There is a terrible tragedy in Syria: 4.3 million refugees from Syria alone, according to UN sources, and 200,000 killed already in that country. When we heard about it, we knew our country would do the right thing as we always have.
So far, Germany has accepted 38,500 Syrians since 2013 and Canada has accepted 36,300 in the same time period. As the richest nation in the world, the beacon of democracy and compassion, and a nation made up almost entirely of immigrants (except for Native Americans), I knew we would be the world leader in caring.
We have given the most in humanitarian aid, it is true, and in federal fiscal year 2014 (which ended in September 2014), we took in 105 Syrians. In Fiscal Year 2015 that ended this last September, we accepted 1,682. Now President Obama has proposed taking 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US, with strict background checks but no screening for religion.
I knew that our citizens, as people of faith and good will, would react strongly to this tepid response, not worthy of a caring nation. I was right about the strong response, but wrong about the content. A Bloomberg poll just days old found that 53% of Americans want to refuse all Syrian refugees, while an additional 11% would only accept Christian Syrian refugees. Only 28% supported President Obama’s minimal-caring response.
Republican presidential candidates reacted immediately, demanding that we stop all Syrians from being resettled in the U.S. Ben Carson, running second in the Republican race by some polls, says we have compassion for the refugees, but not in our country. I heard an interview in which he called for a “pause” until conditions change, by which he implied no refugees until the terrorism threat is gone.
Donald Trump, the leader in the Republican race, said back in July that most of the Mexican immigrants are criminals, rapists and drug smugglers. Now he would not only bar Syrian refugees, but he would give the government the power to shut down mosques that are deemed extremist and to require Muslim people to carry a special ID card showing their religion.
Our own Montana Representative, Republican Ryan Zinke, echoed the party line in a statement quoted by the Helena Independent Record on November 17: “In the case of the Syrian refugees, most of them are male. Most of them are of military age, and yes, it is a significant security issue.”
The UN claims that half of the refugees are women. The State Department says that half of the Syrian refugees in the US are women, and half are children. About one-quarter are over 60. So Rep. Zinke was a little confused on his one “fact,” when he should have said 2% of the Syrian refugees accepted by the US so far are males of military age. However, he was accurate with his appeal to fear. He is in tune with a large majority of Montana and American citizens.
This is the not first time we have responded to great fear this way. A Washington Post article from three days ago revealed polls taken in the lead-up to World War II. In July of 1938, during Nazi atrocities in Germany and Austria, Fortune Magazine asked:
”What’s your attitude towards allowing German, Austrian & other political refugees to come into the US?”
The people polled responded:
With conditions as they are, we should try to keep them out: 67%
We should allow them to come, but not raise our immigration quotas: 18%
Don’t know: 10%
We should encourage them to come, even if we have to raise our immigration quotas: 5%
A little later, in January of 1939, the Jews in Germany were being actively persecuted (which started with the Nazis requiring them to wear a special form of ID – the Star of David – to indicate their religion so they could be singled out). A Gallup poll at that time asked:
“It has been proposed to bring to this country 10,000 refugee children from Germany – most of them Jewish – to be taken care of in American homes. Should the government permit these children to come in?”
The people polled responded:
No opinion: 9%
No wonder that now 47 House Democrats just joined Republicans to pass an anti-refugee bill, with a veto-proof majority. No wonder that every Republican presidential candidate wants to bar all Syrian refugees. No wonder that so far 29 Republican governors and one Democratic Governor say they want to close their states to these people. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is also a Republican presidential candidate, stated that he would not accept any Syrian refugees, and would refuse even “a three-year-old orphan’s” entry. He is undoubtedly representing the views of a large majority in his state.
I just re-read part of the Christmas story from the gospel of Matthew. “Now after they [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’
“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.”
Good thing that Egypt didn’t have a Republican Governor and an American electorate at that time.