The Prospect of the U.S. Accepting Significantly More Syrian Refugees

How can we do our moral duty to Syrian refugees while simultaneously protecting American citizens? This question plagues our president, congress, and local officials constantly, and yet so few Americans think about the refugee crisis on a daily basis. We cannot deny that America is a country built on the shoulders of hardworking immigrants and refugees. We also cannot ignore the dangers of terrorism. As we debate at home, the international community calls on America to accept its fair share of refugees, pointing to our wealth and land. What our fair share is however, depends on who you ask.
Melia Wong

Every time a terrorist group strikes, the United States shudders and the feeding frenzy begins. Unveiled racism, anger, and nationalism illuminate the bloodbath that follows. In this hell-born atmosphere, human instinct takes over, and somehow people forget what it means to be human. Survival then becomes the lens through which the United States views the world.

Political rhetoric in the United States espouses America as the land of freedom and the birthplace of liberty; in the crux of this ideology lies the notion of acceptance and tolerance. We, as American citizens, love “pimping out” or augmenting this heritage because we are self-proclaimed patriots. At baseball games, we proudly hold one hand over our heart as the other delicately cups a hot dog crowned with Heinz ketchup and fluorescent green relish. But is this patriotism? Is America still John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” — a melting pot of cultures? Or are we no more than a symbol for what once was?

The Syrian refugee crisis forces us to consider these questions. As 6.6 million refugees flee from their homes [1], quickly throwing together suitcases of clothes as they escape potentially fatal violence, we must make a choice. Will we take a unified stand? Will we fight to preserve the American ideal that our founding fathers sought to create? Or will we turn away and allow our fear to change the very foundation for which we stand?

We must fight. We must push past our racism, xenophobia, and hatred. These inhibitions distort America’s proud title as the land of the free. They cloud our judgment. If America is to salvage what is left of its once-cherished reputation, it must once again reclaim its mission to aid disadvantaged populations around the globe.

The United States has the potential to help hundreds of thousands of refugees. Canada, with roughly one tenth of the population size of the United States, has already opened their arms to over 30,000 refugees [2]. What’s more, the country just north of ours is struggling to provide enough refugees for the Canadian families seeking to help [3]. In comparison, the United States’s efforts so far have been meager at best. In January 2016, Obama pledged to accept 10,000 refugees by September 30th. On August 31st, we accomplished this goal [4]. But, I repeat, Canada is just one tenth of our size and not only housing three times as many refugees but also happily doing so at that. Yet, supposedly, we are supposed to be the melting pot of the world? To follow in Canada’s footsteps, as ridiculous as that might sound to my fellow hot dog-cupping Americans, is not only the correct choice but also the American choice. We must create a movement for individuals to help in the resettlement effort and allow this to spark the potential for large-scale aid to refugees. As with everything in the world’s great democracy, if the American populace becomes engaged, then change will occur.

Primary opposition to resettling Syrian refugees comes from the fear that terrorists posing as refugees will inevitably infiltrate our country. This concern is rooted in fact. As the New York Times reported, “[s]everal Islamic State members involved in the 2015 Paris attacks arrived on Europe’s shores from Syria posing as refugees.” Yet, this analysis is fundamentally misleading — The screening process for refugees is no cake walk. It’s extremely demanding, taking 18 to 24 months on average with mandated federal background checks and individual interviews that drastically reduce the potential for terrorists to slip through the cracks [5]. It’s much easier to get a tourist visa or to visit for only a short period of time. This does not discredit the practice of screening, thought; it’s incredibly important. But the fact of the matter is that terrorists are not using refugee status as their means of entry into the United States; they’re using visas and plane tickets.

Another issue that many people use to dismiss the resettlement of Syrian refugees is the sheer cost — It’s another justifiable reason. Resettling refugees via government subsidies would cost millions of tax dollars. But that is not the only route. In fact, it’s the least efficient avenue to fund resettlement. In following Canada’s initiative, the United States should use private citizens and charitable groups as the source of funding and labor for resettlement. According to the New York Times, “the Canadian government can barely keep up with the demand to welcome them [refugees]” [6]. U.S. citizens would and should be similarly inclined.

