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The U.S. and the Syrian Refugees


Syrian refugees

The United States has taken an embarrassingly small number of Syrian refugees. That is especially true given U.S. complicity in the rise of ISIS and right-wing pressure to arm the Syrian rebels without accepting any consequences into what that would lead to (although I realize Obama did not allow this to happen). The U.S. has taken in 1500 refugees and will take in 300 more by October. 300? That’s ridiculous. In the 1970s, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the U.S. took in 125,000 refugees. Given the size of the Syrian crisis, I would say that is an excellent target number for the U.S. this time as well. That’s especially true given how much immigrants revitalize American communities and contribute to the culture of our nation. Locating immigrants in some of our struggling cities (say, Schenectady) would do a lot to revitalize them, would provide a new chance for people desperately escaping war, and would show the U.S. providing moral leadership for the rest of the world on this issue.

There’s been a certain amount of outrage about the picture of the 3 year old boy who drowned trying to cross into Greece. People don’t like to be exposed to these things. But this is reality. And as I state in Out of Sight, people act when they physically see terrible things. If you don’t see it, you don’t think about it and outrages go on. If you see it–as happened at the Triangle Fire, with the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, and with the Ray Rice video–public outrage to do something about it is much, much higher. We have to hope that seeing the victims of the Syrian refugee crisis forces Americans to get a little more serious about doing something for these people. At least we are now talking about refugees in the United States, which we were not doing on Monday.

That said, I am pessimistic because these are people from the Middle East coming over at the same time as one of this nation’s occasional freakouts about immigration and because they are coming from a part of the world with a reputation for terrorism. That the same people who oppose their immigration tend to support policies that lead to the right-wing terrorist activities that threaten Americans a lot more than Middle Eastern terrorists is of course not part of the conversation.

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