Nothing dominates the current headlines more today than the Syrian refugee crisis. And nothing dominates those conversations more than hatred, fear, and name calling. From both sides.
For weeks we have seen video on the news of refugees attempting to flee the Syrian civil war, the merciless attacks of ISIS, the bombings made by various UN countries who can’t decide if they are backing Syrian President Assad or the rebels fighting against him. Drowned children, screaming children, frightened children, distraught men and women. fear, crying, loss, and death, heartbreak.
Thousands and thousands of refugees fleeing into other countries, seeking asylum. Some countries taking them in, offering aid. Other countries turning their backs, offering justifications for denying aid. Then on Friday, November 13th, 2015, a few ISIS soldiers attacked multiple locations in Paris, france, killing 129 innocent people and wounding more than 350, almost 100 critically. And as the details of the attackers unfolds, we have learned that at least was a French National and at least one was processed as a recent Syrian refugee.
Now, in addition to the numerous people ignoring the refugee crisis because “it isn’t our problem” or “we need to take care of our own” or “we don’t room” or “we don’t have money”, we now have those who point out the one known ISIS soldier hiding among the thousands of valid refugees. Suddenly, the thousands of refugees who were too much trouble to bother with have all become potential ISIS soldiers. Yesterday I saw a Facebook post that said “I have a bowl of 10,000 M&Ms and 10 of them are poisoned. Any bleeding heart liberals willing to grab a handful?”
The sentiment of fear is valid, but the message is a good example of the tone of the discourse. It connotes that only a “bleeding heart liberal” thinks the refugees deserve help. It implies that a few bad apples require the whole bushel to be dumped. What happened to the days we would consider sorting through the apples to find and dump the rotten ones in order to save the good ones? Do people deserve less attention than apples? This issue is not so simple as to be wrapped up, neat and tidy, and summarized in a short Internet meme.
The United States, along with Jordan, Russia, and France, have been bombing ISIS / ISIL positions in Syria for more than a year. The United States has been supporting the rebel Syrians since 2011, first with non-lethal aid, then beginning in 2013 with training and weapons. We must, as a nation, be willing to take responsibility for our actions. The Syrian civilians were important enough for us to get involved with helping them fight against their leader, but not important enough to help once we have helped reduce parts of their country to rubble and destroyed their homes? No! The United States has a moral and ethical responsibility to follow up on the consequences of our actions.
Okay, so we have to help. Now what? Well, here is where things become much more complicated. Bringing refugess to a new land where they do not know the language or the culture doesn’t seem like a reasonable solution. Leaving them to fend for themselves in a war torn, ravaged homeland isn’t a reasonable solution either. If we bring them here, we incur the costs of vetting them (remember the poisoned M&Ms), “room and board” while being vetted, travel expenses to their new homes, and obviously support for at least a year, and probably longer, while their learn the language and customs and find viable employment. If we brought 65,000 refugess here (a number the media has reported often) and welfare runs on average $30,000 per year for an average family of 3, we are looking at costs exceeding $650 million per year for support plus costs to get them here. I would say the costs could exceed $1 billion per year when other social costs are added in (medical, schools, etc).
This additional social cost is presented at a time when our current Republican Congress has repeatedly voted down programs to support our own military veterans, many of whom are causualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. People, and rightly so, ask why we would be supporting refugees when we don’t support our own veterans. One good point is that the military veterans volunteered to go to war while the refugees did not. Another point is that many among the refugees are children. Do we not value the welfare of children in this country? The answer to that is “no” and can be found in the rhetoric of the Right whenthey discuss the need to cut or kill the social programs in this country. They don’t worry about the impact on the children, the sick, or the elderly. Anyone on a social program is lazy, irresponsible, a leech, or the product of a leech who will become a future leech.
So, how do we address this abyss of compassion? How do we address this failure to be responsible? How do we reorient our moral compass? How do we balance our ethical obligations with our citizens safety? We face a fight of epic proportions in this country from a frightened citizenship who see ISIS in every dark-skinned person. We are already hearing the screams of hatred and dissent against refugees.