The United States’s reputation overseas will also benefit exponentially if the country accepts more refugees. Our fight to accept more refugees will disincentive moderate Muslims from becoming radicalized; this will prevent the spread of ISIS’s influence and help establish resistance to the radicalized Boko Haram movement, primarily fueled by hatred of the West.

The United States must uphold Winthrop’s vision as the “city upon a hill.” We must lead the rest of the world through example and by accepting Syrian refugees reclaim our position as the land of liberty. We must fight. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton asks the U.S. population to “[r]emember, many of these refugees are fleeing the same terrorists who threaten us. It would be a cruel irony indeed if ISIS can force families from their homes and then also prevent them from finding new ones[.]” We must provide an alternative to terror; otherwise we are no better ourselves. And so I ask of you, the reader: Put down your hot dog for a moment, pick up a phone, and call your congressperson now.
Max Sickinger

Before I consider the flaws in my opponent’s arguments, let me first be clear as to where we disagree. I agree that the United States should continue to accept Syrian refugees. We have a moral responsibility to do so. Where we disagree is in how many refugees should be accepted and how quickly we should do so.

First, Mr. Sickinger states that the vetting process takes 18 to 24 months and that we are currently only halfway to reaching the 10,000-refugee goal set by President Obama. These facts are, at best, outdated. There was a point when these were true, but that was months ago. The 10,000th refugee entered the U.S. back in August [7], and the vetting process has long since been shortened to three months under the “surge operation” [8].

As for his main arguments, he says that we should accept significantly more Syrian refugees just because Canada does so, but our situation is far different. Unlike Canada, the United States is a major target for international terrorist groups. We have been attacked countless times over recent decades. However, after scouring the Internet for any instance of an attack against Canada by radical Islamic terrorist groups, I could only find two such examples in which a total of only two people were killed [9].

Finally, what about the idea that we are a “melting pot of cultures”? Of course this is an aspect of the American creed of which we should remind ourselves when considering whether to accept Syrian refugees. However, is our acceptance of significantly more refugees even in line with this concept? Can we really expect most refugees with little fluency in English and even less knowledge of our customs to realistically become a part of our culture and society? Refugees receive a $1,000 stipend and some help finding affordable housing in the open market, after which point they are left to fend for themselves [10]. It is difficult to expect that even a well-educated Syrian refugee could find employment when he or she does not even speak English or even use the same alphabet for that matter. We need to do more to help integrate them into American society and provide them with the tools to become productive members of our shared culture. Doing this takes time and money, but, like I previously stated, we cannot sacrifice the safety of U.S. citizens and the wellbeing of the Syrian refugees we do accept just to look better in international circles. We shouldn’t set refugee acceptance goals based on what other countries have done or what makes us look good. The United States not only has a unique set of needs but is also targeted in a simply different way the countries Mr. Sickinger likened us to. We must achieve a balance between the safety and happiness of American citizens with our moral responsibility to help those in need.
Seth Taylor-Brill

Following the 2015 Paris attacks, 31 state governors said that they would not accept Syrian refugees into their states[11]. These statements cannot be defended not only because they have no authority to decide who may or may not enter their state, but also because we, as fellow human beings, have a moral responsibility to help those in need. Any suggestion of a total ban on Syrian refugees or Muslims in general is simply partisan fear-mongering. That being said, there are some very real risks to accepting Syrian refugees, and we must balance our moral responsibilities to these refugees with practical considerations for our own country’s safety and wellbeing.

