This wasn’t the post I’d planned to put up today. But yesterday I was flabbergasted to see that our governor had refused to accept Syrian refugees into our state. Then I saw that twenty other state governors agreed with him–and so do a lot of people on Facebook.
I disagree. Strongly. Y’all, these are scary times. The events in Paris last weekend reminded us of how vulnerable we are. The threat is real. There are real concerns, and I’m not judging anyone or calling their faith into question. But fear shouldn’t keep us from compassion. I want to address some of the questions I’ve been hearing. I apologize for this being so link heavy–I wanted to be sure I provided sources for my information:
Q: Refugees? Don’t you mean terrorists?
No. Refugees. After five years of civil war, Syria is coming apart at the seams. Refugees are fleeing the violence. They are fleeing a regime that abducts and rapes children. They are fleeing a regime that wants to exterminate Christian minorities. They are fleeing a place where women are held captive and the opposition is beheaded. Refugees are not terrorists; they are victims.
Q: Why are so many of the refugees men?
There seems to be a misconception on social media that most of the refugees are men. Some are throwing around a 70 percent statistic. Others base it on the pictures they see–some of which aren’t even of Syrian refugees. UN data shows that less than 25 percent of the refugees are men over the age of seventeen. Half are women. Almost 4o percent are under the age of twelve. Now yes, more of those coming across the Mediterranean are men–possibly because it’s a very dangerous and risky journey. Over 3,000 people have died trying to make that journey this year. Seventy-seven of them were children. But even though most of the latest wave of refugees have been men, women and children still out number them in the big picture.
Q: What if ISIS sends terrorists to hide among the refugees?
We know now that one of the Paris bombers came through Greece in a wave of refugees on an emergency passport. However, we should note that most of the Paris terrorists were citizens of France or Belgium. Also, what we are looking at in the United States is a much different prospect than what they are dealing with in Europe. Europe is trying to cope with a wave of people who are already there. We are talking about admitting people in who have already been through a rigorous screening process–one of the most rigorous immigration paths our nation has. If ISIS wants to get people across our borders, there are easier ways. One of the 9/11 hijackers was on a student visa. The rest were on tourist or business visas–none of which are screened as thoroughly as refugees. I’m more concerned about homegrown extremists than refugees.
Q: But can we really screen these people?
The unrest makes it challenging. But challenging doesn’t mean impossible. Again, being admitted to the U.S. as a refugee comes at the end of an arduous process. First, refugees have to be designated as such by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Refugees can only apply for asylum in the U.S. after the UNHCR deems them eligible–and only about one percent of all refugees are deemed eligible for resettlement. Applicants are then screened in a process that involves the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, and the FBI. Applicants also undergo interviews, medical screenings, and background checks using biographical and biometric data. The process takes between twelve and eighteen months on average, but for Syrian refugees it can take much longer. Some estimates say up to three years. Once being approved, there is a cultural orientation process. Finally, refugee resettlement centers help refugees find housing, jobs, learn English, and get their children in school. Again, refugees are screened more thoroughly than any other group attempting to enter the United States.
Q: What about homeless veterans? Or homeless children? Don’t we need to take care of our own first?
Compassion doesn’t force us to choose among needs. Yes, we need to be taking care of our veterans. Yes, we need to care for our own citizens who are hungry and homeless. But we can say yes to those things and say yes to refugees. They aren’t mutually exclusive.
Q: Does the Bible say anything about all this?
“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 20:21)
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'” (Matthew 25:40).
“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.“Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matthew 2:13-15).
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).
I don’t believe that we have to choose between security and compassion. We can and should screen all those coming into our country, but lets find a way to keep the door open instead of slamming it shut. Fear shouldn’t keep us from compassion. I wrote our governor yesterday. If you feel the same way, please let your elected officials know.
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