Refugees in the United States
In 1975 my family fled from a long civil war that had foreign intervention, terrorism, bombings, guerrilla warfare, and widespread propaganda, so the Syrian crisis feels awfully familiar to me. Off the top of my head, there are 9 engineers, 5 doctors, 5 pharmacists, 2 optometrists, a dentist, a lawyer, a teacher, a professor, an accountant, a nurse, several small business owners, etc. in my family. I am certain none of us are terrorists and I am certain we have paid far more in taxes than we ever received in American tax dollars from the public housing assistance we received. That’s all before the few dozen of my younger cousins who have not yet graduated college. Just like in 1975, it’s the Catholic Church that is stepping up to the plate to provide most of the services to the current wave of refugees, so it’s not exactly taking tax dollars out of the American pocket for the Syrian refugees.
To state the absurdly obvious, the United States is dramatically different from Europe. We are bordered by two largest oceans in the world and have a strong northern ally. We aren’t part of a geopolitical union that allows relatively free movement of people across borders. We’re not having to deal with 4,287,293 Syrian refugees all at once. These different circumstances provide us massive advantages in dealing with a wave of refugees. The United States has the safety of distance, resources, experience, and a proven vetting process to bring in refugees. Our country has resettled 750,000 refugees since 9/11 and none of them have been charged with domestic terrorism. We have proven that we can actually handle bringing in a controlled influx of refugees.
We are not the EU. The EU countries with the least amount of infrastructure and ability to handle the 400,000 refugees from this past year are along the southeastern side of the EU closest to the Middle East. Because of that, the EU has failed to take time to vet each refugee that comes through. It has failed to create humane infrastructure to allow the gradual and steady assimilation of refugees into its member countries. The lack of infrastructure, the lack of preparation, and the lack of proper vetting has created a very real danger to Europe that we saw unfold in Paris. Sadly, it’s worse for countries in the immediate vicinity like Turkey with 2,181,293 refugees, Lebanon with 1,075,637 refugees, Jordan with 630,776 refugees, Iraq with 245,134 refugees, or Egypt with 127,681 refugees. Dealing with that massive influx is a dangerous problem for those countries which was proven by the terrorist attacks in Beirut.
Because of our unique circumstances, we have a different set of problems than those countries who can’t control/haven’t controlled their refugee influx. We should actually be worried about the few dozen attempted or successfully recruited Americans who actually joined ISIS. We should seek to limit ISIS access to Americans. Considering the mass killings that have happened on American soil by Americans, we should be startled by the very idea that extremists have access to vulnerable minds. That’s a far more real danger than controlled relocation of American vetted refugees to our soil.
What is most startling to me is that the young toddler dead in the sand could have been my mentee from Mind Matter who was born in Iraq and fled to Jordan before her family were able to get here. Her parents were/are doctors. Her father is doing residency in the US now and is separated from her mother, her twin sister, her older sister, and her. Her mother is going to school and raising her 3 daughters in high school basically on her own. My mentee wants to be a doctor because she witnessed two shootings as a child in Iraq. She’s brilliant, capable, hard working, and through and through an American. She wouldn’t be here without the generosity of the American spirit of accepting immigrants which is literally embodied by the Statue of Liberty that was given to us by the French.
My home state is steeped in French history and proudly Francophone. The ties to France are deep, real, and active. That heightened connection has exacerbated the paranoia about the false reports of 100,000 refugees being processed in New Orleans. That paranoia has played itself out through social media from the dozens of posts on my Facebook feed from my friends from home. What is more troubling is that Louisiana’s absentee governor is capitalizing on that paranoia for Presidential votes when he has touted his family as immigrants who succeeded in achieving the American dream.
Before you let your paranoia trap you into thinking we shouldn’t allow any refugees, think about how your life would be without me. Think about how our country would be without young women like my mentee. Think about the economic impact my family has on our country where 43% of the population doesn’t even pay income taxes.
We have choices: moral ones and strategic ones. Hopefully, we make the right ones.