Goodbye "Melting Pot": Understanding Refugee Policy and Why We Don't Need a Ban

The refugee crisis has been going on for years, and still many countries debate over how to respond. Some European countries, like Germany, have opened their borders, while others have remained closed and policed. Canada began a resettlement program, but Trump's United States just recently banned immigrants from most of those war-torn countries indefinitely. Though Trump rationalizes his ban with terrorist threats, it seems that one of the main problems we face as Americans is that we don't understand the United States' current procedure for letting in refugees and/or immigrants. Trump appealed to our fear of terrorism, making some of us feel that this ban is a logical step in stemming terrorist threats. At a time when there are more refugees world-wide than there have been since World War II, it's vital to understand how our government deals with incoming refugees and immigrants. I would like to believe that the vast majority of humans are naturally good and therefore aren't indifferent to the hellish acts that are causing so many people to flee their homes. Perhaps knowing more about the U.S.'s policies on refugees and immigrants will allow us to look not at political differences, but to our common human kindness.

American Policy

Lots of people fear terrorist attacks, a fear that, in my view, is rational. Anyone could be the victim of these, even though they are statistically highly improbable. It's important to look at facts before passing judgement on our policies. The Cato Institute was curious about the likelihood of dying in a terrorist attack, and published a study showing the likelihood of being killed by foreign-born terrorists. The highest chance anyone has of being killed by a foreign-born terrorist is 1 in 3.8 million. The study also looked into the likelihood of being killed by a refugee, the chances of which are 1 in 3.6 billion. This article combines the statistics from Cato Institute's study along with causes of death more likely than refugees, including swing sets, vending machines, hot tap water, and our very own beds. Though it's rational to fear terrorists, it's important to consider the reality of the "threat" refugees pose to Americans.

In addition to these statistics, it's helpful to look at policies in place before the most recent change. During this election cycle, we were encouraged to believe that refugees weren't being correctly processed by our government and anyone could just come in. One of the few Syrian refugees who was admitted into the U.S. wrote about her process of being granted asylum, a truly emotional piece to read. This woman, who writes under the name Linda J. to protect her family still in Syria, fled the country in 2014. She and her husband made the decision to escape after their 7-day-old son died while being treated for jaundice. After spending a year in Lebanon, the United Nations contacted them about being resettled; they qualified for refugee status because of their large family (they have five daughters) and her husband's potential as a healthy worker. Though considered eligible, the family had to undergo a vigorous application process. Part of this process included multiple in-person interviews were held with each member of the family; those interviews were cross-checked with what people who knew them said about them. After over a year of that process, Linda and her family were finally re-located to Baltimore.

When I read this woman's story, my heart ached for her. It disappointed me that it took over a year for this vetting process to be completed. But then I was angry. Angry that this clearly rigorous vetting process can be seen as not enough. We've experienced acts of home-grown terrorism, during which there has been no call to vet against people or even any action to make reasonable restrictions on weapons that enable those actions. Here we see hundreds of thousands and more fleeing their countries because their chances of survival are better on the run than in their very own homes. There might have been a time when I would've encouraged a lighter or faster vetting process for refugees. (Today, though, perhaps it's in our best interest to allow in as many refugees as we think we can reasonably sustain). We should show the decent kindness we would hope others would show to us.

In addition to the facts of this refugee crisis, it helps to remember the human side of this issue. Alicia Keys' song and music video Allelulia/Let Me In puts Americans in the place of refugees.

Now What?

It's hard to feel like you can make a difference when your government's policies are acting against what you believe is right. Not knowing any organizations or people that can help can make us feel even more ineffectual. The International Rescue Committee is a great place to make a difference. From the beginning, this organization has been dedicated to assisting refugees in any way they can. For those outside the organization, it seems like you can only help through donating money, but the IRC is so much more. Donating is, of course, important, but you can volunteer, become a GenR, and so much more. In fact, refugees that have already been resettled in the U.S. are at risk because of Trump's new policy, something that you can make a stand against on this IRC page. These things may not be as large a difference as you hope to make, but doing something is better than doing nothing.