The Syrian Refugee Crisis In American Terms

by Lauren Holter

Immediately after the series of terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, many Americans began calling for Syrian refugees to be banned from entering the country, and more than 30 governors said that they wouldn't allow refugees in their states. This response clearly derived from fear that ISIS terrorists would sneak into the U.S. disguised as refugees, but there was also a lack of compassion for the dire situation these refugees currently face, as they flee Syria's civil war, which been called the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. For those having trouble understanding the Syrian refugee crisis in American terms, a single Facebook post perfects explains it.

Thomas Keegan wrote: "Imagine that you live in Brooklyn. With your spouse and two kids. Suddenly, bombs are taking out city blocks all over New York, Boston, DC. Your neighbors are all dead, you have no money because working is not even in the equation." He then went on to describe a scenario in which you walk all the way to Canada, only to be told that you can't enter the country because Dylann Roof, the suspect in June's Charleston church shooting, is a white American Christian like you.

Keegan ended the post by saying: "I would rather die, with hope in my heart, in a country that opens its arms to those in need, than live, ashamed, in one which turns its back."

As Americans, it can be difficult to empathize with humanitarian crises across the globe, because our country hasn't endured the problems many are dealing with. Keegan's post helpfully paints a picture of what Syrian refugees are facing in a way Americans can relate to, pointing out that the U.S. is supposed to be a country with open arms. After all, most Americans were immigrants at some point.

Syrian refugees aren't just coming to America for a chance at the American dream — they're fleeing a war-torn country where more than 11 million people (half the country's population before the war) have been killed or displaced. The conflict has only escalated since it began in 2011, and now, air strikes targeting ISIS in Syria put civilians at risk as well.

The debate over taking in Syrian refugees has been compared to Americans' reluctance to shelter Jews fleeing the Nazi state in the 1930s. Politico writes: "Then as now, skepticism of religious and ethnic minorities and concerns that refugees might pose a threat to national security deeply influenced the debate over American immigration policy." Does America really want to refuse help to the victims of a tragedy comparable to the Holocaust? History is supposed to teach us lessons to improve how we handle situations and treat others; it's irresponsible to repeatedly make the same mistakes, especially when human lives are at risk.

The process for Syrian refugees to enter the U.S. is actually very lengthy, so it's not like they just show up unannounced, like in Keegan's hypothetical scenario. The New York Times outlined the 20 steps Syrians must go through before coming to America, which can take two years or longer:

  1. Registration with the United Nations.
  2. Interview with the United Nations.
  3. Refugee status granted by the United Nations.
  4. Referral for resettlement in the United States (only the most vulnerable are referred, which is less than 1 percent of refugees globally).
  5. Interview with State Department contractors.
  6. First background check.
  7. Higher-level background check for some.
  8. Another background check.
  9. First fingerprint screening; photo taken.
  10. Second fingerprint screening.
  11. Third fingerprint screening.
  12. Case reviewed at United States immigration headquarters.
  13. Some cases referred for additional review.
  14. Extensive, in-person interview with Homeland Security officer.
  15. Homeland Security approval is required.
  16. Screening for contagious diseases.
  17. Cultural orientation class.
  18. Matched with an American resettlement agency.
  19. Multi-agency security check before leaving for the United States.
  20. Final security check at an American airport.
Mark Runnacles/Getty Images News/Getty Images

It's vital that Americans understand how dire Syrian refugees' situation is, and how heavily they're screened before jumping on the anti-refugee bandwagon. It's easy to get tunnel vision when it comes to protecting American citizens, but the U.S. shouldn't refuse to shelter victims of a huge humanitarian crises.