As soon as I calmed down from the initial shock of Friday’s Paris attacks, I knew right away that this would significantly alter our response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Now, in the wake of these terror attacks that were just too close to home, and just as the Presidential campaigns are really heating up, the debate over whether or not to accept Syrian Refugees has taken a much more serious tone.
“Have compassion!” cries one side. “Safety first!” cries the other. The debate makes it sound as though there are only two choices: accept them, or don’t.
But I believe it’s much more complicated than that; and it is not at all just about how much of a humanitarian you are. After all, there are refugees fleeing many countries and conflicts around the world, and yet the Syrians are the only ones in our discourse right now.
Should we take in refugees? How many? When? Which ones? Where will they go? What will we provide for them? Is there a better way to help? How can we protect our interests? There are so many factors to consider.
On the one hand, there are millions of vulnerable, needy people out there. We see their pictures, hear their voices, and many people – including many Americans – have an ache in their heart. It just feels wrong to let so many people suffer, as a humanitarian.
Furthermore, we have an obligation to help our allies when they ask. From a foreign policy perspective, we have more interest in helping Europe deal with the refugee crisis than any other region dealing with refugee populations.
Also, we should consider that vulnerable people can be easily influenced by whomever will lend aide. If we don’t step in and do something, they could be exploited and radicalized, or simply turn to crime or violence to care for their families. What would you do if your family was freezing and starving? From a security standpoint, we can’t be naive enough to think that letting millions of homeless, traumatized people fend for themselves does not pose a security threat.
However on the other hand, there are so many real, practical questions when it comes to bringing foreign refugees to our country. First, there is the screening question. Of course, keeping refugees out of our country is not the most effective way of preventing terrorism on our soil. But, at least one of the actors in the Paris attacks was posing as a refugee, and depending on which numbers you believe, there may be an alarming number of young, single men in the wave of refugees. I don’t think it’s illegitimate to desire a thorough screening process for refugees coming to America – any of them. And given the fact that our President is looking to significantly increase the number of refugees allowing into our country, it is totally legitimate to wonder how our old process will work on this massive scale.
Further, we have the privilege of an ocean between the refugees and ourselves. I believe we have a duty to take advantage of that privilege, and use it to carefully protect ourselves and the refugees we take in. If we can thoughtfully and cautiously take in the refugees that pass our security standards, only then we can effectively provide them with the resources to keep them safe, establish a life, and recover from the trauma of war. Unless we brought them in in droves, refugees in this country will never have to sleep in make-shift tents in a freezing forest. We can do better, which will be better for the refugees and the communities that take them in.
We can’t forget about the money. It seems cold to talk about financial resources at a time like this, but I think we do need to consider the practical side of this issue. There is a legitimate concern in this country that we still have orphans of our own to care for, homeless to provide for, and veterans without benefits. Will their programs be affected by taking in refugees?
When refugees come to this country, there are many programs set up to provide them with housing, food, jobs, and resources to get their lives back on track. I know some of the awesome people that pour their lives into helping refugees recover and become helpful members of society. But we have to ask: how many people can we responsibly take in? If we stretch ourselves too thin, then the refugees would be no better off here than they would in the streets of Serbia.
While my heart goes out to the people who have been affected by the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS, I think the issue is so much more complicated than just saying “Yes” or “No” to refugees. Sadly, our current political climate does not provide a lot of space for nuanced, thoughtful dialogue. But among ourselves, I hope we can be more careful about the black and white lines we like to draw.