By Samantha Guthrie
In September, President Obama launched a plan to resettle 10,000 of the 4.3 million Syrian refugees registered with the UNHCR. Over the past few weeks, in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks, more than two dozen American governors have spoken out in favor of policies to bar Syrian refugees from their states.
However, this proposed policy is politically unpopular in the majority of the country– 55 percent of Americans agree the US should take in more refugees– and unapologetically inequitable, but any policy banning Syrian refugees runs counter to the truth that they are a net benefit to the domestic economy. In Cleveland, for example, local refugee service agencies reported initial resettlement costs of approximately $4.8 million in 2012, but the refugees’ economic impact on the community was measured at nearly 10 times that- around $48 million according to Chmura Economics & Analytics. These outcries tear at the social fabric woven between Muslims and Christians, black, white, and brown, native born and naturalized. Furthermore- it’s not even a legal possibility. Governors do not have the power to bar refugees from their states.
The governors’ outcry, however, did allow a bill limiting refugee resettlement to pass the House of Representatives on November 19th with an overwhelming 289 to 137 votes, including nearly a quarter of all the House Democrats voting in favor of it. While both Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) and President Obama have pledged to block the measure, the Representatives’ actions are emblematic of major problems plaguing this country’s social and political systems.
According to David Rennie, Washington Bureau Chief for The Economist, “If you were the Islamic State, and you had terrorists ready to attack America…you’d have to be mad to use the refugee path,” which takes two years on average. In fact, the visa waiver program, which brings in 20 million visitors a year into the United States from 38 pre-approved countries, presents a much greater risk of abuse. Since 2012, the US has accepted 2,174 Syrian refugees – roughly 0.0007% of America’s total population.
National Public Radio’s David Welna reports that “the U.S. has dropped bombs on countries and later accepted refugees from them. We had 800,000 Vietnamese refugees who came here. There have been 120,000 or more Iraqis who have come here. And there is a real sense, I think among a lot of people here that there's a moral obligation to take these people in.”
We cannot reject refugees without reverting to the mid-1800s’ United States of “yellow peril” and violent anti-Irish sentiment. Refugees are the most strictly vetted group that arrives in the United States- an attempt to defend American soil by targeting Syrian refugees is Republican opportunism and White House irrationality.
Europeans are questioning the unifying idealism that has undergirded the foundation of the EU since the Schengen Area was established in 1995. Yet even in the wake of the Paris attacks, France maintains its commitment to resettle 30,000 Syrian refugees in the country. Furthermore, mainland Europe has been struggling with a migrant crisis since the end of 2014 when an escalating series of conflicts and refugee crises in several Middle Eastern and African countries brought the total number of forcibly displaced people worldwide to almost 60 million, the highest level since World War II. Although countries such as France, Germany, and Sweden are much smaller than the United States, and although they have been inundated with migrants beyond Syrian refugees, they continue to accept refugees.
The solution is not to reject immigrants, but to embrace them as Americans. In fact, this country’s immigrant foundation and supposed identity as a melting pot (or, more recently, a “salad bowl”) provides a unique advantage to immigrant assimilation. People who feel accepted and buy into the values of their adopted homeland do not commit acts of terror. Our options are either to reject or to embrace, and the solution is clear.
Shutting people out gives them no incentive to support the defense of the United States. The Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek is a dumping ground for the rejected, marginalized, and “othered” in Belgium, largely populated by young Muslim immigrants. It is not a coincidence that Molenbeek was ground zero for the planning of the Paris attacks.
We can shut them out, or we can keep our arms and eyes open. We will continue to vet refugees using the most hi-tech and extensive screening processes, and we will continue to allow those who qualify to resettle in the United States. Our domestic peace will be most assuredly secured by maintaining the thorough security measures already in place for the in-processing of refugees, combined with committing significant resources to the assimilation of these refugees into American society.
I will leave you with this: if the United States does not take them, then where will they go? What will happen to them? There are already not enough exit routes for victims of the Syrian Civil War. They will be killed, or they will suffer and perhaps grow to hate those who, through selfish neglect and irrational fear, allowed all that suffering and death.
We must not promote America’s whiteness, English, or Christianity, but, instead, the self-evident truths that inaugurated the independence of this nation, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” –Thomas Jefferson.
Samantha Guthrie is a 2017 MPP candidate at the University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. She serves as a Staff Writer for the Third Rail blog.