Why 10,000 Syrian Refugees Is an Un-American Number

NICKELSDORF, AUSTRIA - SEPTEMBER 14 :  Refugees wait at border camp in Nickelsdorf as others walk towards Vienna on September
NICKELSDORF, AUSTRIA - SEPTEMBER 14 : Refugees wait at border camp in Nickelsdorf as others walk towards Vienna on September 14, 2015. (Photo by Hasan Tosun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Every year, within a day or two of 9/11, I find myself doing something accidentally patriotic. Ranging from the impetuous -- caving to American flag-frosted cupcakes positioned alongside tabloids at the point-of-purchase section of the market (because if hydrogenated oil and corn syrup don't show your love of country, then what does?) to the sublime -- running in the rain to Bruce Springsteen's Dream Baby Dream, which popped up like genome ghost amid a shuffle of classic hip-hop.

These of course are not coincidences so much as gestures brought on by subliminal penetration. You know, the bagpipes on Ground Zero echoing on every news station, and searing into the collective unconscious.

Point is, more so than Fourth of July, September is the time I am most proud to be American and when my allegiance feels more like rooting for the noble underdog in a poignant micro-budget film, than cheering on the meat-head bully in a summer slammer sequel.

But not this 9/11.

This year, my spontaneous patriotic moment (I'll get to just what this was) got interrupted, and inverted, while at the airport suffering major delays on the heels of a palmy vacay and wishing, as we all do amidst the new travel normal of weird weather and maintenance obstacles, to be off the road.

To be home.

While settling in at the gate with my third ass-flavored $20 panini, the woman next to me strikes up a conversation about the root of my last name, which I'm informed by erudite fellow traveler, is shared by the writer who penned the famous "huddled masses" poem on the Statue of Liberty.

So then, very much in keeping with this "accidental" patriotic tradition, there I sat in the airport on the week of 9/11, prompted to reread the entire sonnet engraved on Lady Liberty.

Just as I'm finishing the Mother of Exiles' famous last stanza, the part where she "lifts her lamp" to welcome to her shores the "homeless and tempest-tost," the elderly gentleman next to me begins shaking his head, revolted by the image in a magazine he's reading.

I sneak a glance and see that his disgust is brought on by the heartbreaking picture of the drowned Syrian toddler lying face-down on the sand, washed up on a beach near a Turkish resort.


Like many, I had seen the picture the week prior -- it caused public outcry, as the child is one of countless refugee casualties fleeing the hell of a brutal terrorist occupation in their homeland.
But looking at it now, the photograph was even more troubling than the initial anguish of seeing the tiny lifeless body on the vast stretch of oceanfront.

Now, on the anniversary week of 9-11, juxtaposed with the "sea-washed" imagery of the poem, and through a road-weary traveler's pining for home and a hot shower, I was not feeling particularly patriotic. If this child was not among the ranks of the "poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free," then who on Earth is and what on Earth does the Statue of Liberty, and America, stand for?

These migrants fleeing Syria now are people desperate beyond measure. With four years living a nightmare, over a quarter of a million have been killed and more than 1.5 million have been hurt. Of the living, an average of 20 years has been lost on life expectancy. Half of the population is displaced. Half.

That's more than seven million Syrians without a home, and of these many of are the most fragile including torture survivors, the ill, and single mothers.

Most devastating of all, over half are children, officials say.

And thousands have died at sea.

Now consider our numbers: 10,000. That's how many Syrian refugees the US plans to take in this year.

Given the scale, and compared to the commitment of other countries, this figure has been described by human rights groups as little more than a token, an embarrassment really.
Germany is taking 800,000 and even a strapped nation like Venezuela has offered to accept upwards of 20,000 Syrian refugees.

I understand the fear.

The fear that politicians such as the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul (R-Texas) have been raising, which warns that these people present a threat to America. The fear that if we bring them into the United States, they could "potentially be radicalized," by ISIL who could "exploit this effort in order to deploy operatives to America via a federally funded jihadi pipeline."

But if the legacy of 9-11 replaces Lady Liberty's "mild eyes" with the darting gaze of the paranoid, then the terrorists have won.

And given both the facts as well as basic human intuition, efforts like McCaul's to curb the refugee resettlement program, are aptly designated as "paranoid."

Kathleen Newland, senior fellow at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, told the BBC, "The refugee resettlement program is the most laborious, slow, and heavily scrutinized route into the United States," adding that if one actually was a terrorist, s/he'd "be much better off forging a passport and pretending to be a Kuwaiti businessman" because the level of risk aversion is so high that refugees facing security screenings "tend to get triply and quadrupley scrutinized before they're cleared."

Before referral to the United States, refugees have to pass through numerous deep-diving, face-to-face interviews and any discrepancy or perceived security risk disqualifies a refugee from being resettled.

Beyond the fact that the US is a huge country with the largest and most sophisticated screening infrastructure than any other nation, there is the intuition.

If we've learned anything from George W. Bush's failed War on Terror, it is that the depraved conditions brought on by the US invasion of Iraq resulted directly in the proliferation of what was then al-Queda and now the even more horrific ISIS.

Terrorists are not made in the context of a welcoming embrace. They are made in the shadows of poverty and fear. Shutting out hundreds of thousands of the most desperate residents of the fundamentalist Islamic Middle East to flounder in destitution under the horrifying hand of ISIS, will not make America safer. It will put us more at risk.

The US normally resettles more refugees than all of the countries in the world combined.
If the legacy of 9-11 replaces the Statue's "beacon-hand glowing world-wide welcome," with a door shutting in the face of most vulnerable, half of whom are children, then the terrorists have won, have they not?

How bad does it have to get before America remembers herself?

How bad before we look up and notice a genocide?

How bad before Lady Liberty becomes a false monument to a dated American principle?

This 9/11 I bought no cupcakes and kept my playlist on Tupac, another disgruntled American. And I waited, with my bags, and my ass-flavored sandwich, to go home.

The New Colossus
By Emma Lazarus, 1883
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"