Why the U.S. Should Accept Refugees

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An NPR article reminded me that even though the U.S. has been a “beacon” for immigrants and refugees, it has not always welcomed them and this goes back all the way to the first Americans who were  suspicious of the white “settlers” who they knew were not interested in just settling. As such, that 54% of Americans are opposed to accepting Syrian and Iraqi refugees comes as no surprise.  As the article points out, the majority of Americans polled at various times in the past, opposed granting safe haven for immigrants fleeing danger including German Jews during and after War World II, Vietnamese “boat people” after the fall of Saigon, Cuban exiles in the 80’s leaving Castro’s dictatorship and a disastrous economy thanks to an American embargo, and Haitians escaping a country devastated by the earthquake of 2010.  And I would point out that Americans, particularly those on the right, want to secure the border, which is code for keeping Latinos out.  Not only is anti-immigrant sentiment fierce and politically motivated during election years and particularly this year, it is, at its core, an expression of racism and fear, not so much of the individual, but the threat that changing demographics pose to the system of white supremacy.  And the billionaire reality host who has benefited more than most from the system, one Donald Trump, has perfectly exploited and stoked the flames of racism giving him a huge lead in the GOP race for the U.S. Presidency. And while his anti-immigrant campaign may appeal to the base of the GOP, it is ultimately a losing strategy because people of color do and will vote in the 2016 election, even as the GOP tries to create barriers to prevent them from doing so.

So what about the Syrian refugees?  For starters, our shameful Congress that voted to put a pause on processing Syrian refugees should be reminded that the vetting process is already rigorous, much more rigorous than in Europe and that it would take up to two years for any of them to be resettled in the U.S.  The bi-partisan bill would effectively make it nearly impossible for the U.S. to be helpful in dealing with the humanitarian crisis.  In fact, the U.S. Congress has essentially told our allies in Europe that “it’s your problem, deal with it.” Morally speaking, it is the world’s problem. The U.S. has more capacity than most other countries to resettle refugees, but unfortunately, not the will.  31 U.S. Governors, all but 1 Republican, including Massachusetts’s Governor Charlie Baker, have gone on record as saying they would not allow Syrian refugees into their states.   Since refugee resettlement is a federal question, it is not clear whether states have the authority to reject them, but clearly, their knee jerk reactions have sent the message to the rest of the world that the U.S. is motivated by fear, racism, xenophobia and ignorance.  It should be stressed that the refugees are fleeing the very terrorism that most people fear; refugees are not jihadists, far from it; in fact, they are victims.  And once again, America, the “beacon of liberty,” has turned her back.

The organized Islamic terrorist cells of Isis, as we now know, are homegrown.  Those who committed the atrocities in Paris, were born in Europe and radicalized there.  We should be more worried about the visa waiver program that allows Europeans to travel freely in the U.S. and intelligence gathering capabilities than desperate refugees.  We should be at least as worried about homegrown terrorism here rooted in racism and extreme Christian views that promote hatred and incite violence and murder as we should be of sleeper radical Islamic terrorist cells.  We should be more concerned about passing sensible gun control measures to prevent mass shootings than absorbing 10,000 Syrian refugees.  As a nation, we should be disturbed by the inflammatory rhetoric and general demagoguery coming from the right with its cries for the suspension of constitutional rights that would have us living in a police state and allow the government to round up “enemies” such as was done to Japanese Americans during World Word II.  We should be worried about the creation of a federal database to track Muslims, as Trump has called for in a country known as the “land of the free.”

If we object to refugee resettlement; if we don’t lift a hand to help; if we blame the Syrians and Iraqi’s for their own plight and give in to fear, we are a shallow, and spineless people who have lost our moral compass. As President Obama said “slamming the door on immigrants would betray our deepest values,” and hand a decisive victory to the terrorists.

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