The US Department of State’s webpage dedicated to the Syrian refugee crisis begins with this quote:
The families of two of my predecessors, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, escaped Hitler and Stalin, and they landed on the shores of our county, like so many other American families centuries earlier, all of whom came here yearning and hoping for a brighter future. —Secretary Kerry
It is a powerful statement that reminds us that the US is a nation built on immigration. Many of the country’s high achievers were immigrants or were descendants of immigrants, often times fleeing from catastrophes.
One would think that the remaining page would outline a powerful policy approach for aggressively accepting foreign refugees who have fled their homes, many with children in their arms, running for their lives from gruesome wars in Syria and Iraq. But that is not the case. The official stance laid out by the US State Department is something along the lines of, a lot of people want to help. We have donated money. You can too.
Monetary donations to charitable causes are important. But in the case of the refugee crisis, in which millions of people continue to pour out of Syria and Iraq, there is a much bigger moral obligation that the US is falling short of.
Due to the ocean that separates the US from Europe and the Middle East, refugees are not piled up at the borders like they are in Greece, Turkey, Germany, Lebanon, and Jordan. This has had an out-of-sight, out-of-mind effect on the agendas of both policy makers and the public.
The refugee crisis rose to the top of the media agenda for brief period earlier this year but has since fizzled out. Somewhat ironically, Donald Trump has kept the issue in the public conversation, but only because he ties the refugees to terrorists and has set forth a ridiculous problem-solving solution of banning Muslims from entering the country.
Listening to the current political discourse, the political will for refugee resettlement is not there, and appears to be in the opposite direction. Trump is a manifestation of anti-immigrant, xenophobic, nationalistic fever that has engrossed a loud minority of the American public.
Often, complex problems are thought to be solved with easy solutions. In this case, some Americans feel the sands of change shifting beneath their feet and are scapegoating the people of the Middle East and other immigrants as the obvious causes of their insecurities. The thinking is that letting more Muslims in would open the doors for terrorists.
Yes, the threat of terrorism should be taken seriously. Yes, there should be security screenings conducted before accepting people into the US. But the point of terrorism is to inspire terror. And in this regard, the terrorists are winning. A person in the US is more likely to be killed by furniture in their living room than to be killed in a terrorist attack. Yet, many people endorse blanket discrimination against entire groups of people over their religious beliefs and where they are from out of fear that the terrorists will take down the country.
The voices that are against resettlement— the ban Muslims group, the build a wall group—are dominating the conversation. They are a loud minority that provide good sound bites and headlines. As such, they are given a disproportionate amount of media coverage, which is silencing the much quieter voices who are in favor of more action. There is a lack of brave leadership willing to take on this issue. There is a deafening silence from leaders who are willing to stand up to the belligerence.
Millions of people are being propelled from their homes searching for a way to save themselves and the lives of their families. This is a situation where the United States could demonstrate to the world, and to ourselves, that we can use our so-called Super Power status for good rather than destruction. Failing to act will perpetuate resentment and hate toward the US, and deepen the wounds of deeply wounded people.
This is not only a humanitarian issue, but also the responsibility of the US and other Western countries to share the burden of the disaster that is occurring in Syria and Iraq. After decades of stirring the pot by way of imperialism, support of and opposition to various governments, funding and arming rebel groups, coups, wars, exploitation, feigned liberation, and righteous indignation—the West owes a debt. And the bill is due.