Thoughts on Syrian Refugees

Note: I wrote this in November 2015 right after the Paris terrorist attack, when letting in refugees first became a controversial topic.  I’m sharing it here, because a lot of this is pertinent to Trump’s decision to ban refugees from Muslim countries today.

It’s understandable that after any type of tragedy such as the Paris terrorist attack, people in power would want to seek a solution to keep it from happening again, particularly here in the United States. Barring Syrian refugees who have been hurt many times more by ISIS than anyone here ever will be is not a solution. For all the fear out there about vetting refugees, the process is very stringent. Per CNN, “Several federal agencies, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are involved in the process.”  A typical case of a Syrian refugee coming into the country takes about two years to go through. Taking our due diligence is not an issue (more about the process from Department of State here). This is a simple way the US can help those fleeing ISIS that doesn’t involve millions of dollars in weapons, thousands of lives, or even more years of camping out in the Middle East. Even before getting into the humanitarian and moral aspects of the issue, accepting refugees is simply pragmatic.
Diving even further in, denying refugees shelter from this turmoil actually hurts our prospects in the fight against ISIS. This Washington Post article is worth reading in whole, but essentially, it effectively demonstrates that when refugees are marginalized here, then the option becomes either western states where, if they are allowed, they can expect widespread discrimination, or the Islamic State. When we accept refugees, we are helping to undercut ISIS’ legitimacy in the region, which ultimately hurts them in the long-term.
While I understand there are legitimate points that can be made on the other side (and if anyone wants to make those arguments, I’d love to hear them), I am still very disappointed in our political leaders for not only taking the position of barring refugees, but how they’ve gone about it. First, the governors across the country who have released statements en masse claiming to be barring Syrian refugees have no political authority to do so. Not only are they on what I believe to be the wrong side of this issue, but they are claiming to be doing something about it that they lack the authority to do.
Furthermore, I am particularly appalled by those such as Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz who believe the solution is to only accept refugees who are Christians. Do people who do not hold the same religious convictions as us not deserve an opportunity to flee the civil war torn hell they live in right now? As a citizen of a government set up to represent all people of every or no faith, I believe that we have no business picking our favorites for escaping Syria. As a Christian, I believe that Muslims are not a special class exempt from being recipients of Christ’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves. Those two things together lead me to oppose any type of religious test for accepting refugees. In addition, though less important, if one believes someone will lie about being a Syrian refugee to enter the country, then there’s no reason to believe that someone won’t lie about being a Christian Syrian refugee.
Finally, I hate to tangle such an important policy issue that I hope supporters of all parties and candidates can unite around with presidential politics. At the same time, there is an element of Ted Cruz’s belief that only Syrian Christians should be accepted that particularly angers me and that I believe Christians should be more aware of. Last year, Cruz spoke at a conference of Arab Christians in Washington D.C. He used it as an opportunity to spout pro-Israel talking points to an audience that was, very understandably, divided on the subject. He was then booed for his remarks and got to walk away and scream anti-Semitism to look good to pro-Israel hawks. As Rod Dreher put it, “Ted Cruz came to this event apparently seeking to score points with a domestic US political constituencies at the expense of the desperate need for international Christian solidarity in the face of horrendous persecution by ISIS and other radical Islamic groups”.
It was a minor media story, but it should be a major issue to Christians participating in the 2016 election (and I’ll include links to articles about it at the end to anyone interested in reading up on this and some of the complexities involved in the relationship between Israeli and Arab believers). Now, Cruz is suddenly interested in helping Syrian Christians targeted by ISIS, even to the exclusion of everyone else. To put it bluntly, Ted Cruz does not give a single care about the plight of our Arab brothers and sisters in Christ. If belittling their status serves his political interests, then he is fine with that. If being on their side helps, then he is fine with that. This is political flip-flopping of the sickest, most despicable variety. It is my hope that Christians who care about the persecution of our peers, regardless of where they stand on accepting Syrian refugees, would stay away from this con artist and help to deflate the candidacy of a man who views the persecuted as little more than foils for personal gain.
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