The Refugee Crisis: Tales of Misplaced Fear

At the 11 p.m. Mass in Dahlgren Chapel last week, one of the intentions was for “those who are hungry, homeless, feel unloved or feel like they have no one to love; may they see the face of Christ in our own faces.”

In the wake of the terror in Paris and around the world, we seem to have forgotten this intention as tensions around border control and refugee resettlement have escalated.

More than two dozen U.S. governors have proposed to block resettlement in their states, while Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has suggested instituting religious testing to admit only Christian refugees. Republicans on the Hill led the push to pass legislation in the House of Representatives to block President Barack Obama’s proposal to increase admittance of Syrian refugees to 10,000 next year, less than 1 percent of the 4 million people who have already fled the country. The American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, House Resolution 4038, is now before the Senate, and proposes to create insurmountable procedural obstacles for these refugees seeking asylum in the United States from Syria and Iraq, neglecting to acknowledge the serpentine path asylum-seekers must already follow.

Under current U.S. policy, refugees already undergo levels of scrutiny higher than any other individuals entering the country. The vetting process, which includes FBI, Department of Defense, and National Counterterrorism Center background checks, in its entirety often takes as long as two years, and therefore serves as the least convenient, least likely route for potential terrorists to take.

In fact, of the 745,000 refugees admitted in the United States since the 9/11 attacks, only two Iraqis in Kentucky have been arrested in connection with terrorist plots. Americans have more to fear among their fellow citizens: According to Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and David Schanzer of Duke University, right-wing extremists, including white nationalists, have killed more innocent Americans than any jihadists identified in the United States.

What each of these ludicrous responses lack is what should inherently follow in times of crisis: compassion. Governors and lawmakers seeking to block resettlement in their states have no legal authority to do so, but these politicians may succeed in engendering fear — a deeply ignorant, xenophobic and heartless fear — in the hearts of the American people.

As most of us do in crisis situations, these people fear the unknown. Rightfully, they fear the extremism that has taken countless lives in acts of senseless, unimaginable violence. They fear for their families and their friends, and they fear the intrusion of the evils of terrorism upon their own comfortable lives. There is nothing at all wrong in yearning to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the danger and the destruction that has already touched many corners of the world. It is our most basic human instinct: to protect the ones we love.

This fear, however, has been wrongly misplaced in the thousands of Syrian refugees who, just like us, so passionately yearn to protect their own lives and the lives of their children from the violence and extremism they have experienced in their own home country. So passionately do they yearn for this protection, for safety, for some sense of hope and home, that they crowd smuggler-run boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea and enter Europe, often losing loved ones tossed overboard or succumbing to hypothermia and other afflictions. As the winter months encroach, the refugee crisis will become dire, as those without status, safety and shelter will be left to brace the elements.

By confusing refugees with terrorists, we risk finding ourselves seriously misguided, both morally and strategically. Refugees do not deserve our fear, stigmatization and rejection; rather, more than anything, Syrians and the many other refugees seeking asylum from war and terror deserve compassion. These people constitute the most vulnerable in the Syrian war, such as single mothers and their children, young orphans, victims of violence and torture and religious minorities.
Above all, refugees are human beings; they are us.

They are the faces of our loved ones, the embodiment of the hunger for hope and refuge that is the very essence of our nation. They are, quite literally, the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, as inscribed upon Lady Liberty’s pedestal.

We must implore our lawmakers to adhere to her claims, to remember the very soul of our country as a haven of freedom, and to reject the misguided bill that does little more than stigmatize and politicize the tragic plight of refugees.


Meredith Forsyth is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service

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