7 Thoughts On Syrian Refugees

Last year I paid my graduate school bills researching refugee resettlement in the United States. Back then, when I told people my research topic they usually responded, “Oh, interesting!” And refrained from asking any follow up questions. That’s all different now. Blog posts I’ve written months ago on the topic of refugee resettlement without much fan-fair are now top hits day after day. That being the case, I thought I’d summarize and list my thoughts on the topic, now that everyone seems to be listening:

  1. The lunacy of state-level action. What struck me first when hearing the news about the five state Governors who suspended the acceptance of Syrian refugees into their states was how silly the whole thing was. The US Refugee Assistance Program is a national program, put in place by the United States Refugee Act of 1980. Refugees are accepted by the United States–not individual states. They are resettled by local voluntary agencies that are funded by federal dollars, state dollars, and in-kind donations (largely from faith-based communities). Also–and here is the kicker–once refugees have been resettled in the United States, they have complete freedom to move wherever they like. So, if Michigan or Alabama or Georgia or Texas or Arizona really want to keep Syrian refugees out of their state, then they are going to have to try to get something done at the federal level, because simply refusing to initially accept refugees into their state isn’t going to prevent refugees from moving there. Oh, and according to some of my forthcoming research upwards of 15-25% of recently arrived refugees move across state boarders each year.
  2. Immigration Policy vs. Refugee Assistance Policy. They are different. It is dangerous and misleading to conflate the two. When the United States Refugee Act of 1980 was signed into law, individuals who entered the United States via recommendation from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHRC) were set apart as distinct from immigrants and were granted different rights and duties. Therefore, it is possible to be against systemic immigration policy reform (if you happen to fall into that camp) and still be in favor of welcoming Syrian refugees.
  3. The possibility of terrorist infiltration. Most of the fear (it seems) is driven by the possibility that terrorists could use the refugee resettlement system to get into the United States. Surely this is a serious concern, however, it is important to remember a couple details. First, of the over 14.4 million refugees around the world right now, less than 1% of them will ever be resettled in a third country (i.e. not their own or the country they fled to). Second, refugees are screened by the UNHCR, the US Department of Human Services, the US Department of Homeland Security, and travel on regular passenger airlines. So, while the possibility certainly exists, the odds are not very high. It is likely not even a top-ten best way to “sneak” into a country you want to destroy. For my money, the biggest threat (and France is a testament to this) is extreme social fragmentation of minorities based on race, religion, etc. Ensuring social and economic integration for ALL PEOPLE is any nation’s best (and most cost effective) security program.
  4. For Christians, the response (should be) obvious. “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” – Deuteronomy 10:18. It sure sounds to me that God cares for refugees. Therefore, it follows quite simply that those who strive to live Christlike lives should (must) do the same. Yet this seemingly clear call hasn’t stopped prominent (and influential) pastors to shed theological ambiguity onto the matter. Ambiguity that doesn’t seem to exist for other issues (i.e. well, you fill in the blanks). It saddens me when our spiritual leaders are unable to untie themselves from the political dichotomies of our modern world.
  5. Refugees are an economic boon for any country they go to. This may be a controversial topic expect for the fact that it’s not. It’s immediately obvious that some refugees offer huge benefits to national economies. For example: STEVE JOB’S DAD WAS A SYRIAN REFUGEE. Imagine life without your Apple device… that is life without Syrian refugees ever being allowed into the United States. Now, the real question isn’t, ‘can refugees be beneficial?’ It is really, ‘are refugees beneficial on average?’ To this the evidence seems to suggest a resounding yes. Think about it: perhaps nobody on this planet is harder working and motivated to succeed. They ALL escaped death and were given a slew of new opportunities to live life.
  6. Syrian refugees are victims as well. Over the weekend it seemed like everyone, no matter political identity, religion, race, gender, or any other qualifier either changed their profile picture to red, white, and blue stripes or prayed for the victims of the tragic attack in Paris. It is easy to see the people of France being the victims of this all, but (at least) an equal share of the vicim-hood resides on those who were forced to flee their homes because of the terrorist organization that claimed responsibilities for the attacks in Paris.
  7. The (ongoing) refugee crisis is one of the greatest humanitarian issues of our day. Solving the problem of the suffering and squelching of dignity and freedom of over 14 million people in this world is one of the largest and most urgent of our generation. Are we going to allow 8 kids, acting in fear, to change our policies and procedures? I sure hope not.

For those who would like to make your voice heard to your state government representative about this issue, here is a list of phone numbers to call your Governor’s office.

11 thoughts on “7 Thoughts On Syrian Refugees”

  1. Thanks so much for this thoughtful and informed post, Jeff. I didn’t know you were researching this, but I find myself greatly benefited by the work you did and the time you took to share it here. Roland

  2. Jeff,
    You and I don’t know one another, but I appreciated your insights and research. I just finished teaching a high school class entitled “Engaging World Cultures” and Denver Christian High School. Our final project, completed last week, was on refugees around the world, including those from Syria. Our posters and presentations will be shared with our student body in chapel in a few weeks. I trust that you won’t mind if I quote you as I introduce the topic.
    Barry Meyer

    1. Hi Barry,

      Not at all. Sounds like a great project. It’d be an honor to be quoted at a fine school such as Denver Christian.

      Best to you,

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