In last week’s “Political Faceoff,” the debate was over whether or not to accept Syrian refugees into our country.
While some good points were made, I feel that some very important ones were missed, and some misleading statements were put forth. So here I offer a third viewpoint as a member of a third party. I would like to begin by addressing an argument made by Mr. Kailey in the “Reject Refugees” article.
His case basically says that since not all (but based on the information he cites, over 1/5 of all) immigrants to Europe are from Syria, the Syrian war is not causing the refugee crisis, so “the vast majority of them are economic migrants” who “openly state that they are going to Europe to seek handouts from its welfare states.” He also states that the majority of these immigrants do not fit the U.N.’s definition of “refugee.”
First of all, let’s not confuse immigrants and refugees. Immigrants are people who enter a country with the intention of living there for an extended amount of time. A refugee, according to the U.N., is a person “who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”
Does it matter whether a refugee is fleeing fatal conflict in Syria, South Sudan or Somalia? The U.N. reported that in 2015 there were 21.3 million refugees in the world. While it is likely that the majority of all immigrants do not fit the definition of a refugee, we cannot discount the fact that there are currently more U.N.-defined refugees in the world than there are people that live in the state of New York.
Since we have just established that refugees are in fact seeking to enter new countries because their lives are endangered, it is clear that their primary motive for migrating is not economic. While there are surely some who have expressed desire to benefit from state welfare in Europe, I believe that Mr. Kailey has made a gross generalization about refugees being welfare-seekers.
While I was on a term abroad in Spain last year, I studied immigrant and refugee migrations into Europe, especially to Spain. My class read scholarly articles about the causes and impacts of these mass migrations, read newspaper articles about immigrants settling all over Europe, and held conversations with immigrants themselves.
From what I learned, the vast majority of immigrants have a strong desire to work, earn money, and contribute to society. If we are talking about economic immigrants, they certainly do not go through the costly, difficult, emotionally straining, and often dangerous process of emigrating from their home countries in order to sit around in a foreign country and collect whatever measly amount a non-citizen can collect from welfare.
They go through all of that effort so that they can work as hard as possible and accumulate wealth, oftentimes to send that money back home to their families. Living off of the welfare system is not an effective means to this goal — working, however, is.If we are talking about refugees, those are normal people like you and me who were forced to flee their homes and jobs to save their lives.
If you were forced to leave the United States due to war, would you sit around in your new country collecting food stamps and eating whatever that bought you, or would you look for a job in order to earn some real money, integrate into your new society and continue your life as normally as possible?
So then we get the flip side of the “refugees are lazy and use our welfare” debate: it’s the “refugees take American jobs” debate. While refugees do compete with citizens for jobs, they also provide labor where it is needed, create their own businesses, pay taxes, and spend money in their new countries.
Articles and studies from the National Academy of Sciences, the International Monetary Fund, the European Parliament, PBS, U.S. News and The Economist, to name a few, cite evidence that while refugees may face initial unemployment and need aid to get started in the new country, in the long-term refugee (and other immigrant populations) have and are likely to continue to advance economic prosperity in the countries that accept them.
One major block to refugee contributions to the economy is their inability to legally work until they are granted official refugee status in a country. As government agencies in various countries are currently overwhelmed by the number of asylum requests they are receiving, thousands of refugees will be waiting for years before they are granted or denied refugee status in a safe country.
The extent to which refugees can have a positive impact on our society and economy depends largely on how well they integrate into our society. I won’t go into all of the difficulties of trying to integrate into a foreign society, but I hope we can all agree that foreigners cannot integrate into a society without the guidance and acceptance of locals.
But right now in our country fear of refugees is creating a barrier to accepting refugees and to integrating them into our society so that they can contribute to their greatest potential. Fear is a powerful emotion.
Just as Mr. Kailey blames liberal politicians and the media for pulling at people’s heartstrings to make them feel bad about the refugees and want to take them in, I blame the media and politicians for creating an irrational fear of entire religions and nationalities.
While terrorist attacks really do happen, wars, genocides, political persecution, and starvation are also really happening and need to be addressed. Even if we said that the fear mongers are really just compassionate for the American lives lost in terrorist attacks, how can we say that American lives are more important that any other human life?
Is it really worth leaving millions of foreigners in life-or-death living conditions in order to save a relatively minuscule number of American lives? And on that note, will rejecting refugees even save American lives? Were the 9/11 plane hijackers refugees? Was the man who went on a shooting spree at Pulse in Orlando a refugee? Are all of the people currently dressing up as clowns and bringing us all terror actually refugees? I feel pretty safe in saying no, they are not.
This tells us two things. First, foreigners are not the biggest threat to our security. Secondly, foreigners who want to kill U.S. citizens will find ways to do so whether or not we accept refugees. In fact, according to whitehouse.gov, “Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States.”
Refugees must go through a long process of background checks by various state agencies, fingerprint screenings, medical checks, interviews with U.N. representatives and USCIS officers and cultural orientation classes before they are even allowed to enter the country. So anyone looking to come here and cause harm would be taking the most difficult route possible by trying to gain refugee status.
That process is apparently not stringent enough for Mr. Kailey, who argues that, “it is the responsibility of the government to serve all current citizens to the highest degree attainable before others.” So if a police officer sees a citizen’s wallet being stolen while an immigrant is being held at gunpoint, should the police officer serve the citizen first?
Should we stop all government funding of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which provides such services as disaster relief, education, economic development, and medical services to foreign nations? I know a great many Americans who would respond with a sound “no” to both questions.
While I agree that governments should in general have the interests of their own people in mind first and foremost, we must acknowledge that not everyone has a government protecting their interests. Some governments are under attack and are currently unable to protect their people. Some governments are threatening and attacking their own citizens.
If every other government has to serve its own people “to the highest degree attainable” before it can let those endangered outsiders in, they are never going to be able to go anywhere.
And for the record, the U.N. reported that in 2015 there were over 10 million stateless people worldwide. So ten million people have no government whatsoever to serve (or not serve) them. Where are they supposed to go?