Op-Ed on U.S. Refugee Crisis Discussion

(By Raphael Kurz, Member)

America, still the beacon of hope for all those who must have freedom!? 

While hundreds of thousands refugees, mostly from Syria, have been welcomed in Europe mainly by Germany, Sweden and Austria, the Obama administration’s plan to accept 10.000 refugees faces increasing criticism and open rejection, especially since the horrific terror attacks in Paris on the 13th of November. Despite the understandable fear that terrorists might be among those leaving Syria for the West, the U.S. discussion about if and how many refugees the country should welcome appears to be irrational and unworthy of a country, which regards itself as a “beacon of hope for all those who must have freedom” as Ronald Reagan has put it and for a country, whose engagement or lack of it, is viewed by many as being one of the major reasons for the unprecedented refugee crisis unfolding.

A lot of presidential candidates of the GOP and other party affiliates including GOP governors, above all but not limited to Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindall, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Ben Carson have loudly voiced their objection and rejection of the Obama administration’s plan to admit 10.000 Syrian refugees currently in Jordan and Turkey to the U.S.. But this objection seems to be more widespread across party lines as recent public polls suggest with almost 60% of the U.S. public being opposed to admitting Syrian refugees, among them even 31% of Democrats voicing their disagreement with the White House according to a recently conducted NBC/Survey Monkey Poll. In addition, the recent House vote aimed at slowing down the administration’s refugee plan with 47 Democratic Representatives breaking with the President and supporting a legislative measure to stop the White House plans for now is further proof of the widespread objection to accepting Syrian refugees even among Democrats. However, this rejection of refugees in light of what is happening in Europe and in the Middle East itself, where there is arguably hardly any check and control on the influx of refugees is based on irrational fears. The U.S., accepting only 10.000 Syrian refugees (1:15 of what Germany is admitting according to official figures), is in the comfortable situation to closely vet, screen and scrutinize those refugees it wants to admit in stark contrast to countries such as Germany. Austria and Sweden, which neither have the time due to the urgency of the situation nor the capacities due to the overwhelming numbers of refugees to do that.

Furthermore, as a country whose major symbol is the statue of liberty with its famous line by Emma Lazarus “Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and whose declaration of independence proclaims “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” as an unalienable right, the U.S. has a moral obligation to accept a significant amount of refugees in order to hold true to its own founding principles and core beliefs, which are often evoked by politicians of both sides in campaign and other speeches. Now would be the time to fill the rhetoric with life and show how much those principles are still guiding for U.S. policy and are defining the “indispensable” country, as it likes to view itself. Additionally, hardly any other country with the only possible exception of Canada in the world is better equipped to integrate and absorb so many people from a different cultural, ethnical and religious background as the United States. The country has a track record of resettling refugees starting in the 1970s with admitting hundreds of thousands Indochinese refugees, in the end of the 1980s admitting hundreds of thousands refugees from the former Soviet Union and in the 1990s accepting many Yugoslavian refugees. Thus, there are a lot of examples of successfully resettlements and integration of refugees in recent U.S. history.

Finally, there is an argument to be made that the past and present U.S. Middle East Policy or lack of it concerning mostly Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria is responsible for the massive refugee crisis unfolding. Whether one believes that the Iraq War of 2003 under former President George W. Bush has significantly destabilized the region resulting in the turmoil and the rise of ISIS and other sectarian groups that are causing the huge outflow of refugees, or whether one believes that the Obama administration is not enough involved currently in the region, especially Syria and Iraq, thus leading from behind and not following on drawn red lines (“Assad must go”), the U.S. bears significant responsibility for those, who are currently fleeing the region due to war and persecution. Thus, “you break it, you own it” should be the prevalent attitude of U.S. political leaders, whatever side of the debate they are on, towards the refugee crisis and they should persuade an understandably concerned public of the necessity to welcome closely vetted and screened refugees, In contrast, many leading U.S. politicians are using the discussion to score cheap political points and miss to appeal to the better angels the U.S. has shown to stand for.

In conclusion, unfortunately, the current ongoing domestic discussion suggests that the U.S. is rather unlikely to step up its game concerning admitting refugees and the politics of irrational fear seem to gain the upper hand at the expense of so much the U.S. ought to represent and stand for. It leaves one wondering, if the U.S. still represents “the beacon of hope, for all those who must have freedom”.