Religious leaders in the United States are in agreement that the country should not halt its Syrian refugee admissions program after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and interfaith leaders have remained steadfast in their support for those fleeing persecution and violence, and have become increasingly vocal in the past week as lawmakers debate halting the program.
These religious leaders are entirely correct in supporting refugees. The United States must continue resettling Syrians. Not only is it the just and compassionate way to respond to this humanitarian crisis, but scapegoating refugees does nothing to make the country safer.
Following the Paris attacks, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement calling for Syrian refugee resettlement. Bishop Eusebio Elizonda, chairman of the organization’s Committee on Migration wrote: “We must work with the world community to provide safe haven to vulnerable and deserving refugees who are simply attempting to survive.”
Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, wrote: “We are horrified and heartbroken by the terrorist atrocities in Paris, but must not forget that there are thousands more victims of these same terrorists who are fleeing Syria with their families and desperately need someplace to go.”
The Anti-Defamation League, an organization that works to protect civil rights for Jews and other minorities, reproached the US governors who want to stop Syrians from settling in their states, saying: “This country must not give into fear or bias by turning its back on our nation’s fundamental commitment to refugee protection and human rights.”
Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC, said: “We must not forget our values as a Jewish people. We have been a people in exile and were wandering for millennia. Justice for those who are homeless overrides other factors.”
Refugee Council USA assembled a coalition of more than 80 groups, including religious ones, to call upon Congress to accept Syrians.
But many are rejecting the religious, humanitarian, and moral arguments for accepting refugees, citing substantial terrorism threats. Are the fears over refugee terrorists even valid? According to the Niskanen Center’s David Bier, the record says no,
Since 1980, when the current refugee program was created, the United States has welcomed more than 3 million refugees from more than 70 nations. The total includes hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees who are now proud Americans — including more than 100,000 from Iraq since 2004.
Overall, the United States has taken in over 750,000 refugees since 9/11. Despite the large number admitted, less than a dozen refugees have been arrested for terrorism-related activity, and no refugee has successfully carried out a terrorist attack in the United States in that time. While there is always a risk, the record shows the United States is capable of resettling refugees while ensuring safety.
But let’s assume that refugees had indeed carried out a terrorist attack. The United States should still resettle large numbers of Syrians.
First, there are humanitarian obligations to those fleeing persecution.
Second, would Americans really trade closing the borders on the scores of Irish, Italian, German, Soviet, and other immigrants who arrived in the 19th and 20th century because there were some criminals or terrorists among them? The compassionate integration of millions of new immigrants made the United States the country that it is today.
It is also important to remember that, during World War II, Jewish refugees were turned away due to the fear of Nazi spies. They had to return to Europe, where many would perish. One would hope that this mistake is not repeated.
And third, the risk of terrorism is incredibly low. Even if you include the failed attackers, just 0.0002 percent of refugees since 1980 turned out to be terrorists. Some may argue the risk is multiplied because one terrorist could kill hundreds of people at once. However, the chance of that happening is still exceedingly rare compared to the much higher probability that you will be killed by homegrown terrorists or mass shootings.
Finally, the suggestion that the United States will create a religious test for refugees is abhorrent. Religious freedom is a cornerstone of the American ideal. Pope Francis confirms what many believe: refugees are God’s children too. Let’s welcome them with open arms.
As Syrians continue to be subject to horrors unimaginable by most, lawmakers are woefully discussing ways to keep them out. This backwards thinking runs contrary to American values and traditions.
Americans should heed the calls from religious leaders and accept Syrian refugees, who are fleeing persecution just as their ancestors did, coming to the United States with the promise of building a life of freedom and peace.
David Clement is an entrepreneur and political consultant based out of Oakville, Ontario. David is also the political analyst for the popular electoral app Pollenize.org. Follow @ClementLiberty.