There are nearly 20 million refugees in the world right now, fleeing war zones such as Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and, of course, Syria. This represents the largest crisis of its type since World War II and nations around the world, especially western democracies and republics, are trying to figure out how to handle the influx. The biggest concern for many is whether or not the refugees pose some kind of threat, though your Facebook feed is probably full of memes with red herring arguments about taking care of the homeless and military veterans first — as though the issues are in any way related.
The largest group of refugees is coming from Syria as they flee the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It is a horrific terrorist group that grew out of the instability created in the region thanks to the United States’ ill-fated wars, which have taken place over the last fifteen years under two presidents with questionable tactics and motivations. When attacks occur in places like Beirut and Paris, many are quick to suspect that terrorists are sneaking in with refugees and conducting attacks under the guise of friendship and desperation.
However, these fears are not backed up by the facts. The refugees are the victims, not the perpetrators of these heinous acts. These are people who have been given three choices back in their homeland by ISIS: Join, die or try to leave. Almost all choose the latter,opting to uproot their lives and families to brave a long, hard, dangerous road; risking everything in order to find a place they can live safely.
Sadly, they are often met with suspicion and outright hatred, even in a supposedly forward-thinking nation like the United States. Here are six reasons why that reaction is wrong and that Syrian refugees should be welcomed in with open arms.
The refugees pose little to no threat to Americans
The United States has taken in more than 3 million refugees over the last 40 years. These refugees come from a wide variety of nations around the world, both friend and foe, and resettle here. We’re one of the more open and accepting cultures in the world, recent bluster from right wing groups notwithstanding. Hundreds of thousands of these refugees have come from the Middle East and have Islamic backgrounds, so certainly there must have been a few that have been radicalized and committed acts of terrorism, right?
Wrong. There has not been a single documented case of any refugee of any background, including Middle Eastern, committing any act of terrorism. Zero. In fact, if you expand the statistics out to include all immigrants, you will find that the crime rates are far lower than nearly every other demographic or group in the nation.
Think about it this way: If you were a terrorist organization and wanted to infiltrate another country, would you find it more expedient to radicalize existing disaffected citizens and make them enter the country illegally, or wait to fight the bureaucratic red tape and put your plans on hold while waiting in camps outside of our borders? As much as people are loathe to admit it, terrorist leaders aren’t stupid. They can do the math and they know that radicalizing those already inside a nation is far easier than trying to send new people in.
In fact, most of the evidence suggests that turning away refugees wholesale actually poses a greater threat than letting them in. After all, it removes one more option from desperate people and gives them a reason to have animosity toward us. Do we really want to adopt a counterproductive policy when it comes to fighting terrorism?
It would not be a drain on social programs and would provide economic benefits
The perception is that the people coming in will have nothing but the clothes on their back and, if they’re lucky, the shoes on their feet. Certainly they will need some form of public assistance and live off of welfare, creating a drain on the programs and sucking the money out of the pockets of hardworking American taxpayers.
This is another argument we often hear with regard to immigrants, both legal and illegal, and it’s another one that is flatly false. In fact, immigrants as a whole are an economic boon to the United States, and refugees especially so. They are more likely than natural born citizens to start their own business, pay taxes without receiving benefits, and create jobs. Countries that have taken in refugees in recent years have experienced unprecedented economic booms, like Turkey and Lebanon. As with most economic questions, the more people you have, the faster the growth and the bigger the demand for goods and services.
The inevitable argument about how we need to focus on our own homeless and veterans before helping others often rears its ugly head at this point. While it’s a stretch to even equate the two, unless you are exceedingly disingenuous, this is another argument that holds no water. On its face it carries the implication that human lives can be broken down into dollar amounts, and that some lives are inherently worth more money than others. Having said that, the homelessness problem has existed in every single nation on this planet since humans began living in homes. Additionally, it’s exceedingly cynical to suddenly care about a population only to use them as a deflection against helping others when we’ve cared little for them before.
It’s the humane, and American, thing to do
It takes a special kind of callousness to actively argue against helping families as they beg for nothing more than admittance into a nation. These are people fleeing a war zone that, and we can not reiterate this enough, was created by the United States. Now these same people are starving, exhausted, and fleeing for their lives. As they stand at the door to our nation, people are arguing that because these refugees are the same ethnicity and from the same region as the very people they are running from, they should die, because it’s inconvenient for them to continue living.
The United States has long been a beacon to those who are fleeing persecution. It’s part of the story of Thanksgiving that pilgrims and other Europeans came here to escape religious persecution in Europe. We also took in European refugees during both world wars, Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees during and following conflicts in Southeast Asia, and for decades we took in millions displaced by the Cold War. When we failed to take in Jewish refugees, due primarily to many of the same arguments made above, it led to the holocaust.
On the flip side, we have the example of Japanese internment during World War II. This was a case of people having the same race or ethnicity as one of our enemy nations during the war, so we stripped them of their rights, violated the Constitution, and locked them away. Many of them lost everything and it is arguably the worst chapter in American history, after slavery and the Native American genocides. Are we as a nation so scared of potential threats that we are willing to repeat these types of mistakes? Can we disregard our nation’s most cherished values of individual freedom and civil rights?
It’s the Christian thing to do
Most of the arguments against taking in refugees come from the political right, most closely aligned with the Christian religion in this nation. They like to tout the Bible and the supposed Judeo-Christian values upon which they say this nation was founded upon when it’s convenient, but when it comes to aiding their neighbors, they are the first to close ranks and reject their own sacred texts. To be sure, not all Christians are opposed to allowing refugees in, just as not all Syrians are Muslims and not all Muslims are terrorists. However, it is fair to say that most of the people who oppose letting them in are of the extreme Christian right in the nation.
The Bible, as pointed out by Stephen Colbert, flat out preaches loving your neighbor, aiding the homeless and needy, and practicing hospitality. The old testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah is primarily a lesson about not treating guests properly, and Jesus himself called on his followers to open their doors to those who are desperate and needy.
In other words, Christians who are opposed to aiding refugees are nearly as far from their own religious texts as ISIS is from practicing true Islamic values. While Jesus’ message in the Bible may have been one of peace and loving one’s neighbor, it seems that Satanists are the ones who are actually following through with it.
It may be illegal to bar their entry to the country, and it’s definitely illegal at the state level
The Refugee Act was first implemented in 1948 following World War II. It was further expanded in 1980 and allowed for the resettlement of millions of people, primarily from Asian and Soviet Bloc nations, many of whom were from former or current enemy states. It calls on the United States to offer aid to those who are in need during times of conflict and demands that we let them in. If we were to stop the program altogether it would inflate this law and invalidate the United States as the so-called “Beacon of Freedom” we would like to view ourselves as.
There are numerous state governors who are now saying that even if these refugees are allowed into the country, they will not be allowed into their own states. This is flatly illegal, as someone in this country legally has the right to move freely within it. Just as it does not require a passport to go from California to Texas everyday, it also does not require the permission of the governor to do so. While these governors almost certainly know this to be the case, they are simply throwing proverbial red meat to the more fearful and uneducated members of their states, further inflaming passions among those who don’t know any better.
It’s who we are and always have been as a nation
So while there are those in this nation who suddenly do not wish to adhere to the humanitarian and American values upon which this country is founded out of xenophobia, racism, and cowardice, it’s important to remember who we are as a people, and those famous words from Emma Lazarus, inscribed on Lady Liberty herself:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”