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  • Article: We Accept Refugees to Save Their Lives, Not to Fix Their Countries. By David Bier

    We Accept Refugees to Save Their Lives, Not to Fix Their Countries


    According to Gov. Bobby Jindal, “the answer [to the Syrian refugee crisis] is not to … allow even more people to come into America.” That would be merely “to put a Band-Aid” on the problem, said the Louisiana governor at the early debate between also-ran GOP presidential candidates Wednesday evening. 

    “Simply allowing more people into our country doesn’t solve this problem,” Jindal said. “The way to solve this problem is for us to be clear to our friends and allies that we are going to replace Assad, we’re going to hunt down and destroy ISIS.”

    According to Jindal’s reasoning, Americans should have turned away European Jews fleeing the Holocaust because taking them in wouldn’t have ended the Third Reich. 

    As it happens, our government did turn back ships loaded with Jewish refugees trying to escape Hitler. Americans came to regret this shameful chapter of our history and vowed never to allow it to happen again. Making good on this promise is the reason America created its refugee and asylum laws.

    Jindal is guilty of equivocating between two different problems: the refugee crisis and the civil war that caused it. If the point of accepting refugees is to solve the problems they are fleeing, we would never accept any refugees. Opening your home to a neighbor whose house has burned down won’t turn back time and stop the fire from starting. 

    But of course that’s not the point. Likewise, providing a haven for refugees won’t solve the root problem of the Syrian crisis. But it does solve the immediate problems facing refugees: homelessness, fear of death, persecution, and violence. That is why we give them shelter. Because they need it.

    Jindal prefaced his remarks by asserting that America is “the most compassionate country in the entire world.” That’s true, if we measure compassion in terms of money donated to needy people around the world. 

    But extending compassion to refugees means opening our doors and offering a safe place out from harm’s way. The U.S. will allow at most 85,000 refugees into America next year. Around 10,000 of those will come from Syria. 

    This year, Germany will admit nearly ten times America’s total refugee intake from Syria alone. Many Americans would love to give help to Syrian refugees, to open their homes, and help them resettle here, yet our government’s stingy refugee quota (and lack of imagination in refugee policy) stands in the way.

    America obviously can’t help every Syrian refugee. But if Germany, a country with 1/3 America’s population, can help 800,000 people, America can do more.

    To argue that it’s pointless to help more refugees because it won’t stop the war they’re fleeing, is worse than illogical. It’s callousness disguised as pragmatism.

    America’s monstrously cold-hearted failure of hospitality during World War II seemed sensible at the time. Arguments like Jindal’s are a way of rationalizing the same sort of fear, prejudice, and selfishness that led to that failure of compassion — and to the regret that led us to pledge “never again.”

    This post first appeared at the Niskanen Center. 

    This post originally appeared on Foundation For Economic Education.. Reprinted with permission.

    About The Author

    David Bier is an immigration policy analyst at the Niskanen Center. He is an expert on visa reform, border security, and interior enforcement. From 2013 to 2015, he drafted immigration legislation as senior policy advisor for Congressman Raúl Labrador, a member of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. Previously, Mr. Bier was an immigration policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
      ImmigrationLawBlogs -
      Bravo! A great article. There is no objective reason for not admitting more Syrian refugees, other than demogogic attempts by politicians such as Jindal to build political careers on anti-immigrant prejudice and fear-mongering of the type that has almost always greeted newcomers in America. This is what the arguments against admitting these desperate people all boil down to, no matter how much one tries to dress them up with pseudo-objective doubts about our ability to absorb them. There is always an argument one can find to claim that someone with the wrong skin color, religion or whatever is not right for America. The Jews who died in Hitler's concentration camps because America would not give them refuge can attest to that.

      Roger Algase
      Attorney at Law

    1. Nolan Rappaport's Avatar
      Nolan Rappaport -
      I am not comfortable supporting Gov. Bobby Jindal's position on refugees, but I agree with him that the solution to the Syrian refugee crisis is to make it safe for them to go home. That would help all of the Syrian refugees. Bringing more of them to the US only helps a small percentage of them. What happens to the ones we don't take? The same reasoning applies to refugees from other countries. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 59.5 million people were displaced forcibly from their homes in 2014, as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. This figure includes 19.5 million refugees, 38.2 million internally displaced persons, and 1.8 million asylum-seekers. The ones who leave their countries usually stay at a refugee settlement while they are waiting to be able to go home, to be allowed to live and work in the country that hosts the refugee settlement, or to be resettled into a refugee program in some other country. Refugee program resettlement to a third country, such as the United States, is available only to one percent of the world's refugees. UNHCR only referred 105,200 refugees for such resettlement in 2014. The United States accepted 73,000 of them, which was more than 70% of the resettlement admissions. UNHCR Global Trends, Forced Displacements in 2014, 2014 in review, Trends at a glance, at p. 2-3, http://www.unhcr.org/556725e69.html
    1. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
      ImmigrationLawBlogs -
      Nolan is entirely right to point out the huge scope of the world's refugee/displacement problem and that no one country can take in more than a small percentage of the world's refugees. No one is contending that the US should take in all of the refugees from Syria or any other conflict/dictatorship. But we can do more.

      Germany, which is one quarter of America's size and does not exactly have an unblemished history when it comes to creating refugee problems, has offered to take in a million Syrian refugees. America has room to take in at least 100,000, ten times as many as Obama is offering to. Yes, there would be some cost (though prbably less than the cost of building a Berlin Wall on the Mexican border) and it would be necessary to do security checks. But America has taken in large numbers of Hungarian, Vietnamese and Cuban refugees within the recent past. We can do the same for Syrians.

      If we do, there is no reason not to believe that most of them will one day be a plus factor for our economy, just as the Hungarians, Vietnamese and Cubans have been, a fact that few if any people would argue with. One Syrian alone has already done a great deal for America's economy and job creation, even though his father was an immigrant through other means, not a refugee. I refer to Steve Jobs.

      Nolan says that the best way to solve the refugee problem is to invade and overthrow the government of any country that persecutes its own citizens. This was already tried when George W. Bush invaded Iraq in order to liberate its people from Saddam Hussein (and, arguably, to liberate its oil fields from the hands of the Russian contractors with whom Saddam had made deals to develop them). But all we did was create even more refugees from Iraq. Nolan's proposal would in fact lead to endless war, along the lines of Orwell's 1984.

      As for his two examples of war as opposed to resettlement, it might indeed have been a good idea for America to intervene in Syria at the beginning in order get rid of Assad. But this might also have led to nuclear war with Russia and the end of the human race. And yes, if the world had gotten rid of Hitler at the beginning, and if the Munich conference had had a different result, it would have been a good thing. But if the world had done so, it would not have been because other European countries or America thought that saving the Jews was important. There was anti-semitism in almost every country in the world at that time.

      The main reason that there is so much resistance to taking in Syrian refugees today in America and Europe is not social, financial, logistical or security-related, though these factors cannot be entirely ruled out. It is because of anti-Muslim prejudice, today's version of the 1930's anti-semitism which killed 6 million Jews and made millions of others refugees.

      Roger Algase
      Attorney at Law
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