A Chance at the California Dream for Syria's Refugees

In America, veterans are viewed as the heroes of society. For those of us who have served in conflict zones, we know there are many other true heroes living in these areas: those natives who survive years under brutal regimes, those who open up underground schools for children, and those who risk their lives to sneak medical supplies to the neighboring village under insurgent control.

Many of us joined the military shortly after September 11, 2001, and have come to age in our nation's longest period in concurrent conflicts. Because we have seen the way that conflict destroys livelihoods, we feel a special bond with the refugees of today's conflicts. We have had a glimpse of what it takes to survive without knowing what the next sunrise brings and how all humans deserve stability and community. Because of our experiences, we feel a strong call of duty to fight for those most vulnerable around the world.

Accordingly, many of us were very surprised and dismayed to learn that twenty-two members of the California congressional delegation voted for last week's bill that aims to block the settlement of refugees from Iraq and Syria in the United States. The bill clearly represented a strong reaction to the horrific attacks committed by Daesh/ISIL in Paris a week earlier. But by not helping those most vulnerable and in need right now, we are actually feeding the vortex of hate that is supplying Daesh/ISIL with supporters.

My life has been greatly enriched by a friendship with an Iraqi refugee who grew up under Saddam Hussein's repressive regime. I met her when she served as an interpreter for our forces. Not only was it incredibly brave for anyone to go on patrols with a foreign military, she did so as a young woman still immersed in teenage college life. She taught me what real bravery is.

Since coming to America, she has had to juggle school and multiple jobs, yet I have never once heard her complain. She is a tireless worker and shines among her peers. She has adopted America, and California, as her home and is now working toward a career where she can be of service to others.

Three months ago I moved back to California to attend law school, after having been gone for over a decade while serving in the military and as a civil servant. I specifically wanted to return to California for my studies because I view it as a state that provides opportunity for all. We are a state of immense cultural diversity, and we reward hard work, determination, and ingenuity irrespective of one's background--the very qualities we often find in immigrants and refugees.

Over 4.28 million Syrians have fled the country as refugees, making this the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. Families are forced to fight over UN rations in overwhelmed aid camps, and children spend months and years out of school during the transition. Those unable to flee face the possibility of torture, rape, or murder daily at the hands of Daesh/ISIL.

Members of Congress have stated that taking in refugees would put America at risk. This is simply not the case. The refugee screening process is the most intensive security process for any entrant into the United States today. Those who eventually arrive in America will have likely lived in border camps for several months or years, been referred by the United Nations, and been thoroughly vetted with interviews and screenings by multiple American intelligence and security agencies in order to join a waitlist for entry into the U.S. After such a long, harrowing journey, these refugees will be appreciative, earnest, and hardworking members of American society.

As a global leader, America cannot simply sit idle and watch as the lives of millions wither. It has been said that America is the 'indispensible nation' when it comes to solving global crises. Today, we are faced with an important such crisis. Just as my generation of fellow veterans, civil servants, and frontline civilians answered the call of duty over the last decade, we now look to Congress to answer the calls of our global brethren. We ask that our elected representatives who have been blessed to enjoy California's abundance in peaceful evening sunsets on the Pacific and family trips to Disneyland now open this opportunity to others. I feel privileged to be back on the West Coast, and I ask that you also extend the opportunity for the California dream to Iraqi and Syrian refugees now.