Embracing #PorteOuverte and Refusing Hate

It has happened again. Another tragedy, another group of innocent lives lost. And once again we are faced with a moment of being able to rise above and stretch our arms out to the vulnerable populations running for their lives from the very people who have struck at the heart of Europe. We have a chance to embrace the spirit of #PorteOuverte that spread like wild fire following the attacks and American principles of freedom, equality, and justice by coming together in concerted efforts to protect those who suffer as well as share intelligence and craft a military response that includes our Western and Gulf allies. Instead, our air waves and TV stations are flooded with vitriol and hate. Calls for 50,000 ground troops have become a popular political rallying cry on the far right and the ugly face of Islamophobia has taken center stage and hijacked our humanitarian policies and discourse.

It’s a familiar cycle that has permeated our culture and brought out some of the ugliest parts of American society ever since the attacks on 9/11. We point to our Muslim neighbors and shout “how dare you” while they simultaneously must defend themselves and declare that they are “not one of those Muslims.” Calls for a halt to our refugee resettlement program have emboldened at least 28 governors to declare that they will not allow refugees to enter their states and Congressional leaders to push for bills defunding the program and barring Syrian refugees. This is regardless of the fact that those who committed the Paris attacks were primarily Europeans from France and Belgium.

To push for a stance so soon after such a horrible attack is devastating. It smacks of ignorance and allows people to continue to perpetuate a misguided view of the Muslim world and who in fact is conducting these acts of terror (hint, hint it’s not refugees) and who have been their primary targets (hey, it is refugees and Muslims).

And yet a single Syrian passport used by one of the attackers, now expected to be stolen from a dead Syrian soldier, has become the focal point of an aggressive push by the far right to punish those of Arab and Islamic descent. Even more frustrating is the call for a religious loyalty test being pushed by many of the GOP candidates, including once pro-immigration and refugee reform Jeb Bush. By identifying every person of Muslim faith as a potential terrorist threat and viewing each refugee through a similar lens, our American values have been betrayed by a blatant discriminatory and hateful pro-white, pro-Christian policy. Instead of viewing refugees for what they are – as someone who has fled beyond the borders of their country because of a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” – they are now the unwilling scapegoats for America’s fear of the other. This is not America.

It warms my heart and gives me reason to hope when I see our President pushing back. In a statement following the increased Republican call for a halt to refugee resettlement, President Obama said this:

“Remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves…That’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

The claim that allowing refugees in threatens our own safety is the worse lie of all. I myself worked in refugee resettlement, and there isn’t a single group that faces greater scrutiny and security screening. Not only must a person be recommended by the UNHCR for candidacy, but they must pass medical, biometric, financial, and family background screenings before even moving forward in the process of physically relocating to the United States. It’s a rigorous process that takes no less than 2 years and can sometimes take up to 5. U.S. agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, and National Counterterrorism Center partner with international organizations, such as the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR, and 11 resettlement non-profits to make sure candidates pass all tests and are successfully relocated to communities that can host them and help find them employment so that they can give back to their host country.

And finally, just some food for thought, out of the estimated 50 million refugees in the world the U.S. only takes in 70,000 a year due to an annual Congressional cap. The recent promise to take in an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees pale in comparison to the estimated 1.5 million refugees Germany expects to take in this coming year, many of which are Syrian asylum-seekers. And since 9/11, of the 750,000 refugees taken-in by the U.S. only two have been arrested on terrorist charges because they provided aid to al-Qaeda back in Iraq. Just two.

To defeat ISIS we are going to need to act with the long-term in mind. Our policies and actions will need international cooperation, both from our European allies and from Gulf, Arab, and Asian nations. We will need to become familiar with and understand our enemy and most of all we will need to be able to distinguish between who that enemy really is and who are its targets. We will need to show compassion to those hurt and when it comes to refugees take a long look at our own moral judgment first before assigning blame. Our hate and fear of refugees is misguided, and it does nothing to help our efforts against the growing ISIS threat.

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