NGUYEN: Refugees Are People, Not Pawns
But I Digress

Approximately 10.6 million Syrian refugees — nearly half of the country’s population — are fleeing the atrocities of a war-torn state. In response, the Obama administration has announced it would like to grant at least 10,000 Syrian refugees asylum over the next year.

At the same time, potential presidential candidates in the United States are entertaining immigration reform policies that would displace an additional 11 million people from their haven here in the States.

The combination of these recent events has reminded me why I am increasingly frustrated by politics. Our contribution to resolving the refugee crisis in Syria and immigrant situation in the United States has been, to put it mildly, subpar.

Current reform proposals show how nearsighted our culture can be. What would deportation do to the 11 million undocumented immigrants at risk? It would leave them in a similar situation as the 20 million refugees worldwide: deprived of a stable place to live and constantly in danger.

The idea that undocumented immigrants are liabilities to our country is toxic and hinders our willingness to take in future refugees and migrants. Our immigrants are an assets, both economically and culturally. Many are laborers who do the work that others are not willing to do, and even more become officeholders, teachers, doctors and hardworking professionals who are highly beneficial to our society. They did not “take your job.” They earned everything they fought for.

Sure, there may be immigrants who take advantage of the system and are actually damaging to society, but you don’t kill an entire family of chickens because one laid a bad egg. If we can realize the value of foreigners, treat them as human beings rather than a burden and empower them with the resources they so direly need, we can foster a global standard on how to properly help migrants and refugees.

The administration’s declaration that the United States will admit 10,000 Syrian refugees is not the proper way to alleviate the crisis though. It sems to be a token policy implemented by the pressure of Germany and other European countries that have taken the lead on this matter. As we’ve seen with immigrants already residing in our country, the refugees will come into a hostile, unwelcoming environment that is hesitant to integrate them into society.

Until our society can comprehend that these people are people, that they were once respected and successful members of their own societies, that among them are children deserving of the same nurturing and opportunities that American children receive, we are not capable of supporting refugees and will only extend their struggle.

What we can do is to use our resources, both physical and economic, to move them from tent camps into accepting countries that are culturally able of admitting them. Our most significant contribution will not be how many refugees we bring into our country, but how much we financially support countries that exhaust their economies on properly taking care of the refugees. Taking in 10,000 refugees just to say we did our part is not enough. Americans must not view refugees as a political tool but rather as kin more than worthy of our genuine assistance.

If we cannot embrace the immigrants within our borders, how can we expect to be of any substantial help to the refugees overseas? Until we can fathom how to appropriately treat people coming from other parts of the world, we will only throw refugees into the same situation that undocumented immigrants in the United States face.


Lam Nguyen in a sophomore in the College. But I Digress appears every other Friday.

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