We Should Welcome Syrian Refugees
President Obama has proposed welcoming ten thousand refugees from Syria. I say that’s not nearly enough. I recommend welcoming tens of thousands of refugees from Syria.
And nothing about the recent attacks in Paris has changed my mind.
Indeed, if my support for welcoming refugees were subject to change based on a single event, then I probably shouldn’t want to welcome them at all. Welcoming tens of thousands of refugees is not the sort of thing you want to change your mind about halfway through.
My support for welcoming refugees also does not depend on the West never again suffering another foreign terrorist attack. Again, if that were the case, I should not welcome refugees to our country at all: It is basically inevitable that we will suffer further terrorist attacks, no matter how well we prepare.
There will always be a few, I expect. But I also expect that life will go on. It must. There’s no choice about it. I am sorry, but I find this the only sane position to take in a world where terrorism exists. It’s awful. But it’s not the end of the world. It’s silly to act as though it is, and it’s worse than silly to turn away from our liberties whenever a homicidal fanatic decides it’s time to shoot at us. Fanatics should never have that kind of power over us.
With or without refugees, I presume that individuals who want to come here to commit acts of violence are going to do it. They will probably do it no matter what: If they are determined enough to kill themselves, then they are determined enough to sneak through our borders, no matter how secure we may make them.
This is a background condition to any public policy we choose. It’s not going away anytime soon. We can take some steps to mitigate terrorism, but no public policy is going to eliminate it entirely.
The main question left is how we will treat those foreign individuals who are – as many of us or our parents were, of course – trying to escape the violence. These people are defined in international law as refugees. Or, to speak more precisely, those now before us are seeking refugee status under a treaty to which we are a party. The relevant definition reads as follows:
A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
That seems like a good fit. But qualifying is not automatic. There’s a vetting process. It’s much more difficult than the process used to screen ordinary immigrants, in that it inquires into a candidate’s background more closely. Those who have something to hide aren’t likely to take this route.
The vetting has served us relatively well so far, too: There have been no vetted refugees in the United States who have gone on to become terrorists. (This paper suggests that the creation of long-term refugee camps is a real danger, and one we would do well to avoid.)
What about religion? It is highly likely that not just Christians and Yazidis, but Muslims as well will qualify in large numbers. I welcome them, too. Perhaps even more than the others, because they face a much more dangerous choice if they stay where they are.
The so-called Islamic State considers all Muslims who leave the Islamic State to be apostates, and in their eyes, apostates are worthy of death. The exact same is true of Muslims who don’t swear allegiance to the so-called caliph, and who don’t give their assent to all the bloodshed he is now committing. And also Shiite Muslims. And all Muslims who practice a less militant or violent form of Islam. All Muslims in the area controlled by the Islamic State are now being told: “Be genocidally violent with us. Or we will kill you.”
That’s an awful choice. It’s unsurprising, then, that Muslims are trying to leave by the hundreds of thousands. Rather than forcing them to stay, and letting them get killed – or coercing them into violence – we should welcome them. We can offer them a much better choice: They can live in America, where moderate Muslims are already well established and well integrated.
Suppose though that we’re really selfish. We might be helping others, but what’s in it for us? I’d say we get the same long-term benefit that we got from welcoming more than 100,000 Cuban refugees during the Mariel Boatlift in 1980.
Not that America in 1980 made it easy. Oh no. We fought them. Hard.
With the KKK at their head, some people rejected these refugees, labeling them communists. One government official even claimed that “85 percent of the refugees are convicts, robbers, murderers, homosexuals, and prostitutes.” Anti-immigration sentiment ran high, and it politically hurt then-President Jimmy Carter.
Since then, though, the thieving gay communist prostitutes have done pretty well for themselves: Today there are approximately 2 million Cuban Americans. They are a well-integrated part of American life. They overwhelmingly aren’t communists or any of the rest. Which shouldn’t be so surprising: They left because of communism. And they came here because of economic opportunity, which comes from capitalism.
What about the short term, though? Won’t refugees hurt the economy, at least for a time? Apparently not: Economists haven’t been able to find any significant economic effects in Miami following the Mariel Boatlift, even despite the sudden resettlement of some 80,000 Cubans.
A free economy is resilient. A free economy can absorb an apparent shock like that and hardly even flinch. A free economy sees tens of thousands of refugees and says, “Well, let’s see if we can put ’em to work.” Usually it would appear that it can.
And that brings us to the payoff: Whenever we accept refugees, it’s a tremendous rebuke and an ongoing embarrassment to the enemies of human freedom. It says to them: We’re strong enough to take in the people you think are human scum. We turn them into Americans. More or less effortlessly. And it makes us stronger.
You, the enemies of human freedom, are terrified of this one simple fact. Your society depends for its very existence on exclusion and conformity. Ours thrives on the opposite.
Image by Anth0ny Gale