The Politics of Syrian Refugees

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The above appears on the Statue of Liberty and is part of a larger poem by Emma Lazarus. With its location near Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty became the symbol for new immigrants and refugees entering the United States in search of a better life. Even though the massive immigration center no longer processes new people into the country, the statue still retains its symbol for those that are yearning to be free. Yet it would appear that the quote above doesn’t apply to the 21st century… at least to some.

Syria has been bogged down in a civil war since the Arab Spring. In the past couple of years, a new terrorist group (ISIS) has emerged as a major threat both to the stability of Syria and neighboring Iraq and to the western world. It has become a confusing mix of who is fighting who. (The following video tries to simplify the ongoing war in Syria. https://www.facebook.com/ezraklein/videos/10153737513773410/)

On November 13, Islamic extremists went on a rampage throughout Paris killing 129 people. It turns out that one of those responsible is a Syrian refugee that got into France with thousands of other refugees that have been entering Europe as the war in Syria has escalated. This was one out of thousands yet there is no way to determine if there are more. It was always a concern that ISIS would try to slip agents into Europe and the US through the mass migration of Syrian refugees. It would appear that at least one did and possibly others, but it may not warrant the mass hysteria that seems to be coming from this horrible event.

The rest of the attackers that night, though still Muslim extremists, were European nationalists. As Republican governors, members of Congress, and even candidates for President have started foaming at the mouth about not accepting any Syrian refugees now, they say absolutely nothing about allowing Europeans into the country. These are the same Republicans that say one can’t blame all law-abiding gun owners any time there is a mass shooting. Yet somehow they are going to accuse all Syrian refugees because of one terrorist that came in with all the others.

Governors throughout the US have been declaring that they will not accept Syrian refugees within their state. This is more political posturing than reality. The Refugee Act of 1980, which was an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, created explicit procedures on how to deal with refugees entering the US by creating a uniform resettlement and absorption policy. Basically this makes it a federal matter, not a state. So all of these governors have no real say. Once someone has been approved and is allowed to enter the US, they are free to move about the country and settle wherever they would like just the same as anyone else.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, under new House Speaker Paul Ryan, are preparing legislation to halt Syrian refugees. It’s unclear as to whether such a bill would pass the Senate where Democrats can still filibuster. And it’s more likely to get a veto from President Obama if it were to reach his desk. Republicans need to tread more carefully and watch their words and their tone though. According to an article on POLITICO, faith-based groups as well as Evangelical Christians are largely in favor of the Syrian refugees.

The words of President Franklin Roosevelt come to mind. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear and hate aren’t the answers. True, we can’t tell which of the refugees are good and which might be members of ISIS or another extremist group. But we can’t even say that about our own citizens. We have to remember that 99% of those that are coming to this country are in search of safety and a better life… something that was ripped away from them in their home country.

In early 2015, several Bosnian refugees that had settled in St. Louis in the 1990s were arrested for sending money and military supplies to terrorist groups overseas. Did this mean that all the Bosnian refugees that entered our country were terrorists and should be deported? Of course not. Just a few bad apples in a community that has been a valuable asset to the city as a whole.

According to the American Immigration Council, the United States took in approximately 70,000 refugees in 2014 (the same as 2013). Almost half have came from the Near East/South Asia which includes Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, and Afghanistan. The cap for the number of refugees is set at 70,000 for 2015 as well.

Our nation has always been a melting pot of different people. It makes our culture quite unique as we have found a way to blend it all together. There have been times when immigrants and refugees haven’t been given a fair chance… the Irish, Catholics, Italians, Eastern Europeans, etc. In the end, the fear that was largely rampant was proven mostly unfounded. The vast majority melted into our society. The new Syrian refugees will be no different than those that have come before.

Sure we all want to feel safe and protected. The majority of those refugees want the same thing. Is it possible that a member of ISIS could slip in? Sure. But they could always slip in another way, too, or influence an American citizen. We know the latter has happened already. We can’t blame all Syrians any more than we can blame all Americans. It is a risk we take, but it is part of our values as well. And we can’t lose sight of those. We must rise above hate and fear to see the bigger picture… the humanitarian aspect.

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Perfect Strangers

I haven’t ever really dealt with the immigration issue that has repeatedly circulated throughout our country and our media over the recent years.  The only time I’ve ever dealt with any part of immigration was over same-sex partners and families.  But now, I’m diving into the overall immigration issue because it’s a “hot-button” issue… meaning that it gets everyone fired up into a frenzy.  And almost never do you hear of any middle ground.  It’s usually for or against.  And the topic is usually illegal immigration.  But one thing that doesn’t surprise me is that most people don’t even know what the overall discussion is about and are allowing the “talking points” by the figure heads (and this is where partisan politics comes in) run the entire discussion and form our opinions on this.

