A Plea to Everybody Afraid of Allowing Syrian Refugees into the United States

A Plea to Everybody Afraid of Allowing Syrian Refugees into the United States

Please, everybody. There’s too much at stake this time. We can’t afford to get this one wrong. This is not a time for knee-jerk reaction. This is not a time to look for convenient scapegoats. This is not a time for any politics-as-usual blame game. The consequences of doing the wrong thing - because we don’t think this through or because we choose politics over people – can be devastating.

It’s natural to feel scared in today’s world. Terrorism is a method of exploiting this natural human reaction. Terrorists use fear to create more fear.

We all need to be alert. We expect the government to protect us. But since the attacks in Paris, something in our collective response has changed. Suddenly, many of us have responded to the terrorist attacks with a huge and misdirected backlash against Syrian refugees fleeing for their safety.

I am deeply saddened by the reactionary nature of so many Americans. I am deeply saddened, and frightened, by the number of people who have resorted to ignorant, hateful, and bigoted comments regarding any effort to help even a small fraction of those victims of terrorism – even victims who are small children.

We are turning victims into scapegoats. We are showing the world that we do not trust the victims of terrorism, especially those whose beliefs differ from ours. When we do that, we are teaching these victims that we are not on the side of victimhood when it comes to terrorism. At the same time, we are showing the terrorists that their methods are producing the results they are looking for. This is a formula for creating more enemies, and for enhanced recruiting for terrorist organizations wishing to harm Americans.

Americans are turning to social media to share hatred, bigotry, half-truths, misinformation, and flat-out falsehoods in this effort to make excuses for not helping with this vast humanitarian crisis. Americans are looking for convenient scapegoats instead of finding rational solutions. We have sources – media, politicians, and others – who have been using these types of methods for political purposes since long before the Syrian refugee crisis. These sources prey on gullible, ignorant, and frightened Americans. These same sources are at it again. Only this time, more Americans than usual are quick to repeat and agree with those spreading such vile. It saddens me to see friends doing this; friends who normally know better. These are frightening times, and the reaction of many Americans could be the scariest part of what is going on right now.

Please, don’t share simplistic, misleading, and hateful “information”. Please, don’t repeat what you hear unless you can verify that it not only is true, but also not misleading (cherry-picked facts which, when isolated, lead people to a different conclusion than the whole – true – story would lead them to). Please, don’t share simplistic “facts” because they are easier for you to understand than the real story. Truisms are designed to mislead. The truth is out there, and you can find it. But you won’t find the truth unless you are looking for it. You won’t find the truth if you only use partisan sources whose intentions are to give you a slanted view of the truth instead of “the whole truth”. Find out what others are saying. Find out what the experts are saying. But don’t cherry-pick which “experts” to listen to. You shouldn’t even trust any single source as being authoritative. What you are looking for is the truth in the message. What are these sources trying to tell you? Are they motivated to educate you in the whole truth, or are they motivated to give you their slanted version? Is the story they are telling you complete, or is it cherry-picked? What are they NOT telling you? The world is complicated. The part of the world where these refugees are coming from is extremely complicated – today and historically. Please do not rely on sources which tell you a simplistic version of the relevant facts. Don’t tell people that the situation is simple, or that the solution is simple. Above all, don’t go looking for scapegoats in order to avoid dealing with the unpleasant reality that these people need help NOW. Creating scapegoats won’t help them now, and it won’t help us later when our misdirected fears lead us to become potential victims.

For the Record

For the record, the world is facing a very real humanitarian crisis. The plight of Syrian refugees cannot be overstated. They are risking their lives as they try to escape. But the risk of staying is even worse. Neighboring countries are overwhelmed by the number of refugees seeking security. European nations are overwhelmed. Escapees are being left with nowhere to go. Many, including children, are dying in the process.

The United States has agreed to accept 10,000 refugees – a very modest number given the magnitude of the problem. Other nations, most of which are much smaller than the United States, are accepting many times more than we have agreed to accept. The terrorist attacks in Paris occurred against this backdrop. Some early comments – quickly debunked – blamed the attacks on the influx of refugees. People looked for scapegoats. Suddenly, people in the United States started paying attention to the refugee crisis. But when they took notice, the focus wasn’t on the plight of the refugees, but rather it was on an unrealistic fear that letting any refugees into the United States would be an easy way for terrorists to get here in order to do us harm.

