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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Life, Liberty and an open shore

Two hundred fifty thousand people.

It’s the population of a small U.S. city like Orlando, Florida or Chandler, Arizona. It is also the estimated death toll in Syria over the violence of the past four and a half years. This chalks up to about 170 deaths per day. In Syria, every day is a Paris attack.

In light of the attack, many Americans have become terrified and are championing closing off the U.S. borders from Syrian refugees. They believe that letting in refugees could let terrorists into the county as well, but closing our borders and letting thousands of innocent people die is not the solution.

After the attack, at least 26 governors announced that they will not accept Syrian refugees into their states. While the chances that the governors will actually be able to keep out refugees against the will of the national government is slim, it set a precedent for further legal action.

The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would limit the number of Syrian refugees that are allowed into the U.S. by tightening security measures and drastically increasing the number of hoops that refugees would have to jump through. Such an intense process would effectively prevent refugees from being accepted into the U.S. and could even cause problems for people traveling from certain Middle Eastern countries.

Many of these fears are rooted in misconceptions people have over the refugee situation, such as the belief that the Paris attackers snuck into France with the refugees. This is far from the truth, since all of the attackers named so far have been identified as European nationals. The refugees had nothing to do with it. There was confusion earlier about a refugee passport found near the body of an attacker, but it was found to be a counterfeit, possibly placed there by the terrorists to further stimulate anti-refugee sentiments.

Those who believe that the U.S. has accepted or plans to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees have their facts wrong. We have only accepted about 2,200 Syrian refugees, while Turkey and Lebanon, far smaller countries, have each accepted over 1 million to date. Even France, the one country which would be expected to have anti-refugee sentiments, has announced that they will accept 30,000 refugees, up from their earlier quota of 24,000, over the next two years.

President Barack Obama’s program to accept 10,000 additional refugees in the next year has been met with incredible resistance. The opposition claims this is a serious threat to national security, but is this really the case?

“The idea that somehow [refugees] pose a more significant threat than all the tourists who pour into the U.S. every single day just doesn’t jive with reality,” Obama stated in a speech Thursday.

In fact, the process for screening refugees is far more rigorous than anything a tourist, or anyone else wanting to enter the U.S., would have to go through.

They have to undergo a lengthy review process which begins with background checks and screenings by the U.N., accepting the most vulnerable people as refugees. Then, those who are referred to the U.S. have to pass through security screenings with several government agencies and extensive interviews with homeland security.

This entire process can take up to two years, and sometimes longer. Ultimately, a little over half of the Syrian refugees referred to the U.S. were actually accepted and resettled here. Only the most severely vulnerable are accepted, so the majority of refugees in the U.S. are children, women or the elderly. Only 2 percent are single men of combat age.

It’s not the first time we have accepted refugees. Since 9/11, over 750,000 refugees from different areas of the world have been resettled in the U.S. They are fleeing dangerous, war-torn conditions and are less likely than the average citizen to commit any serious crimes.

The president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Lavinia Limón, who has been working with refugees since 1975, said, “I think I can count on one hand the number of crimes of any significance that I’ve heard have been committed by refugees. It just hasn’t been an issue.”

Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty for the past 129 years have been the words that have shaped our population into what it is today.

“Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

It has encouraged those suffering from persecution to come seek solace in America.

“The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

We will accept them and give them a home. They can build a life in this country.

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Of the U.S. population, 13 percent is foreign-born and the majority of us are descended from immigrants. Turning away Syrian refugees fleeing death because of their country of origin is a violation of America’s ideals.

Follow Apoorva Bhaskara on Twitter.

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