Why the US should welcome Syrian refugees without prejudice

Published: November 23, 2015

31 US state governors announced that they will not allow the Syrian refugees to enter their respective states.

A meme circulating the internet these days goes,

“Before you condemn Syrian refugees, make sure you never said ‘All Lives Matter’.”

The irony is clear. The fate of Syrian refugees fleeing the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been put in limbo in the aftermath of the November 13th terrorist attacks in Paris, as seen by an increase in the US of anti-refugee rhetoric.

Initially, 31 state governors announced that they will not allow the Syrian refugees to enter their respective states. Then, on November 19, 2015, the US Congress passed a bill by over a two-thirds majority to,

“…halt the admission of Syrian refugees until they undergo a more stringent vetting process.”

Such demagoguery takes advantage of the “find a scapegoat” mentality, a shame. The argument, “one terrorist can wreak havoc so why take the risk,” is only valid in a superficial sense. Politicians and media should not exploit fear, instead, we should use facts and history to inform why, morally and strategically, refugees from Syria should be welcomed without prejudice.

Consider how, in 1939, the SS St Louis arrived off the coast of Florida full of Jews fleeing persecution deriving from the rise of the Nazi Party, Nuremburg Laws, and groundwork for the Final Solution. Havana rejected the Jews, as did Florida and Canada, and thus 900 immigrants returned to Europe. Over a quarter were killed by the Nazis. How different would the world be had European Jews been able to resettle in the US?

That was yesterday. Fast forward to the present – in a thorough analysis the CATO Institute concludes:

“We have very little to fear from (Syrians) because the refugee vetting system is so thorough.”

USA Today adds:

“The current screening process for refugees is done by the National Counterterrorism Centre, the FBI and the departments of Homeland Security, State and Defence. The background checks include fingerprinting, medical screenings and lengthy interviews of refugees before they enter the US.”

The average refugee will spend up to two years, sometimes more, in a camp. Terrorists do not patiently wait. Rather, they seek asylum or student visas. Many are home grown. Look at the Paris terrorists or the Boston marathon bombers, the former European citizens and the latter of a family granted asylum.

Since 9/11, the US has taken in thousands of refugees from not only Syria, but also from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and other conflict regions. How many have formed sleeper cells for al Qaeda or the Taliban? A closer look at the statistics shows that the total number of attacks committed by refugees amounts to… are you ready?

None.

It’s fair to use extreme caution in the vetting process and not be naïve to the risk. And as the existing process replicates this, we should remain confident. And to those who say that it’s not our responsibility, that we should use diplomacy to put pressure on other countries to assist (Gulf States, are you listening?), I’d say fair enough. But this is not the time to play “what about?” Rather, now, and hopefully always, is the time to act benevolently for the sake of humanity.

Caleb Powell

Caleb Powell

The writer is the co-author, with David Shields, of I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel (Knopf), now a film starring Powell and Shields, and directed by and co-starring James Franco. He Tweets @sonofmizrahi (twitter.com/sonofmizrahi?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • curious2

    I don’t think the American people are prejudiced against Syrians … they just don’t trust their govt to do a decent job of vetting immigrants/refugees. It gets more complicate when you throw the term “Muslim” into the mix. Like it or not these days Muslim refugees pose a greater threat/risk than non Muslim refugees … and that’s a bitter pill that Liberals tend to choke on … and yes Obama is a liberal.

    In the end I suspect the American’s will take Syrian refugees .. but these refugees will be vetted far more than they would have had the Governors and American people remained quiet – in the long run that’s probably OK.Recommend

  • wb

    “But this is not the time to play “what about?””

    This is exactly the time to play “what about?”. What about the rich Saudis or Kuwaitis or Emiratis or Bahrainis or Omanis or Qataris?

    Let me guess, Arabs hate other Arabs. So, let them solve their problem among themselves in the best way they deem fit.

    If America takes some of them today…watch my words…your children will be living under Sharia.

    First, it starts with harmless state holidays for Ramadan. Then it moves to more mosques and more azhans. Then it moves to more refugees and migrants. Then it moves to Special Zones like in UK, where alcohol will not be allowed, women are forced into hijabs. Then it moves to special rights for Muslims like wearing Hijabs in state offices, sacrificing animals in their homes, compulsory Halal in schools and government offices. Then it moves to riots and protests.

    And then…Recommend

  • Parvez

    Interesting read……and well and correctly said.Recommend

  • LS

    “A closer look at the statistics shows that the total number of attacks committed by refugees amounts to… are you ready?

    None.”

    THIS IS WRONG

    - 2013 Boston Bombings were done by Chechen refugees
    - 2 Refugees in Arizona were arrested for arranging funds for Al-Qaeda and were jailed for more than 40 years each (I agree this wasn’t an attack but they had ties to terrorists)
    - 9 Pakistani Migrants have been charged for plotting and carrying out terrorist activities in US including Faisal Shahzad, Afia siddiqui etc.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Just to be clear, are those mentioned by you really REFUGEES ? or are they immigrants or naturalized citizens.Recommend

  • LS

    They came as refugees and became citizens. All refugees have US government sponsored (i.e FREE) path to citizenship. A refugee can work as soon as he arrives and his EAD is filed by the government and while that document arrives I-94 can act as a proof of authorization to work and then after a year they can file for Green Card and Status change (No fee is charged and their GC is expedited), after they get their GC they can file for Citizenship if they want to….Recommend

  • Parvez

    The dictionary meaning of refugee is : a person FORCED to leave their country due to war, persecution or natural disaster.Recommend

  • LS

    And you think USCIS does not know the definition who a refugee is? What is your point?Recommend