. Another great example particularly relevant today is Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian immigrant, co-founder and chairman of Apple, and without whom we would not enjoy the benefits of iPod, iPhone and iPad.
Mark Hetfield’s testimony is based, not on stereotypes, prejudice, or biased news, but on actual facts and experience, so his comments could make a difference in the face of this, the most serious refugee crisis in the last 70 years. HIAS was founded in 1881 in New York City, when the Russian Emigrant Relief Committee was established to help Jews escape Czarist Russia. To this day, by resettling refugees they have saved millions of lives around the world.