The vetting process for refugees is long and complicated. Refugees wait in limbo while this process goes on. Refugee camps are overflowing. It could be two or three years before they can be resettled. Refugees cannot even pick which country they get sent to – that particular detail will be determined for them, based on many factors which the refugees have no control over. This process applies to all potential resettlement sites. In the United States, we add other layers to the vetting process for those refugees who eventually get assigned here for resettlement. We have the world’s most thorough vetting process for refugees. Yet other countries have agreed to take on many more refugees than us. Even France, following their horrible attacks, hasn’t bowed down to terrorists the way we have. Our neighbors in Canada are accepting more refugees than we are.

People are repeating some really ignorant statements, such as “I would agree that we should accept some of the refugees, but not if Obama is doing the vetting. I don’t trust him.” This is the kind of widespread, ignorant attitude that led members of the House of Representatives to cite “concerns from citizens in my district” as a reason to vote for the American SAFE Act of 2015. This piece of legislation would not make America safe. It would be surrendering to irrational fear, and playing into the hands of terrorists.

If you have concerns over the vetting process, please read this explanation from an immigration lawyer.

ISIS and other terrorist organizations put their members through intense training. Their attacks are planned out well in advance. Terrorists have much easier ways to get into the United States if they intend to attack us than posing as refugees and going through the refugee process. It would be easier to forge documents and get on an airplane bound for the United States. It would be easier for their network to develop a system in which they have “proper” documentation for work, student, or travel visas. It would be easier for them to find their way into Canada and walk across the border. The idea that the refugee crisis creates an easy way for terrorists to come to the United States by posing as refugees from Syria isn’t credible. It doesn’t mean that terrorists would never come here posing as refugees from Syria. But it does mean that doing so isn’t even close to the easiest way for terrorists to get here - given the uncertainties, time involved, and the extensive vetting process of refugees. It might be possible, but that possibility has certainly been overblown in the minds of too many Americans. Do the research; do some fact-checking.

The SAFE Act passed by the House of Representatives would not improve the vetting process, and it would not make us safer. Go ahead; check out the process currently in place. In addition to the link above from immigration lawyer and Methodist pastor Scott Hicks, here is a link to an explanation of the process in the United States, from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

The vetting process in the United States for refugees is extensive and involves multiple agencies. The SAFE Act would require the heads of these agencies to certify that anybody who gets into the country through the refugee process will not engage in terrorist activities once they are admitted. This does not improve the process. This is a stall tactic, to make it impossible for refugees to enter the United States until all of the agencies implement new procedures. It is a way to ensure that refugees remain in limbo, facing an uncertain future – and clogging the global refugee system, threatening the lives of many – for an even longer period of time.

Besides that, the required process under the SAFE Act is not the way we do things in the United States. For example, the IRS doesn’t certify that no taxpayer has ever cheated on his taxes. When taxpayers are audited, the IRS doesn’t certify that no cheating was involved, only that they didn’t find any. They don’t certify that any taxpayer – audited or not – will not cheat on his taxes in the future. At the state level, we issue vehicle licenses without the issuing agency certifying that the vehicles being registered will never be used in any illegal manner. We certainly don’t do it in the private sector. The manufacturers and dealers of these vehicles don’t certify that the people buying the vehicles won’t use them for something illegal. We don’t make gun dealers certify that the guns they sell will never be used illegally. The SAFE Act is merely a knee-jerk reaction.

Terrorists involved in the Paris attacks were neither refugees nor Syrians. Syrians have never been arrested in the United States for terrorist activities. Those who attacked us on 9/11 did not pose as refugees; they had no need to do so.

The current crisis has the potential to become another black mark in American history, alongside such events as turning back Jewish people fleeing Germany (hundreds who were turned back were killed in the Holocaust), and Japanese internment camps during WWII, when Americans were imprisoned for what they looked like and for who their ancestors were.

We were all shaken by the events in Paris. We need to find a way to feel as safe as possible. The Syrian refugees are fleeing from a home where a Paris-type event happens every day in their neighborhood. There are many such hot spots around the world, with these tragic events unfolding every day. We don’t get shook up about them the way we did when Paris was attacked. There are always refugees fleeing such situations, but we don’t start paying attention until it happens in the West.

