Why is the GOP crusading to stop resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S. when France itself, the site of recent terrorist attacks, has pledged to accept an additional 30,000 Syrian refugees? And why have politicians used these tragic events to promote a dangerous narrative of fear mongering against Syrian refugees? There has been no evidence that any of the Paris attackers were Syrian. Yet, Syrian refugees, 75 percent of whom are women and children, are now being demonized as potential terrorists. In this political environment, it is no surprise that hatred and violence towards minorities and immigrants has reached unprecedented levels.
With more than 300,000 killed and 4 million escaping Syria, the Syrian refugee crisis has been recognized as the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. These families have not only lost their homes, but also their closest family members; they have suffered lifelong injuries and near-death experiences, and witnessed the unimaginable horrors of torture at the hands of the Syrian government and Daesh (or "ISIS"). Yet, somehow the American public has gone from ignoring their struggle to suspecting them of the most heinous acts imaginable, largely due to the GOP-driven political rhetoric.
It is no coincidence that Republican presidential candidates have flooded the American psyche by competing to show who can vilify Syrian refugees the most. Polling data suggests that "fear of Muslims and Islam is linked more to election cycles than terrorist acts, especially among Republicans." Specifically, anti-Muslim sentiment rose dramatically during the 2008 and 2012 election cycles and, of course, it is increasing before our eyes in the 2016 election cycle. "Anti-Islamic rhetoric is a political tactic to divide Americans and win elections," says Congressman Keith Ellison.
In the process of passing a bill to halt President Obama's proposed resettlement of 10,000 Syrian refugees, Jeb Bush suggested a religious test for Syrian refugees to ensure that Muslims are kept out; Ben Carson compared refugees to 'rabid' dogs; Chris Christie insisted that the U.S. not even accept 5-year-old orphans; and Donald Trump proposed deporting Syrian refugees already in the U.S. and even creating an identification system for Muslims in America. Trump has gone so far to further disparage Arab-Americans by falsely stating he saw "thousands" celebrating after 9/11, a claim that has been repeatedly discredited by law enforcement agencies. At all costs and with little accountability, these politicians, including some of their Democrat counterparts, governors, and mayors alike, want Americans to be fearful of refugees and to desperately entrust them, rather than their political opponents, to keep America safe.
The inflammatory GOP-led rhetoric and scapegoating has not persisted without harmful consequences. As Congressman Ellison has urged, "Using hate speech and misinformation to exploit fears and secure authority has long been a danger to the freedom and safety of minorities." In recent weeks, mosques have been vandalized and threatened; a veiled Toronto Muslim woman was assaulted while picking her children up from school; two Arab-Americans were recently pulled off a Southwest flight for speaking Arabic; a passenger threatened to kill an Uber driver who he mistook for being Muslim; and so forth.
On a global level, some argue, the GOP narrative is even more dangerous -- it delivers Daesh's intended message to instill fear in Muslims that they cannot be accepted by Western society so that they are encouraged to support Daesh instead. President Obama reiterated, "I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for [Daesh] than some of the [GOP] rhetoric." Our political leaders are not only acting irresponsibly for pure political gain, but they are inciting hate in our society and arguably and ironically jeopardizing America's security.
By now, headlines have been consumed with details of the restrictive refugee application process, which is limited to the most vulnerable individuals who meet specific criteria and often takes more than 24 months for completion of the vetting process. As TV host Seth Myers accurately jokes, "Only an incompetent terrorist would try to come to America via a refugee process" - a process that is unavailable to the majority of Syrian refugees. A mere 2,200 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the U.S. since the conflict began in 2011. Of that number, military-aged men who are unattached to families make up only two percent - statistics that cannot logically warrant the current inflated political debate. In fact, less than 1 percent of refugees worldwide are selected for resettlement in a third country.
"We've spent 14 years and almost a trillion dollars on our security industry. We're pretty good at vetting them," explains Karen Greenberg, Director of the Center on National Security. Republicans need to be further reminded that of the 785,000 refugees throughout the world who have been resettled in the U.S. since 9/11, no Syrians have ever been traced to any terrorism concerns. Moreover, the majority of Daesh-linked suspects charged in the U.S. are actually American citizens.
Our Statue of Liberty herself reflects the words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." In order to protect this cornerstone of American values, our political leaders must reject the narrative of xenophobia and reclaim America's reputation to the world as a safe haven for innocent victims of war. We must also remind our politicians that winning elections is important, but not at the cost of bigotry that threatens the freedom, fundamental rights, and safety of minorities in America.