Photo by Boston Public Library / Flickr
By Janelle Clausen
100 men and women aboard a ship called the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620. They were fleeing religious persecution. They either had to convert to the dominant religion or die.
They chose to cross an ocean when the fatality rate was about 30 percent, risking pirates, leaks, sickness, storms and so on for several months.
The refugees landed in winter. They were only saved because the Native Americans taught them how to survive. Because of this, there was a feast in the tribe’s honor, where both sides came together.
We now know this as Thanksgiving.
Today, we face a similar situation. 10,000 Syrians desperately await refugee status and resettlement in the United States (population: 318,900,000), escaping persecution for merely being alive. Refugee camps in neighboring countries are overwhelmed.
It seems universally accepted that the refugee screening process is arduous, taking 18 to 24 months. The process checks biometric data, fingerprints, every single available record, investigates families and so on.
This process involves the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, immigration services and basically every counter-terrorism organization in the United States.
“To me, the person has to be very desperate to go through so much,” one expert said. “They get to know everything about you… It’s very invasive.”
Of the nearly 2,000 Syrian refugees that have already come into the United States, not one has been connected to a terrorist plot. The Catholic Charities Diocese of Rockville Centre has accepted refugees for over 50 years and have had no problems.
Also, Europe’s situation is much different than ours. The borders were more open, intelligence isn’t properly shared and the Syrian Civil War is on their doorstep. They currently face waves of people. More reach their shores in a week than we plan to accept in a year.
These aren’t the refugees we would be seeing, given the length of the process.
The Syrians that will make it here aren’t troublemakers or terrorists either— they’re escaping those people. If a terrorist wanted to come in, there are far less arduous ways to do it. As one New York Times columnist pointed out, they could come under the guise of an international college student or tourists.
The first governor (of many Republicans) to refuse Syrian refugees even said he couldn’t name a specific issue with the vetting system. He just wanted a little more reassurance.
Yet we have a Congress willing to defund the resettlement of refugees and require four executive-level officials to sign off on every single refugee.
Refugee status is a coveted one. They’re different than migrants under federal and international law.
Migrants voluntarily leave, usually for economic reasons. Refugees have no choice. Migrants are recognized as humans and get no benefits. Refugees get the right to resettlement and protection, which they desperately need.
We shouldn’t be so fearful of our fellow man. Canada intends to accept 25,000 refugees by year’s end. France, despite facing the worst terrorist attack in its history, is continuing its plans to admit 30,000 refugees over two years. Germany is accepting hundreds of thousands.
What we should do is remember that accepting refugees is a very American tradition. It is the foundation of our nation.
Don’t just celebrate Thanksgiving, live it. And please, don’t let us be complacent to suffering as we were in 1938.
I don’t like agreeing with Governor Cuomo, but he said it best:
“We have to protect Americans and not lose our soul as America in the process… The day America says, ‘Close the gates, build the wall,’ then I say take down the Statue of Liberty because you’ve gone to a different place.”
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