Please don’t fall for a false equivalency, such as “we can’t afford to take care of refugees if we can’t even take care of our homeless veterans.” Do some research. We could be taking care of our veterans. We could be taking care of our homeless population, with veterans at the top of the list. The reason we haven’t been doing so has nothing to do with refugees. Find out what kinds of policies have been proposed to help “our own”, and find out who has been blocking these policies.

Please don’t fall for the absurd notion that we can let in refugees, but only the ones who claim to be Christians. Do the research; this notion is strictly un-American. Read about American history, how the country was founded, and the issues discussed at the Constitutional Convention. Read the Constitution. Don’t just read what some partisan hacks tell you it says; find out for yourself.

It isn’t even the “Christian” thing to do. I would like to think that a true Christian would attempt to learn the teachings of Jesus in order to follow those teachings as much as possible. A true Christian wouldn’t be in the habit of deliberately ignoring those teachings and demonizing those who do follow these teachings. If you think we should only admit Syrian refugees if they claim to be Christians, please go back and read your Bible. Read the Gospels, with the words of Jesus in red. Read for the context; read for comprehension. Don’t look for isolated verses that you can take out of context in order to get them to mean something different from what they mean in context. Read what Jesus had to say about how we should treat people, whether or not they claim the same faith that we do; read what He had to say about dealing with strangers, foreigners, immigrants, children, and women. These are God’s children who are dying, and we have a chance to save a few of them.

“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25: 41-46 NKJV

The vast majority of the victims of this kind of terrorism today are Muslims. Very few victims are Christians. This is NOT a war between Muslims and Christians; please don’t help to turn it into one through misguided rhetoric and misguided policies. Most of the Syrian refugees are Muslims. All of them are victims of terrorism. Please don’t turn them against us by equating them to the ones who are killing them. The terrorists are trying to justify their actions by making this about religion. It is about civilization, not religion. Please don’t help the terrorists make it about religion. When we do so, we are doing exactly what the terrorists want us to do.

Whatever happened to “all lives matter”? We certainly heard that slogan a lot in recent months. But all of a sudden, we’re not hearing it much anymore. It was a convenient way to avoid dealing with the very real issues facing America that the “black lives matter” slogan represents. “All lives matter” doesn’t seem to have any meaning, other than as a way to avoid dealing with the reality of racism. Syrian refugees - many of them children – do their lives matter? What about the lives put in harm’s way when Americans’ fear of the victims of terrorism becomes a recruiting tool for terrorists? What about us, as Americans, when terrorist organizations can point to our reactions, and portray us as intervening killers who nonetheless are unwilling to aid the victims of terrorism? We’ve been through this before. Go ahead, research the history behind the creation of ISIS and other terrorist groups. Our callous response to the desperation of people who are “different” from “us” makes the United States a more likely target for terrorists. Do “all lives matter”, or that just a racist slogan?

Yes, I understand that terrorism has created a frightening world. I understand the need to find a way to feel safe. I understand that when people are frightened, they feel the need to do SOMETHING – anything - to feel like they are taking back some control. But unless that “something” is the right thing, we can make matters worse.


It reminds me of something which happened several years ago. I was staying with my aunt in southern California, in her mobile home. I was asleep in the back bedroom when the house was jarred by a 5 a.m. earthquake. The mobile home shook as if it would fall apart. We had no way to know how big the quake would be, or when it would stop shaking. While I lay in bed, riding out the earthquake, my aunt began running through the house, yelling at me to start running too. I had been through earthquake-preparedness training, and I knew that while the shaking is going on, I was in a much safer place, lying in bed, than she was, running through the house. People get injured when they move around; they are more likely to be hit by falling objects. It’s much safer to stay in one place and move only if that one place is in danger from falling objects. This time, when the earth stopped shaking, my aunt tried to scold me because I “did nothing” when our safety was at risk. She said, “You have to do SOMETHING, you can’t just lie there!” Luckily, nobody got hurt and there wasn’t much damage. But doing “something” for the sake of doing something when you feel in danger can be worse than doing “nothing”. It is definitely worse than making sure that you are doing the right thing.

Please, I beg you. Don’t make things worse by being reactionary. Don’t make things worse by finding simplistic explanations or exploiting the situation through a partisan blame game. Lives are at stake.

I’m shook up, as much by the misguided reactions of some of my friends as by anything else. I feel less safe, because Americans’ knee-jerk reactions are playing into the hands of terrorists. I may have to reconsider who my friends really are.

Jerry Wyant