It is difficult to vet Syrian refugees because up until this point, they have not existed on any sort of databases. Because of this, it is necessary that we take care in deciding who we permit to enter this country. We designed a thorough vetting process, but as President Obama rushed to reach his 10,000 refugee goal, we have been forced to expedite security processes, and possibly seriously endanger the American people [12]. Now he is calling to further quadruple the number of Syrian refugees that we are letting into the country. If we increase the number of Syrian refugees coming into America by this scale, we are surely setting ourselves up for disaster.

The previous vetting process involved biometric security measures from the U.N., as well as interagency security checks from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the State Department, not to mention an in-depth interview [13]. This advanced screening process took between 18 and 24 months. Earlier this year, the Obama administration reduced that process down to only a three-month process and is likely to only further shorten the timeline [14]. Before, there was little chance of a terrorist being able to sneak into the United States through the refugee resettlement program, but now, as the influx of refugees increases, the danger becomes increasingly real.

The vetting program did more than just ensure our safety; it also included cultural orientation classes that ensured that refugees were prepared to enter American society [15]. We only have to look to our European neighbors to recognize how important cultural integration is. Following the Paris attacks, Fox News accused France of having many majority Muslim “no-go zones” [16]. This reporting was almost entirely untrue, and after Paris sued Fox News for false reporting, the news agency finally admitted its “errors… regarding the Muslim population in Europe, particularly with regard to England and France” [17]. That being said, there was a tiny sliver of truth behind the reporting. These “no-go zones” were the opposite of what the name would suggest. Instead, they were largely migrant populations that — according to Professor Paul Silverstein, an American anthropologist who studied immigration to France — “received far too frequent interactions with the police, including frequent stop-and-frisk harassment” [18]. This results in overburdened populations with particularly bad police relations and severe cultural faults cutting them off from the rest of the population. It is easy to imagine that this environment of constant scrutiny could lead to increased terrorism. It would mean that inhabitants of such a community would likely feel less comfortable reaching out to police with worries of possible terrorist activities occurring in their neighborhoods.

How does this relate back to the current situation in the United States? If we simply rush to accept as many Syrian refugees as possible, we will be incapable of properly integrating them into American society. We could easily create the same types of disenfranchised, over-policed communities as in France. Ultimately, the question here is not one of whether or not we should accept Syrian refugees. Instead, it is a question of how many we can accept without sacrificing our safety and wellbeing, while considering the happiness and security of the refugees. Our current, ramped-up rate of refugee acceptance already has our agencies strained to the limit. However, a significant increase in the number of Syrian refugees that we accept is dangerous.
Seth Taylor-Brill

The crux of Mr. Taylor-Brill’s argument, which states that the United States is rushing to accept as many Syrian refugees as possible without a proper vetting process, is categorically false. The United States has accepted only half the number of refugees that Obama pledged to resettle in January 2016 because of the refugee resettlement program’s intense precautions. The Office of Refugee Resettlement is working hard to protect national security, creating efficient programs to vet all prospective refugees and accept only those who pose no threat to our national sovereignty.

Though Mr. Taylor-Brill makes an accurate point in his claim that the decision by 31 governors to refuse to accept Syrian refugees is racist and wrong, this statistic further disproves his initial allegation. With less than two-fifths of all states allowing for the resettlement of refugees, it is impossible to believe the U.S. is accepting too many refugees. In fact, America is doing the opposite. Following the lead of other countries such as Canada, which has created a program to help resettle refugees through the efforts of individual families, the United States could provide refuge for exponentially more refugees.

Mr. Taylor-Brill is also blatantly incorrect in his claim that migrant neighborhoods foster anti-American sentiment. America is a land built upon immigration and throughout history, migrant neighborhoods have acted as the backbone of our society. To suppose that foreigners are naturally inclined to distrust American culture and society is a form of perverted nationalism that cannot be tolerated. If America is to retain its title as the land of liberty, we must fight for the rights of immigrants.
Max Sickinger
























































































Image Source: “Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015.” by Mstyslav Chernov — Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons —,_Hungary,_Central_Europe,_4_September_2015.jpg
[3] Ibid.

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