Are Syrian refugees safe?

(published in the Wheaton Record on 03 December 2015; edited and updated here on 06 December 2015)

I’m not surprised that well over half of the United States is essentially barring Syrian refugees, despite the illegality of officially doing so and the human rights violations any de facto or de jure laws induce. This country has a history of creating contradictory laws to allow “desirable” immigrants and keep out the “undesirable.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed that we welcome Mexican workers to our underpaid fields when times are good but blame the seasonal immigrants when the economy is bad. This occurs with other ethnic groups today, and the United States has been enforcing similar, seemingly subtle practices for centuries.

Take the Chinese for example. During the Gold Rush, we welcomed this group. But when the gold wasn’t shining from the mines anymore, we essentially stopped Chinese immigration via the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The U.S. picked and chose who was most desirable to immigrate, and the Chinese were no longer “it.” Ironically, we created the Chinese Exclusion Act the same year as the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, allowing goods to enter Korea from the West. Around the same time, Japanese inflows increased, only to be stifled 15 years later with the so-called “gentleman’s agreement.” Discriminatory laws later restricted land ownership as well.

To demonstrate more contradictory and unjust immigration laws, the United States upheld the Bracero Program from 1942 to 1964, allowing Mexican citizens to work here, while simultaneously enforcing Operation Wetback from 1953-58, deporting them on the spot if they didn’t have legal documents on their persons when stopped. Does anyone smell racial profiling? Or are you thinking of South African Apartheid?

The contingent manner with which this country creates and enforces certain immigration laws seems ridiculous to me. Now our issue is with Syrian people who are running for safety. We’re afraid because ISIS originated from the same country, but aren’t many Syrians fleeing their homes for the same reason?

Moreover, when we fear that the refugees are terrorists set on destroying this land of “freedom,” we demonstrate our ignorance at the processes refugees go through to leave the camps. My friend from Burundi spent about fourteen years in refugee camps in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo before coming to the States, where he received his green card in the first year and waited five years for citizenship. His wife and children had to wait eleven years before they were allowed to enter the States as refugees. And that hassle was for East African refugees, people not from a place of alleged terrorism.

For all refugees, the paperwork required of refugees entering another country is consuming, and the screenings are intense. Whether immigration is rushed or prolonged, we can be sure that Syrian refugees are not out to harm America. They’re fleeing the terror, after all. Whether they wish they could return to their old home or long for a new one, the camps are not homes. They are meant to provide temporary refuge only. Some of these refugees are well educated, and some are not, but all are displaced and hurting.

As Christians, God commands us to show hospitality to the stranger. He commanded Israel to welcome the stranger, since Israel had once dwelt in a land not their own. Israel had fled terror. Israel was a refugee state.

Are we Egypt, fearing and terrorizing meek refugees, trying to keep their numbers down and mistreating those already here through “protection” laws, unhospitable interpersonal interactions and Facebook posts? Or are we Israel at its best, when they welcomed the stranger because they knew what it meant to need a home?

As Americans, we are a nation of immigrants. As Christians, we are told to love and not fear, to serve and not be anxious. How will we interact with Syrian and Iraqi refugees and with our state and national governments as a result?

 

 

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