As politicians stir up paranoia about refugees and immigrants, some groups are calling for sane and humane treatment of the world’s most vulnerable people.
In 1941, a Jewish businessman named Otto Frank tried to escape Nazi Germany with his family by applying for a U.S. visa. Like refugees today, he faced a tide of anti-foreigner fearmongering that had swept America.
A 1938 poll published in Fortune magazine asked Americans, “What is your attitude toward allowing German, Austrian and other political refugees to come into the United States?” Sixty-seven percent said, “We should try to keep them out.” In 1939, the U.S. turned away a ship filled with almost 1,000 Jewish refugees. The SS St. Louis was forced to sail back to Europe, where a quarter of its passengers were killed in Nazi death camps.
So it’s not surprising that the U.S. government denied Otto and his family a visa. Otto managed to survive the war, but his entire family died in concentration camps, including his 15-year-old daughter, Anne Frank.
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, another poll was conducted in the U.S. This time, Americans were asked what should be done with refugees fleeing Syria. Fifty-three percent said, “Do not accept any Syrian refugees,” and another 11 percent said we should “resettle only Christian refugees.” Several politicians from Ted Cruz to Rand Paul have echoed these sentiments.
On Thursday, November 19, the House of Representatives voted to toughen the screening process for Syrian and Iraqi refugees, which already takes up to two years. The Senate is expected to vote on the issue after Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, 30 American governors (29 Republican and one Democrat) have called for a halt to Syrian refugee resettlement in their states.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey took the paranoia up a notch, saying, “Given the horrifying events in Paris last week, I am calling for an immediate halt in the placement of any new refugees in Arizona.”
Let’s try to follow the logic of Ducey’s statement. Last week, terrorists – all of whom currently identified were born or grew up in France and Belgium – killed approximately 130 people in Paris. A Syrian passport was found at the scene but was later discovered to be a fake that belonged to a man killed months before. Some officials suspect it was planted at the site to throw blame on Syrian refugees. None of the terrorists currently identified were refugees. Therefore, Ducey wants to keep out not only Syrian refugees but also Central American children fleeing murderous gangs, and Congolese women escaping war and rape – because they all might be terrorists.
Nope, there’s no logic there to follow.
And many Arizonans agree. On Friday, November 20, Puente will march to protest family separation by deportation as well as Ducey’s anti-refugee remarks. The event will take place at 3 p.m. outside the Arizona State Capitol.
Earlier this week, Puente and other immigrant-rights supporters gathered specifically to protest Ducey’s stance on refugees. “Syrian refugees have withstood bombardment, violence and war in the past few years,” Puente’s Francisca Porchas told the Arizona Republic. “They have every right to escape those conditions that were imposed on them.”
The American Immigration Council has also launched a #CallThemOut campaign to counteract the demonization of immigrants and refugees. The social media movement asks people to help dispel myths about migrants by spreading facts where they see hate.
Politicians portray immigrants as criminals, when in reality immigrants commit crimes at a much lower rate than American citizens.
Politicians call refugees terrorist threats, yet not a single refugee in America has committed a terrorist act.
Politicians advocate walling off the U.S.-Mexico border to protect Americans from terrorists, yet Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Marsha Catron has stated, “DHS continues to have no credible intelligence to suggest terrorist organizations are actively plotting to cross the Southwest border.”
The reason is simple: No one but the most desperate and impoverished people brave the deadly desert to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. No one but the most desperate and impoverished people row a dinghy from Syria across the Aegean Sea and traverse multiple unfriendly Eastern European borders. ISIS is the world’s wealthiest terror organization. Al Qaeda also has hundreds of millions of dollars. These groups’ terrorists can afford to fly in planes and successfully obtain visas. There is no need for them to suffer through dangerous refugee routes.
Amidst all the knee-jerk paranoia, let’s try to be more rational than our elected officials.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, let’s remember to learn from our past mistakes. Would we now turn away 1,000 Jews trying to escape Nazi death camps? Would we now tell the Frank family they didn’t have reason to fear for their lives? Would we now imprison 120,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps?
What will we do now for refugees?