Point of Fact:  Did you know that if a person from Cuba sets foot on US soil that they are automatically allowed to stay?  This applies even when they come on board their own makeshift rafts.  If a person did this from any other country, it would be illegal immigration and the person would be subject to deportation.  But Cuba is given a different status… and that’s a policy that has been in place for decades because of the Castro regime.

There are two words we need to know the difference between… immigrant and refugee.  An immigrant is a person who migrates to another country usually for permanent residence.  A refugee is a person who flees for refuge or safety especially to a foreign country.

When talking about this issue, we’ve all heard the ideas of border fences, using the national guard to patrol our borders, amnesty, and work programs to solve the issue of illegal immigration from Mexico.  And though they sound, they won’t solve the overall problem.  Now, I’m not sitting here telling you that I know what will solve this problem.  I don’t even come close to that.  But I’m learning more and more about the issue and seeing it’s not as cut and dry as we are made to believe it is.

Point of Fact:  Did you know that the current wait time for a Mexican wanting to immigrate to the US legally is 25-years?  To put that into perspective, if someone my age were to want to immigrate legally to the US then they would be my parent’s age before they’d be allowed to do so.  (Immigration Department)

Now here’s my question to that… Do you think that might have something to do with the amount of illegals coming across our southern border?

There is one thing the talking heads and politicians do have right.  There needs to be a complete overhaul to our immigration policies, but none of them have come up with a clear and viable and logical solution to this either.  And there is still something that gets drowned out in all the rhetoric and all the one-liners and key words… the story of the people.  We have all have roots in this country via immigration.  Most of our ancestors probably came in legally (i.e. Ellis Island or other ports), but some of us might have an ancestor or two that might have come illegally, too.  I don’t know your personal family history.  We tend to say legal immigration is fine and that the argument is only on illegal immigration… but with a failed immigration policy in place, does that help contribute to the illegal immigration problem?  And why is it that when we talk about illegal immigration, it’s only about our border with Mexico?  Yes, they might be the largest demographic coming in illegally, but people from other nations are entering our country illegally, too… and some of are using other places other than the US border with Mexico.

But through all this chaos there is some sanity trying to poke through.  PBS is currently working on a short series called “Homeland” that is cutting through all the hype.  They are giving a voice to the people… those of us that are citizens and those of us that are immigrants (legal and illegal).  It’s making sure that all the proper information is out there for all of us to get and allowing for a rational and educated discussion on this very complex topic.  Leave it to public broadcasting to finally put something like this together for us so that we can make sense of this.  “Homeland” is slated to be released sometime in 2012… the link is below so that you can be part of the story or at least to learn more on immigration.

The US Supreme Court recently upheld a 2007 Arizona law that penalizes businesses for hiring undocumented workers.  And I do think that is the right course of action.  Workers should be documented for the sake of knowing who is in our country and for taxes (even if they aren’t paying any because they make too little to be taxed).  Usually, immigrants are taken advantage of when it comes to wages… getting paid substantially less than the average American.  And there are those immigrants that cross the border each day for work and then go back across to go home.  And there needs to be a policy for them as well that gives them a choice if they have done this for so long… and have documented proof of it.  Immigrants also shouldn’t be allowed to access any public funds.  When I looked over the UK immigration policy, one of the guidelines for immigrating is that a person must be able to prove that they can support themselves without using any public funds.

And before I go, I want touch on refugees since they are a type of immigrant.  Refugees are usually fleeing their home countries because of personal dangers to themselves.  Sometimes it seems like the US takes in all the world’s refugees and that can annoy us.  But there are plenty of other countries that take in refugees.  When looking at just straight numbers, the US usually does but that’s because we are a bigger country and have more room.  Proportionately, the numbers are closer together than one might first imagine they are.  When it comes to refugees, my humanity kicks in and all life should be protected.  When there is personal danger, the innocent must be protected.  That’s not to mean that we just throw open our doors.  It means we must evaluate each situation and work with other countries to make it happen.  And when things are safe again… make sure they have the option of returning home.

It is time we step up our game on the immigration issue.  There must be solid reform of the entire policy… and neither political party seems to be focused on that.  Maybe those politicians should be watching the series when it hits the airwaves next year as much as the average citizen should be doing so.  So as I start to learn more about this issue and how complex it is, I encourage all of you to delve into it as well.  The more we know and understand, the better a solution can be reached.

LINK:  “Homeland” — PBS

PREVIOUS ENTRY:  “Modern Family” — Immigration and Same-sex spouses & families

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