Almost two decades ago, my father stepped off a plane from India, with only a small suitcase and roughly one hundred dollars in his wallet. In tow were my mother and my then two year old brother, entering a world unbeknownst to them. For the Singh family, America was a land of hope and promise, a country that offered boundless opportunity, and democratic freedom without the corruption that plagued India’s regime. For the Singh family, America was their new home.
In the wake of 9/11, I remember travelling with my family, and seeing my Sikh father who dons a turban be pulled aside and searched extensively, with his head being patted down. I was confused as to why he was being looked at differently, confused as to why it was that he caught the security guard’s attention. It didn’t take long for me to realize that to others, it was clear that we weren’t from here; we were different. Even though we weren’t from a Middle Eastern nation, or of the Islamic faith, in the eyes of others, we were not American.
In times of terror and fear, it is natural to have a heightened sense of alarm, and take extra preventative measures in the hopes of avoiding future tragedy. However, it is equally important to offer support and kindness to our fellow humans, irrespective of where they come from, especially in their time of need. Governors of the 27 and counting states who have closed their borders to Syrian refugees, I am looking right at you as I assert this.
In December of 1938, American college students were polled and asked if Jewish refugees from Central Europe should be given a safe haven in the United States. 68.8 percent of respondents said no. As we look back at history, we often shame governments and nations who didn’t open their arms wholeheartedly to those that were persecuted in the Holocaust; one can only wonder what the next generation will look back and say about us as we turn our backs on those that need our help the most.
Unlike the college students of the 1930s, our generation seems to be far more humanitarian and socially conscientious, with plenty of my fellow Swatties having changed their profile picture in an effort to demonstrate solidarity and support for Paris. While this is a great first step, remember that Syrian refugees are still displaced, and our obligation as concerned citizens ought not to stop there. It is especially pathetic to see that while so many governors have quickly closed their doors, France itself has offered to take in 30,000 Syrians, despite the heinous act of terror that occurred in Paris less than a week ago, resulting in the loss of 136 lives. If you hail from a state with a governor who has not yet offered a safe haven for these refugees or has explicitly denied accepting refugees, it is your responsibility as a constituent to reach out to them via email or a phone call and express your condemnation of their actions. We should be proud to attend college in a state with a governor who has already expressed care and concern for humanity by committing to opening our borders to Syrian refugees, and Governor Wolf should be held as an example for governors nationwide.
First and foremost, we must remember that ultimately these refugees have been persecuted, and our primary concern ought to be their immediate safety and protection. Several think tanks and policy institutes argue that terrorists are least likely to opt for refugee resettlement as their method of entering a new nation, as they have to undergo very thorough background checks and a comprehensive security database comparison to ensure that they are not predisposed to engage in an act of terror.
Immigrants and refugees are often looked at in the same light, as posing a possible threat to national security. They are no more likely to commit a crime or participate in organized terrorism than anyone else; in fact as The Economist reports, since 9/11, of the 750,000 refugees that have entered the United States, none have been arrested on domestic terrorism charges, while three having been arrested on some terrorist charge. The frequency of domestic terror attacks caused by right wing extremists is almost three times as high as those caused by Islamic militants, according to The New York Times.
The Statue of Liberty stands proudly on Liberty Island, acting as a symbol of the American Dream, the beacon of hope for those searching economic possibility or religious freedom or political asylum. For Lady Liberty, and America at large, to turn our back on Syrian refugees is not only morally wrong, but also un-American.