Update, September 11, 2016:

For an excellent overview of ancient Roman laws affecting immigrants in general, not just refugees, which are the particular focus of my comments below, see:

Dan-el Padilla Peralta: Barbarians Inside the Gate: Fears of Immigration in ancient Rome and today

The link appears below at the end of my original comment.

My original post follows:

As President Obama meets his goal of welcoming 10,000 Syrian immigrants to the US, see:


it is worth looking to see if any of the dire warnings that led 31 governors to announce last year that Syrian refugees would not be welcome in their states, and for bills to be introduced in both Houses of Congress that would have either put a temporary hold on admission of Syrian refugees entirely

(see S.2284, Syrian Refugee Verification and Safety Act)

or have made the "vetting" process so difficult and complicated that few if any Syrian refugees could have been admitted de facto, have been borne out in reality.

See H.R. 3573: Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act.

So far, there have not been any reported incidents involving violent crimes or terror attacks in the US by Syrian refugees. so far as I am aware. This could have been predicted by the fact that much of the antipathy toward Syrian refugees was motivated by hysteria rather than reality, as The Guardian pointed out almost a year ago, in its November 19, 2015 article:

Syrian refugees in America: separating fact from fiction in the debate.


The first myth that The Guardian exploded was that Syrian refugees were not being, or could not be, adequately screened. The paper wrote

"Syrians flown to the US will be the most heavily vetted group of people currently allowed into the US, according to the State Department.

Each candidate is vetted first by the UN's refugee agency, and then separately by officials from the State Department, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department. The process takes between 18 months and two years."

The same article inThe Guardian also debunked the myth that a "flood" of Syrian refugees have been or are being allowed into the US, as most recently alleged by Donald Trump in his August 31 Arizona immigration speech.

The paper wrote:

"Were the [US] to take in an additional 10,000 Syrians, they would still only represent approximately 0.004% of its existing population."

It would be hard to find any dictionary that would define four thousandths of one percent of a country's population as constituting a "flood", or a "surge" (as a Fox News headline described it last year, at a time when only around 2,000 Syrian refugees had been admitted to the US!).



Now that the Obama administration's initial goal of accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees has been reached, is it not time for America to start accepting a more realistic number, say 100,000 minimum, based on our humanitarian values and obligations as a nation in response to one of the greatest, if not the greatest, humanitarian crises of our time?

It is also worth noting that this is not the first time in world history when there has been popular feeling against Syrian immigrants in a wealthy and powerful nation.

The writer and historian Tom Holland describes reaction to Syrian immigration in 1st Century AD Rome,, during the reign of the emperor Nero, who is not normally remembered for kindness or tolerance, to say the least, as follows:*

"Back in the first century of the Republic [established ca. 510 B.C.] a mania for outlandish cults had seen the Senate legislate to ensure that only the traditional gods be worshiped, and only with traditional rites. Since then, there had been numerous attempts to purge the city of alien ways...

alarming yet were the Syrians, with their devotion to a goddess, lion flanked and jewel-adorned, whose cult, sinister as only a Syrian cult could be, had long been a thing o revulsion to every decent Roman."

Despite this, according to Holland, the Syrian goddess became so popular that Nero's predecessor, the emperor Claudius,

"finally lifted all legal restrictions on [Roman] citizens becoming Galli [followers of the Syrian goddess].

Holland adds:

"...processions in honor of the Syrian Goddess, complete with flutes, tambourines and spectacular displays of self-laceration, had become a common sight in Rome."

However, as Holland mentions, Rome was not without its defenders of traditional values against these foreign immigrant cultural "invaders". The famous philosopher Seneca, tutor and adviser to Nero before the latter eventually forced Seneca to take his own life in 65 A.D., wrote (as later quoted by St. Augustine in his City of God):

"If a god desires worship of this kind, then she does not deserve to be worshiped in the first place."

Could Seneca's fulminations against a religion associated with Syria be a 2,000 year old precedent for some American lawmakes who are now warning that immigrants from Syria and other Muslim countries might "impose Sharia Law" on the United States and are introducing legislation to "prevent" this?



Holland adds:

"For those on the cutting edge of fashion, however, a protestation of devotion to the Syrian Goddess had become an easy and entertaining way to shock. Rumor had it, for example, that she was the only deity for whose cult Nero had any respect."

This is not a blog about comparative religion or the history of religions, ancient or modern, so i will merely comment that it would appear from Holland's remarks that even the ancient Roman emperor Nero, one of the most infamous rulers in all of world history, had at least some degree of respect and tolerance for Syrian immigrants and their religion (despite his later, well known, unspeakably savage atrocities against Christians living in Rome).

This is certainly not to say that America, or any other country on earth throughout history, has anything to learn from Nero.

But cannot the United States of America do better than we have been up to now in developing our own more tolerant legal policies, more in keeping with our Constitution and our humanitarian values and traditions, regarding Syrian refugees and other Muslim immigrants?

And is Donald Trump's pledge to send Syrian refugees already in the US back to Syria and its war (prohibited in international law as refugee "refoulement"), a war which can certainly be said to meet the definition offered by 1st Century A.D. Roman poet Lucan (also later ordered by Nero to take his own life, along with Lucan's uncle, the above mentioned Seneca) of Rome's own then recent fratricidal wars as:

Bella...plus quam civilia

("More than civil wars")

consistent with America's own obligations toward Syrian refugees under international law?

For a fuller discussion of this issue, see EDAL (European Database of Asylum Law) July 30, 2015:

Beyond Non-Refoulement: Status and International Human Rights Law


After going to the above link, click on "2015", or "July, 2015" to access this article.

And for an excellent overview of ancient Roman laws regarding immigrants in general, see:

Dan-el Padilla Reralta: Barbarians Inside the Gate, Part 1: Fears of Immigration in ancient Rome and today


*Tom Holland: Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar Anchor Books Edition, 2016
Roger Algase is a New York lawyer and a Graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. For more than 35 years, he has been helping mainly skilled and professional immigrants obtain work visas and green cards.

Roger is also an ancient Roman history addict, though very far from being an expert or specialist in this vast and fascinating field. His email address is algaselex@gmail.com