Why Fear Should Be The Last Thing That Stops America From Aiding Refugees

by Jessicah Lahitou
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I suspect the American resistance to resettling Syrian refugees stems from one factor: fear. This is understandable.

Huge sections of Syria have been overtaken by ISIS. The terrorist group's brutal violence made headlines last year when ISIS videotaped their beheading of American reporters, burned alive a Jordanian pilot and broadcasted their willingness to butcher anyone who opposed them, including children.

In cities held by ISIS, local civilians have been executed for the “crime” of homosexuality. According to multiple accounts, ISIS has engaged in one of the most gruesome sex trafficking operations in human memory. Captured children who do not properly fast are beaten and sometimes killed.

Knowing this, many Americans do not want to risk someone from ISIS sneaking into our country on a refugee visa. But is that an excuse to ignore the millions of refugees who have fled this violence? Is fear an excuse to ignore the suffering of regular men and women who have left everything behind just to survive?

Is fear an excuse to give up on the American legacy of leading the way in aiding refugees? I'm not saying we need to throw open the doors and let anyone and everyone come to America. That would be a national security problem, not to mention economically tenuous.

Public schools are already struggling to provide a quality education to the students they have. Adding thousands more overnight would be an unbearable burden. Of course, that's just one facet of our economy, but we can do much more.

We sent soldiers to combat Ebola in Liberia. We can do the same to stabilize and improve the conditions in refugee camps.

How important is that small step? Take the "Calais Jungle" camp on the French coast. Over 6,000 refugees are now living in slums, where the lack of sanitary conditions has brought infection to many children. As is the case in most refugee situations, children and women are at risk of abuse and assault. Several cases of rape have been reported.

This is wholly unacceptable. Through emergency funding, the US can make a huge difference in improving the quality of life for these refugees. Additionally, just as we sent American soldiers to help build and maintain facilities to combat the spread of Ebola, we should send the military to help enforce order and safety in Syrian refugee camps.

Here's a major added benefit of doing so: American soldiers would get to know these refugees, the families and individuals who need our help. Those relationships would go a long way in vetting Syrians and Iraqis to come resettle in the US.

I know many Americans feel as though our government is already struggling to combat terrorism. I know it is frightening to contemplate the risk of what could happen if the “wrong” refugee made it into our country.

But ISIS recruits online. They don't need to “sneak” anyone in. The recent terrorist attack in San Bernardino was carried out by an American citizen and his wife. Neither one of them “snuck” into our country. We can't safeguard against everything.

But if we don't help these refugees, then we have a moral failure on our national conscience. If we don't help these refugees, millions of Muslims from the Middle East may not believe our message that we are a tolerant, generous and loving nation. They also may not believe that equality and freedom are real, successful, noble principles that can apply to everyone.

Too often, especially during this election cycle, fear and anger have exploded into xenophobia and violence. It is time to change course. America is the leader of the world, and our generosity and warmth are world-renowned. Now is the time to embrace those quintessential qualities and make the refugee crisis a priority.

We can do more. Now is the time.