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America needs to confront refugee crisis

Sydney Sagehorn, Journalism Writer

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Gary Johnson doesn’t know what Aleppo is, but do you?

Aleppo is the epicenter of the civil war in Syria. It was recently called “the apex of horror” by the top aid official of the United Nations, and its control is divided between the government and rebel forces. Its population has been caught in the crossfire, cut off from food and resources. For some, escape is their only shot at life.

When a presidential candidate is unaware of arguably the largest humanitarian crises of our time, it only highlights the blind eye that the United States has turned to the struggling parts of the world. Politicians and the media have alienated and distanced the refugee crisis, often to the point where the general populace is unaware of the severity of the situation in Syria that has displaced so many. The ignorance of the United States has caused politicians to underestimate the steps that need to be taken to assist refugees, and in turn has taken in a pitiful number of refugees compared to the rest of the world.

In order to retain its title as a champion of human rights, America must substantially increase the number of Syrian refugees it is willing to accept and resettle.

If you didn’t know what Aleppo is, you’re in good company. People don’t get the news, and those that do are numb. News outlets constantly bombard viewers with stories about the ongoing civil war in Syria until the concept seems so foreign, common, and unsolvable that people rarely bother to consider the solutions. An estimated 470,000 people have been killed, and the infrastructure in Syria has crumbled (New York Times, February 11, 2016). Over 11 million Syrians have been displaced, a number so large that it’s near impossible for Americans to process the scale of the issue. Moreover, it’s even harder to imagine that number as individual people.

These are not freeloaders looking to piggyback off of an honest family’s American dream. These are children and families desperately seeking humanitarian aid and resettlement. The reality of living in Syria is malnourishment, illness, war, and fear.

Take, for instance, Bana al-Abed, a 7-year old Syrian girl who runs a Twitter account with her mother, detailing the death and destruction surrounding them. The anecdotes are harrowing. “This is my friend house bombed,” she tweeted with a photo, “She’s killed. I miss her so much.”

Opponents of refugee admission argue that there’s no way to know who’s entering the country; refugees are the Trojan horse of today’s era. However, the process for screening refugees takes 18 to 24 months on average, and that is not idle time. According to Politifact on June 13, 2016, the process begins with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which determines who counts as a refugee, who should be resettled, and what countries will take them. Less than one percent of applicants make it through this step. Those that do and are directed to the United States face additional layers of scrutiny. “Their names, biographical information and fingerprints are run through federal terrorism and criminal databases. Meanwhile, the refugees are interviewed by Department of Homeland Security officials. If approved, they then undergo a medical screening, a match with sponsor agencies, ‘cultural orientation’ classes and one final security clearance,” Politifact says. Refugees, specifically from Syria, must clear another hurdle. Their documents are cross-referenced with both classified and unclassified information to determine their safety. In fact, Syrians are the most heavily vetted of any people entering the United States, according to Time magazine on November 17, 2015.

Grim as it may be, the vetting process is so tedious that terrorists wouldn’t bother drudging through it. In fact, it would be exponentially easier to apply for an American tourism visa and enter the country that way.

No system is foolproof, and this is no exception. However, of the 784,000 refugees that the United States has resettled since 9/11, only three have been arrested for planning terrorist acts, and no terrorist acts were actually committed at the hands of a refugee. (Migration Policy Institute, October 2015).

Additionally, studies have shown that communities that accept refugees actually benefit from their addition. According to the Washington Post on September 10, 2015, an “influx of lower-wage immigrants into a community tends to raise wages for everyone else.” Refugee immigrants also benefitted 95% of European communities that integrated them (New York Times, September 18, 2015).

Despite the growing theme of unfamiliarity and xenophobia that is so often perpetuated by politicians and media concerning refugees, this is no new experience for America. During World War II, Americans rejected refugees in the same fashion as they do today. Jews seeking haven in the U.S. were labeled as Nazis; Syrians today are labeled as terrorists. The New York Times even published a front page article detailing the risks of Jews becoming Nazi spies. Other reasons largely paralleled today’s: we’ll be the world’s poorhouse, they’ll take our jobs, it’s not our responsibility. The United States didn’t do enough to minimize death during the Holocaust, and we’re not doing enough today.

We don’t accept refugees for their economic benefits or for political gain. We do it because it’s what the United States stands for: opportunity, relief, and hope for a new beginning. If America abandons those beliefs out of blind fear, we have no right to call ourselves the greatest country in the world.


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America needs to confront refugee crisis