In 2015 and 2016 each, the U.S. accepted approximately 0.1% of the world’s refugee population (85,000 out of 65,000,000 refugees in the world) via a process that takes roughly two years and entails multiple background checks and fingerprinting before and after refugees arrive.
A question I frequently find myself wondering is, of our 325 million U.S. citizens, how many have met a refugee who was granted U.S. citizenship? Do they know they’re less likely to commit crimes, not more?
The refugees I’ve met are some of the most American people I encounter. They’re well-studied on what this country’s ethos and history are, specifically its ideals. They seem to know and internalize the ideals that give the country potential in a way most Americans I meet do not; freedom to live, equality in the eyes of the law, liberty, ability to speak freely are held dearly. These ideals don’t come to fruition in every situation here, sure, but the refugees have seen the other side of life in countries like Libya and Syria and Iraq where the idea of any human rights or ideals of freedom are absurd, even laughable. They’ve been cowed by murderous, craven dictators and coming to the U.S. seems to give a hope that never seemed possible where they came from. I always thought of it as giving a voice to the mute, or perhaps a new lease on life, to use a cliche. It’s one of my favorite conversations to have, the “So where did you come from?” Getting a chance to hear a story completely different from my own is something I hold in high regard.
So, an executive order has been signed by President Trump to put a stop to allowing refugees into our country. Homeland Security staff have already canceled interviews abroad with potential U.S.-bound refugees, per Reuters. Is the move to ban refugees – temporary or not – from our country a move made in response to Germany PM Angela Merkel’s questionable move to allow nearly 1 million refugees German citizenship in a short amount of time? Fox News and Breitbart sure did (and do) spend a lot of time covering the fallout from this Germanic-Islamic clash of cultures (less so by left-leaning news orgs, even in Germany to the point of apologia by said German news orgs). If so, why are we making our policies stingier based on something that happened nearly 5,000 miles away? Seems rather delicate and feeble, to me.
We’re no savior of refugees. The U.S. has always been worried about itself – perhaps rightfully, perhaps selfishly, perhaps both – more than anyone from a war-torn nation. But I do think we should, each of us, consider the morality of completely shutting off our vast land of opportunity to any refugee. Isn’t a little bit of good – and a little bit of good will – far better than nothing? Shouldn’t we who have so much be giving those who have so little?
This is a question I think we should hit with more than just a glancing blow or brief look. It will eventually, if not quickly, extend into immigration and how President Trump will proceed with allocating green cards, H-1B visas, student visas, etc.
Why does that matter? Well, for one, all six U.S. Nobel Prize winners in 2016 were immigrants. Our science programs are dominated by immigrants, internationals and refugees, as are advanced degree programs (by many counts, approximately 50% of those getting doctoral degrees in the U.S. were not born here). Many stay after completion of their degree. Many want to but cannot due to not winning a visa. We take on the question of whether this is right or wrong with a bizarre mix of kid gloves and preconceived notions, allowing the decisive (like Trump) to control the conversation and decisions.
This all hits beyond our humanity and morality, it hits at our immediate-future innovation and good will around the world.
Meanwhile, Lady Liberty looks lonely but still lavishes us with lorn trinkets of our how we built our American population:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”