As of writing this post, 31 governors have officially voiced opposition to allowing refugees into their states. As the number of governors rejecting refugees continues to rise, the hostility towards such refugees escalates as well. In fact, 53% of Americans believe that the United States should stop accepting refugees altogether because of the threat of terrorism.
52% of American citizens think that accepting refugees makes a nation less safe. Those 52% could very well be right (although there are laudable counterarguments to be had), but the fact remains: The question of refugee acceptance is not one of safety; it is a question of compassion.
Even if there are legitimate concerns to be had regarding national security, those who are systematically killed by terrorists are not responsible for the Syrian refugee crisis; they are its results. If the United States’s primary objective is to save lives, it should not disbar refugees from fleeing oppression. Anything less than the provision of asylum–under this framework of compassion–could easily be viewed as a flagrant violation of human rights. In this post, I’ll make two cases for why we must accept refugees fleeing oppression: empirical and moral.
First is the issue of safety. In light of recent terror attacks in Paris, France, and elsewhere, it becomes incredibly easy to gain public support through fearmongering. As the Washington Post explained earlier this week, the GOP’s pseudo-protectionist ban on refugees is an effective way to gain popular support, as (surprise, surprise) literally everyone is scared of terrorism. However, as The Economist contends, coupling this fear with a xenophobic rejection of refugees is simply bullheaded.
I hate ISIS as much as the next guy, but it must be realized that allowing refugees into our country is not likely to spur terrorism. The reason for this is pretty simple: refugee acceptance involves the most intensive vetting process of any group that comes to the United States. We should trust our vetting process–coupled with empiric evidence regarding the last 14 years–to make decisions which affect millions of humans, not our impulsive tendencies that lead us to make decisions out of fear.
ISIS has already succeeded in killing citizens in Paris; we must not allow them to succeed further by instilling fear into American hearts.
Further, the atrocity in Paris does not show the need to keep refugees out; it illuminates the necessity of their acceptance. The Paris-induced fearmongering that U.S. politicians use to justify their rejection of refugees ultimately exploits a single terror attack in a civilized nation; consequently discounting terrorism in worse-off countries.
One reason that the incident in Paris was so tragic was because it was exceptionally unusual. In fact, the 129 people who lost their lives made it the most deadly attack Paris has endured since WW2. Needless to say, an unexpected, bloody rampage in a peaceful Western nation will naturally garner unprecedented international attention. And although this tragedy should not be ignored, it should be put into perspective.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, well over 210,000 people (half of them civilians) have died during four years of civil war in Syria. Doing the math, that equates to roughly 143 Syrian citizens dying daily due to regional conflict. What this means, in simpler terms, is that a Paris attack has occurred in Syria literally every single day for the last 4 years. Although this may be a statistic which seems to reinforce the “Keep America Safe” rhetoric, it best illustrates the dire need to accept refugees.
The Economist reports that since 2015, Western countries suffered under 3% of all terrorism-related deaths.
Is the United States called to turn a blind eye to the other 97%, to those who aren’t privileged enough to live a life free from oppression and terror? I would contend the exact opposite: the United States–especially the “All Lives Matter” GOP–should prioritize those who deserve priority. 4 million citizens have left Syria to flee the civil conflict that has devastated their families, and it is our moral obligation to guarantee they aren’t met at our border with rejection justified by American “safety.”
The United States is not alone in its fear of terrorism. Like us, Syrian refugees would like to avoid terror attacks whenever possible. The difference is simple: refugees have actually experienced the terror we are quick to condemn, whereas Americans only cite its most relevant examples as justification for denying refugees asylum.
Our Statue of Liberty reads:
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!
If anything meaningful has come from this refugee crisis, it is that it has provided an opportunity to follow our Lady Liberty’s instructions and accept those yearning to breathe free.