A Debate On Syrian Refugees

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Boyce JPEGWe are beginning to hear reports that our country is considering taking in as many as 100,000 of the Syrian refugees who have been fleeing their country because  they fear being killed as collateral damage in the mounting death toll from Syria’s 4 years long civil war.

How reasonable is their fear of death? According to CNN News, the death toll there has doubled in a year’s time. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), since civil war broke out, 310,000 people have been killed. A year earlier, SOHR’s tally stood at 162,402. And the year before, the United Nations put the death toll at 70,000.

Would you stay in a country like that?

So, let’s discuss the objections to the US accepting large numbers of Syrian refugees. I will start with the most potent objection first.

1. If we allow large numbers of Syrian refugees in, some of them will be terrorists because the system to weed them out will be overwhelmed. As a result, Americans will die.

First, it’s not as if terrorists are not getting in now. But the honest to God truth is that this objection is probably correct. So then, the question boils down to does that justify sending many thousands of Syrians back home to be killed as collateral damage of the war?

Here is how I answer that question. With the exception of 9/11, most of the terrorist attacks in this country killed fewer than a dozen people per attack. If we and the European countries send hundreds of thousands of refugees back to Syria, probably at least thousands of them will die as innocent victims of the war.

The US dealt badly with a similar situation in the late 1930s and 1940s. At that time, many Jews were fleeing Nazi persecution. Several ship loads of Jewish refugees came to our shores in cruise ships and pleaded to be allowed to enter the country. Most of them were refused. People here worried that German spies might be among them. So the refugees had to go back to Europe.

What happened to them? The Nazis murdered many of them in the killing centers and the concentration camps. Others went into hiding or survived years of forced labor. Some managed to escape.

I think the moral algebra of the situation requires us to let the Syrian refugees in.

2. Some people say we shouldn’t take refugees in until Syria’s neighbors take in a lot of refugees do.

In fact, they have done so already. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 4 million Syrian refugees have fled to Syria’s immediate neighbors. The following shows how many refugees have been taken in by each of those neighbors:
• Lebanon: 1 ,172, 753
• Turkey: 1, 805, 255
• Jordan: 630, 224
• Iraq: 250,408

3. Some say this is a Judeo-Christian nation and accepting large numbers of Muslims would change that in unacceptable ways. Here is my answer.

Our nation has long been justifiably proud of the fact that we have no state religion.

Many of the immigrants who came to this country in the 1600ds and 1700ds were fleeing religious persecution where the state required them to support the government religion. For example, the Pilgrims in England were forced to pay a tax in support of the Anglican Church there.

The very first amendment to the US Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.

Historians note that George Washington never spoke of a particular god or religion. Instead he merely spoke of a “higher power”. He avoided saying anything that might cause Americans to weaken our new nation by dividing into competing religious factions.

Refusing to allow some immigrants to come here, just because they are of a certain religion violates the fundamental principle of this nation which is that discrimination based on religion is unacceptable.

4. But, will admitting thousands of Muslims to enter the U.S. fundamentally change this country in unacceptable ways? History demonstrates that it will not.

Up until the mid 1880s the people in this nation were overwhelmingly Protestant. Then, in the 1800ds, large numbers of mainly Catholic Irish and Italian immigrants came here. A whole political movement was then founded with the sole purpose of preventing Catholic immigrants from coming here. They said letting them in would change the culture of our nation in an un-acceptable way. Clearly that has not happened.

We should let the refugees in.

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