This week, as we prepare for a holiday about giving thanks and as we travel to spend time with our family and friends, let’s think about those who cannot go home—the estimated nine million refugees who have been forced to leave Syria and Iraq. These individuals are victims of a growing conflict that has turned their home into a war zone.
But some would have us believe that instead of doing the humanitarian thing, instead of helping those who need our assistance most, we should keep Syrians and Iraqis out of the United States. Last week, Governor Bruce Rauner said that “the state of Illinois will temporarily suspend accepting new Syrian refugees and consider all of our legal options pending a full review of our country’s acceptance and security processes by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” Not only do governors have no right to turn away refugees, this statement is also exceedingly misleading.
Our screening policies for refugees are already far stricter than Europe’s, and the policy changes that are being proposed on Capitol Hill (namely in the form of H.R. 4038) will simply make the process even more difficult for the victims of the tragedies unfolding in the Middle East.
And while I am not an expert on the Middle East or foreign policy, I am an American and a descendant of political refugees. Many members of my mother’s family fled Haiti in the 1960s in order to escape Duvalier’s dictatorial regime. I often wonder what would have happened if my family hadn’t been able to escape to the US. Would I be alive? What about my aunt and cousins? As I watch the growing tide of anti-refugee sentiment in America, my heart breaks. I have been proud to call this country my home; I have been proud of its ideals of freedom and liberty and justice. But now, to watch the US turn its back on those most in need, it seems like our nation is losing its way.
Rejecting refugees won’t stop terrorism. It’s extremely unlikely that terrorists would undertake the two to three year resettlement process over simpler ways of entering the country. In fact, forcing people to stay in Iraq and Syria will likely propagate terrorism further. ISIS wants the world to reject Muslims, to force the hand of innocent people trapped in this so-called caliphate with no way out. Families with no other means to survive will have no choice but to turn to ISIS. This is what happens when a family’s opportunity to flee from an oppressive and savage regime is taken away, when they are told that they don’t have the right to refuge in the United States, the supposed leader of the free world.
As H.R. 4038 moves to the Senate, take a moment and give thanks that you live in the US, where you aren’t living in constant fear of having your family torn apart by war. Everyone should have the right to live free of terror, and your voice is vital to further this cause. Now that this bill has passed the House, it is up to Illinois' Senators Kirk and Durbin to do the right thing and vote against this bill, and any subsequent efforts to limit refugee resettlement. The United States of America will and must continue to be a beacon of hope as we work to build a more peaceful world free of violent extremism. Welcoming refugees with open arms is the first step.
Gabrielle Wimer is a fourth-year in the College majoring in History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine