Washington D.C. - Throughout history, the United States has been known to be the world’s top resettlement country for refugees, welcoming its “huddled masses” with open arms to live the American dream.
Washington D.C. – Throughout history, the United States has been known to be the world’s top resettlement country for refugees, welcoming its “huddled masses” with open arms to live the American dream.
With respect to the current Syrian refugee crisis, however, the U.S. has closed its doors and now ranks at the bottom of the list. While many fear accepting more Syrian refugees behind the scenes, there are some remarkable and hopeful efforts to try to change this harsh reaction.
The U.S. has not welcomed Syrian refugees. Even those whose petitions were pre-approved by the U.N. high commissioner have suffered delays and difficulties entering the country recently.
Since the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2012, the U.S. has accepted fewer than 2,200 Syrian refugees. In contrast, Germany, which is only the size of the state of Alaska, has already resettled close to one million and half refugees. This is a pressing global crisis that has not so far been handled well by the U.S.
The American public’s and lawmakers’ fear of refugees entering the country was escalated immediately after the Paris terrorist attack which was soon followed by the Brussels attack.
The Republican Presidential candidates took that opportunity to oppose the admission of new refugees in general and the Syrian ones in particular. They persuades the public to believe in the threat that those refugees would pose. They used this threat as a political card for their own advantage, and as a propaganda to further their campaigns.
This in turn fanned the flames of fear among the American people focusing on an impending threat to the whole nation. The situation escalated even further when some state governors announced that they would ban the entrance of Syrian refugees into their states.
Despite this strong opposition to accepting Syrian refugees in the U.S., however, there are great efforts underway by the current government and many organizations, churches, and charities around the country who are campaigning and lobbying hard to change this rejection.
One such organization that is pushing lawmakers to mobilize the acceptance of more refugees in is the Center for Migration Studies. Atits recent conference in Washington D.C., I addressed a huge crowd describing my own experience coming to the U.S. as an asylum seeker. The audience reaction was overwhelming in its eagerness to help accept more refugees into the country, truly exemplary and one of a kind.
Cardinal McCarrick said in his remarkable speech at the conference that “accepting refugees from the Middle East is a test of our nation’s values.” He emphasized that the vast majority of refugees are victims of the same terrorism that people here are afraid of, and that the refugees completely reject the philosophy of the terror groups driving them from their homes.
He concluded that it would be unfair to lump all the refugees in with those extremists who distort religious principles just to gain power and to justify their extreme violence.
In November of last year, President Obama himself during the G20 summit in Turkey called for acceptance and compassion for Syrian refugees. He said that people should “remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves and that’s why they are fleeing.”
Obama believed that rejecting the Syrian refugees is contradictory to American values. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nation can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both,” he continued.
It is understandable that the majority of Americans has fears and concerns about the security of welcoming refugees. But the process which the refugees must undergo to be accepted under the resettlement program is not an easy one. Yet, too many people still question and doubt the security process.
Refugees are put through a thorough screening and vetting process coordinated by the U.S. Departments of State, Homeland Security and Defense, along with the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), and typically also by the United Nations Refugee Agency, before being admitted.
These agencies work together for months and in some cases years to ensure both that refugees meet the legal definition of a refugee — which means they are the victims, not perpetrators, of persecution — and that they in no way present a national security or public health threat to the United States.
In fact, refugees who are screened for this program are more vetted than people who usually come to the U.S. in any other manner, such as crossing a border or coming on a visitor or student visa.
The process generally takes at least 18 to 24 months, and often much longer, but it is so vital to ensure the integrity of the resettlement program. Any gap or failing to meet any of the criteria at any step of the process, the refugee will be denied entrance.
But has the view expressed by President Obama on refugees been an American tradition throughout its history of accepting newcomers?
When we take a look at how the U.S. has dealt with refugees, it has not appeared tolerant in general to newcomers who have fled war zones and conflicts. Similar scenarios have happened in the past with Jews, the Japanese, and even Iranians in the 1980s after their country’s revolution.
Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American author and religious scholar who fled Iran with his family to the U.S. after the big turmoil back in 1979, said that the 1980s were not a good time to be Iranian in this country. “I spent most of my time pretending to be Mexican, and if you think that people will treat you better if you say you are Mexican, then you really don’t know hate,” he declared.
Mass migrations to the United States go way back to two centuries ago. There were always conflicting feelings toward the new immigrants.
In the late 1930’s, Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany were denied entry to United States. Because of an exaggerated fear of Nazi agents potentially among them, and the threat of new ideologies entering the country, many of them were forced to return to Europe, where 254 of those returned were eventually killed in the Holocaust.
According to American University history professor Max Paul Friedman and author of the book “Nazis and Good Neighbors,” “the fear was genuine, but misplaced.” “That is, none of the Jewish refugees who arrived in the United States has ever been found to have done anything in the interest of the Nazis. They fled them. They didn’t want to help them.”
Again and again, history has shown how Americans have been intolerant and sometimes hostile and conflicted toward refugees and immigrants. Antagonism was seen after World War I and WW II toward the Japanese, in 1975 toward Vietnamese people, the same for Cuban refugees in the 1980s, Haitians in the 1990s, and now the Syrians.
But almost always, the xenophobia towards these immigrants and refugees has proven to be so magnified and misrepresented and falsely blamed for causing a threat to the country by some politicians and demagogues.
However, the recent wave of the hard efforts and dedication towards refugees that I have witnessed lately in the States from these many organizations and charities cannot go unnoticed. People of all walks of life are working together in these places to make things right for refugees.
With World Refugee Day having passed on June 20, and the upcoming UN General Assembly (UNGA) high-level meeting of world leaders on refugees and migrants in September of this year, people are proceeding with their work rapidly to ensure that their message to help refugees reaches the right ears and can make a difference.
All of this gives me great hope that the American people still believe in the real values of their great country.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy