There is an infectious concept throughout the American political process. It has always been there but in moments where our mettle is tested, so often this disease rises to prominence again. Whatever the case, following the indefensible terrorist attacks in Paris, a certain Coalition of Dickhead Republican Governors is determined to keep xenophobia going by telling actual lies about the entire situation. These are being perpetuated and reinforced by pundits around the media. Individual examples are being held up as universal standards. The message is direct—refugees are a danger to our society and are not welcome.
The ridiculousness of this position cannot be understated. One consideration is the face that those assailants identified in the attacks had forged Syrian passports and all appear to be citizens of European Union countries. Also, the fact that the executive branch has only authorized resettlement for 10,000 Syrian refugees, a ludicrously small amount of people. To compare, this is 8,200 less than the maximum capacity of Madison Square Garden. There are 13,000 more Pentagon employees than there are proposed Syrian refugees. Whatever security programs we’re running, they should be capable of maintaining rough information on 10,000 people. However, there is another far more important consideration here, one that is being completely ignored: American Tradition.
When I was in elementary school, I was imbued with all the patriotism that comes with public schooling. However, they didn’t teach us much about irony. In 2000, I learned about American immigration, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty. I learned about the international beacon of hope that was the United States. I had to memorize “The New Colossus”, those beautiful words of Emma Lazarus—“Give me your tired, your poor/ your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/the wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” Unfortunately for me, and my entire generation, the 9/11 attacks happened right after and the tapestry of lies interwoven from xenophobia and racism came promptly unraveled.
We don’t hesitate to go overseas, into other countries to pull land and resources to meet consumerist needs (for private interests) or add armaments to warring factions (from governments). Everyday citizens decry the drug cartels and turn a blind eye to the American prohibition which keeps them so powerful. Politicians insist that we must bring about peace through war despite evidence to the contrary. But we become terrified at the possibility of people—even peaceful, well-vetted people escaping violence—having an opportunity to share in what our country has created.
Our hatred of immigration is completely absurd. Most Americans can’t trace their lineage nearly as far back as they think they can—immigration was huge at the turn of the century, which means a great many our families have only been in America for 100 years or less (this is especially true for white people). Immigration is the backbone of our economy—each significant change in our economic structure was brought about by immigration (except the crop foundations, which were built upon kidnapping and enslavement of African people). The Industrial Revolution was reliant on a steady underclass of immigrants to feed into its machines and factories, illustrated in Sinclair’s classic The Jungle. Our nation was, and still is, built by the continued innovation, hard work, and insight of immigrants and their children. A short list of wildly successful refugees resettled in America:
-Albert Einstein- physicist who transformed mankind’s understanding of the universe; fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany. He continued to write papers, teach, and provide an unimaginably vast contribution to science.
-Madeleine Korbel Albright- you probably know her better as the former Secretary of State and her role as a seminal figure in U.S. international relations.
-Marlene Dietrich- a German refugee who is very well known for her role as an American actress in the black and white Hollywood heyday on the 1930s. During WW2, she set up a fund to help persecuted people escape from Nazi occupied areas. She also performed worldwide in USO shows to support the American military.
-Yuri Gevorgian- an Armenian forced to flee due to increasing political conflict and disappearances. Once in the United States, he became a successful artist. He donates much of the proceeds from his work to humanitarian charities.
-Chinua Achebe- author who is considered to be the father of the African novel. He played an important role in the Biafran War, which fought for separation from colonial boundary divisions. Once in the United States, he taught at Bard College and continued to write influential novels.
Refugees are not dangerous, sneaking terrorists. They are not infiltrating to take over our society. Most of these people, the lucky 10,000 who actually stand a chance of making it into the U.S., know more about living with daily violence than most Americans. They’ve been living in the middle of a war that was nothing more than a CNN crawl for years before it became newsworthy to westerners. These people have sacrificed and suffered to escape violence. It’s reasonable to assume that most of them wouldn’t want to bring that practice along with them Perhaps that’s exactly the kind of influence our country needs right now.
The Americans who would have you feel this way harken back to an age of shame for the United States. Many of these senators, representatives, and pundits are the children of veterans of World War 2, survivors of an era of paranoia following an attack on American soil. But 2 years before the war fell on their doorstep, these Americans sent a boat full of Jewish refugees back into the lion’s den of occupied Europe. We, quite literally, sent Jews write back into the Holocaust they fled.
How will our generation be remembered if we don’t open our arms and our borders to these most poor, most tired, who burn with the greatest ferocity to be free? Who are we if we refuse the tempest-tost? Stop this tired xenophobia. Be generous with the bounty of safety we are afforded. Lift your lamp beside the golden door.