Rejecting Syrian Refugees Isn't Just Wrong, It's Cowardly

Fear might lead U.S. states to try and close their borders to Syrian refugees, but is that really a productive move?

In the aftermath of the horrific attacks in Paris that killed more than 120 people, it doesn’t take much to see that fear is America's predominant response. More than half of U.S. states have said that they will not accept Syrian refugees. Several governors say they are afraid to take these refugees due to the fact that one of the Paris attackers had a Syrian passport.

Many public officials are also calling for increased screening and scrutiny of refugees, asking for a “religious test” of potential immigrants before letting them into the country. President Barack Obama gave his opposition to these demands, calling them “shameful” and putting out a public plea for compassion.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling fear after learning of the traumatic happenings in Paris, but what we choose to do in response to that fear can become a problem. Shutting down state borders is a controversial action that seems to depend on the idea that making exclusionary policies can keep people safe.

In reality, there are already regulations and review procedures for the Syrian refugees trying to enter the U.S. Like all political refugees, they must go through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which decides who counts as a refugee in the first place. Following that determination is an interview process, a medical evaluation, and a screening process to try and ascertain whether the person immigrating could prove a potential threat to the U.S.

The question becomes how far are we willing to restrict access to the U.S. for all the families and individuals who are simply trying to escape deplorable conditions and build a better life? Are we restricting our borders because we actually think it can reduce terrorism, or out of fear of “the other” and of exploring alternative responses?

The truth is that we live in a global world and there may be no action we can take to completely guarantee the safety of some and not others. And is that the moral ground we really want to stand on in the first place? To address our fear response in a healthy way calls for cross-country collaboration and putting forth proactive ideas, not for trying to barricade ourselves in the castle and pulling up the drawbridge.

Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images


Stefani is a writer and urban planner based in Oakland, CA. She holds a master’s in City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley and a bachelor’s in Human Biology from Stanford University. In her free time, she is often found reading diverse literature, writing stories, or enjoying the outdoors. Follow her on Twitter: @stefanicox

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