WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: THE REFUGEE CRISIS

Articles From the Editors

Callan Shore 

The United States represents freedom, acceptance, and hope, and for many refugees and immigrants it provides a fresh start in life. The United States is made up of people who have come from almost every country in the world. This country has a history of accepting displaced and desperate people, so why does the government think it is necessary to shut the doors on certain refugees now? The answer is not in the facts; it is in the nation’s growing nationalist tendencies and feelings. Although many Americans fear that refugees, especially Muslim refugees, will hurt the economy, take their jobs, and threaten their safety, these fears are fueled by intensifying nationalism and are not supported by research.

Ever since the colonization of the United States, non-native people have flocked here from dangerous or unlivable countries. The specific countries which produce refugees have changed, but the countries which produce the most refugees have always been the countries with internal conflict and war or places where natural disaster has struck. Refugees have been part of the American workforce and society for almost the entirety of United States history. These refugees have brought new ideas and cultures and have substantially boosted the prosperity and diversity of the country. The Statue of Liberty, a defining American symbol, is an important representation of the value that our country puts on basic human rights, for at its base there is a poem written by refugee supporter Emma Lazarus that welcomes refugees with open arms: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore”. This poem seems to almost be a response to President Trump’s extreme nationalism and subsequent actions against refugees and immigrants.

Many conceptions about refugees that are perpetuated by the media and politicians are false. One of the most common misconceptions, which is supported by President Trump, is that they hurt the economy of the United States and are a financial drain. However, refugees can actually turn a profit for their host country as “at least a dozen local, regional, and global analyses published in the last five years provide credible evidence that refugees and migrants offer long-term economic benefits for their new communities”. Also, refugees often have skill sets that are unique and rare in the United States. One example of how refugees have helped the economy was during the World Wars, for refugees were able to fill the jobs of men who went to war and helped to keep the economy going. Additionally, through a process called complementary task specialization, refugees who don’t speak English will fill lower paying and manual labor jobs and will in turn push other workers who do speak English into higher paying jobs. Lastly, private organizations and caring citizens can prevent refugees from burdening citizens and the government by hosting them in their houses, lending them money, or teaching them English. This method has worked in other countries, and if the United States government allowed more refugees to enter the country, the government and citizens would barely have to exert money and resources to help, for there is an abundance of willing individuals and private organizations that would take responsibility.

The second common misconception about refugees is that they are dangerous and pose a threat to Americans’ security. This misconception has been sustained by President Trump through his recent travel ban. The travel ban was created with the argument that people from seven to eight specific countries are often associated with terrorism and will put Americans in danger if they come to the United States. However, the idea that refugees, especially Muslim refugees, threaten Americans’ safety is not supported by statistics. Although the concern that people who are coming from countries of war and constant terrorism will bring problems to the United States is valid, there are procedures in place that make it highly unlikely that a terrorist will come to the United States posing as a refugee. While extremist groups like ISIS do connect themselves to Islam and are a serious danger to the United States, the refugees who come here are rarely ever affiliated with these groups. This is assured by the vetting process that refugees must go through to be accepted into the United States. This process is long and thorough and has proven to be extremely effective, for no citizens from the banned countries of Syria, Chad, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, North Korea, or Venezuela have been involved in a terrorist attack in the U.S. in the past 20 years. The data shows that white men pose a much greater threat to Americans’ safety than Muslims do: “In fact, between 2001 and 2015, more Americans were killed by homegrown right-wing extremists than by Islamist terrorists, according to a study by New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC”. All in all, it is not sufficient to base legislation on a stereotype that being a Muslim coincides with being a terrorist.

Despite these positive facts about refugees, nationalism is growing at an alarming rate in the United States. Ever since 9/11, nationalism has swelled because the actions taken by a small group of extremist Muslims, known as Al-Qaeda, created a fear of Muslims and foreigners as a whole. The manifestation of this nationalism is the racism and hate shown towards Muslim people. One example of this islamophobia is Punish a Muslim Day which was organized recently across the world to express hate towards Muslims. Nationalists who created this day even created a point system that granted a certain amount of points for murdering a Muslim and bombing a mosque. Over the last couple of years, nationalism has increased at an even higher rate because of President Trump’s opinions and legislation. The number of people who show nationalist tendencies or feelings haven’t necessarily grown, but the intensity of those who are nationalists has. In other words, when Trump became president, nationalists felt empowered and as if they had a voice, so they began to work harder to support anti-refugee legislation and protested with more fervor. Additionally, the divide between Democrats opinions on refugees and Republicans opinions on refugees has widened under Trump. Even President Trump’s running mate Vice President Mike Pence enforces the stigma surrounding Muslims. For example, when Pence was Senator of Indiana he attempted to take away support for Syrian refugees on the basis that they are dangerous and need to be kept away from Americans. This policy is similar to the travel ban for it discriminates against people based on the country where they were born. However, the United States government found Pence’s policy to be unconstitutional. This was because, “one of the major purposes of constitutional restrictions on discrimination is to prevent the government from using the real or imagined misdeeds of a few members of a group from justifying wholesale discrimination against innocent people whose only wrong is that they happen to share the same race, ethnicity, or national origin.” The United States Court of Appeals found Pence’s policy to be unconstitutional, therefore, it is feasible that the travel ban should be considered unconstitutional as well.

Recent polls show just how drastically Americans’ views on foreigners have been amplified in the Trump era. These polls show that almost half of Americans believe that in order to be an American you must have been born in the United States, be a Christian, and speak English. President Trump recently made a comment saying that, “There is no global anthem. No global currency. No certificate of global citizenship. We pledge allegiance to one flag and that flag is the American flag”. Although what Trump said is true on the surface, what he seems to be implying is that the United States is not part of a global community and that we should only be focused on issues in our own country. This comment by our country’s leader is a clear example of Americans’ intense and arguably flawed outlook on foreigners and global issues. These beliefs overlook the diversity of the country’s existing citizens.

The United States is involved in the global community in many ways, and helping refugees is a responsibility that must be shared throughout that community. Some of the public and politicians believe that if secondary countries near the countries from which people are fleeing would simply build nicer refugee camps or allow refugees to join their society, the solution would be at least temporarily solved. The problem with this argument is that many secondary countries do not have enough resources to support refugees, nor do they have enough room to host the millions of refugees that travel through each year. This argument seems to be implying that it is not the United States’ responsibility to help refugees because other countries will take care of the problem. However, this kind of reasoning is dangerous, for it is far too similar to Americans’ attitudes in the Holocaust. During the Holocaust the Allies, especially the United States, failed to help the Jewish people who were being persecuted and murdered by the Nazis. If the United States had taken in more refugees, millions of people could have been saved at a manageable inconvenience to the United States. Today, history is repeating itself with the travel ban, for it appears that once again the United States is being exclusive in what refugees they accept.

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