By Michaela Daniels
BU News Service
In the wake of the Paris attacks, Capitol Hill found itself inundated with phone calls from angry constituents, all trumpeting the same message: If you let in Syrian refugees, the same thing will happen in the U.S. Unfortunately, the United States seems to have forgotten that the prime tool of terrorism is not bombs, but fear. The intense fear surrounding ISIS and the potential for terrorists hiding among the thousands of refugees pouring out of Syria and the surrounding areas has paralyzed the American public and made them turn against the values that are the very foundation of the United States.
Many are concerned about the United States taking in thousands of refugees at a time because they think the vetting process is insufficient. This is simply untrue. First off, refugees have to go through multiple agencies to be vetted. They go through the UN High Commission for Refugees, and then through the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security. Not only that, the vetting process takes, on average, 18 to 24 months. This doesn’t include the the several months refugees then spend being monitored by the government, checking in with their case workers, much like parolees.
The “holes” in the process that officials talk about on the news are actually holes in the amount of information there is about the refugees from before they come in to the United States. However, this problem is not as concerning as one may be led to believe, as only two percent of the Syrian refugees who have been admitted to the U.S. are combat-aged males.
This leads to the second point: many are concerned that the refugees are a ruse for a military force sponsored by ISIS to attack the United States. The public takes the threats ISIS makes on the daily, and uses them to fuel the claim that Islam is not compatible with the values held by the American people and government.
This is not the first time there has been skepticism about allegiance to the United States versus allegiance to religion. John F. Kennedy, one of the most beloved American presidents in history, faced scrutiny during all of his electoral bids about his Catholic faith. People were concerned that he would let his allegiance to his Catholic faith get in the way of his allegiance to the people of the United States. They feared he would be more loyal to the Pope, the leader of his faith, than he would be to American laws. Kennedy faced this issue head on, reassuring voters they had nothing to worry about.
Unfortunately, the refugees do not have the luxury of being members of powerful New England families with a surplus of personal resources, and a family history that prepares them for life in the public eye. They are scared, persecuted people, who have very little means, and simply want a refuge from the horrors they faced every day in their home countries. To deny them access to the promise of freedom of religion, the freedom to work hard and build a life for their families that the United States has promised millions upon millions of immigrants before them would be to deny the very foundation of this country.
However, fears of jihadist extremism aside, many are also concerned about the cost to society and the strain on the American welfare system bringing in refugees would have. They fear that the United States is biting off more than its struggling economy can chew, and want to focus on taking care of those who are in need of assistance at home first, before thinking about taking care of refugees. This is a very legitimate concern, as hundreds of thousands of Americans are homeless on any given day.
However, using the failure of Congress to pass legislation to assist Americans in need as an excuse to not help others is not a solution. Even if the Unites States cut off any immigration for the next several years, there is no guarantee that Congress would do anything to help relieve struggling Americans. Just a few months ago, they voted not to give social security beneficiaries a cost of living increase. Congress is also doing nothing to relieve the exorbitant costs of prescription medication, general health care, or a college education. Calling on the government to pass measures to help struggling Americans is necessary and important. However, refusing to admit refugees to this country, when it is clear that the government is already failing to allocate the proper resources to alleviating poverty among American citizens, seems preposterous.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, much of the American public is pushing back on bringing in refugees because they are afraid of terrorists killing Americans. They are afraid of ISIS operatives causing massive tragedies, like the one in Paris, taking their lives or taking away their loved ones.
However, when one takes into account that over twelve thousand Americans have died this year alone from acts of gun violence, terrorist attacks seem like a pathetic excuse for religious intolerance. The fact of the matter is that over 400,000 more Americans have died as a result of gun violence than as a result of terrorism in the last 15 years alone. There is no case for forbidding refugees from entering the United States because we are afraid they will kill us because the fact of the matter is that we do a pretty good job of killing each other without their help. Terrorism is clearly no match for the American obsession with guns.
Until the people of the United States can say that we as a country are innocent of the kind of terrorism so many fear the refugees will wreak upon us, there is no reason at all to prevent people persecuted for their religious beliefs, fleeing a desolate, war torn region from finding refuge in a country built as a haven for those who wanted to live in freedom and peace. So let’s stop the fear mongering, let’s stop the xenophobia, let’s stop letting people like Donald Trump redefine our national values. The United States was created to be a place of refuge, and now is no time to stop.