USA TODAY US Edition
America should do its part, accept more Syrian refugees
The sheer size of the Syrian refugee crisis is staggering. Roughly 11 million people, almost half the nation’s population, have fled their homes. About 4 million have left their country. And 250,000 have died in Syria’s civil war since 2011.
This qualifies as a crisis on the order of the Ethiopian famine of 1984, which led to a worldwide humanitarian response (as well as the pop anthem We are the
World). By some accounts, it is the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Yet in contrast to the Ethiopian famine, the fall of Saigon or even routine outbreaks of violence in Central America, the United States has done relatively little in response. So far, it has taken just 1,500 Syrian refugees.
America has a strategic interest, not to mention a moral purpose, in significantly raising those numbers. U.S. interests in a volatile region would be undermined if the crisis destabilized nations such as Turkey (1.9 million Syrian refugees), Lebanon (1.1 million) and Jordan (630,000).
A U.S. increase to 70,000 would be a reasonable start. It would only be a small fraction of those fleeing. But in concert with other nations, it would make a dent. The European Union is urging its members to take 160,000.
The United States currently accepts 70,000 refugees a year from the entire world. Doubling that number for a discrete period would not significantly change the USA’s overall immigration policies, which lead to more than 1 million people per year being granted residency status. In the long run, it would likely help the economy, as those fleeing Syria are relatively well-educated.
In theory, President Obama could increase the number of Syrian refugees by as much as he saw fit. But because additional funding would be needed to process, screen and place the increased numbers of refugees, Congress would have to agree. That’s the hard part. While Obama’s proposal last week to admit an additional 10,000 might seem paltry, even that number will generate considerable opposition.
Congress killed bipartisan immigration reform plans in both the Bush and Obama administrations. What’s more, many lawmakers believe that refugees from Syria — which is partly controlled by the murderous thugs who call themselves the Islamic State — are more apt to be terrorists than those from elsewhere.
In reality, all refugees undergo extensive background checks before being allowed to settle in the U.S. That process, which can take as long as two years, ought to be expedited to some degree. But it still is an effective way to root out potential threats.
The U.S. has taken refugees and lawful immigrants from other countries — Iraq, Pakistan and Nigeria, to name a few — where radical Muslim groups are present. Nearly all have been model members of their communities, happy to be in a place where they can live and work in peace.
The best way to stem the flow of refugees would be to end to the war in Syria. But with that unlikely to happen anytime soon, the next best approach is to manage the crisis as well as possible. And that entails the United States doing its part to take in a reasonable share of desperate people.