This is Tamam, a five year old Syrian refugee. She cries every night, associating her pillow with the night air raids she lived through in her hometown of Homs. She escaped Syria two years ago and is in Azraq, Jordan now.
This photo was taken by Magnus Wennman, who photographed a number of Syrian refugee children where they sleep (or try to) – in Serbian woods, hospital beds, Beirut streets, and refugee camps. They and surviving parents or grandparents have a chance to recover from the catastrophic violence from which they have fled. A chance that depends on the world not turning its back on them.
The United States has offered to take a small fraction of the millions of Syrian refugees – only about 10,000. A great many of the people we will take in are children – of the nearly 2,200 Syrians we have accepted up to now, half have been children. And yes, we will also take in adults too.
Our elected officials and wannabee leaders can welcome war-stricken children and adults and help to calm their fears and re-make their lives. Or they can play upon fears here.
Many governors and members of Congress opposed to most of the President’s agenda have chosen fear. The House will vote Thursday on a bill to obstruct Syrian and Iraqi refugees’ entrance into the U.S. The bill (H.R. 4038) is co-sponsored by Representatives McCaul (R-TX) and Hudson (R-NC). It would add layers of certifications by the FBI before people could be approved for U.S. entry, as well as approval of each individual by high level officials such as the Secretary of Homeland Security. Such cumbersome requirements are explicitly meant to stop any refugee approvals from that region. The process already takes from 18 to 24 months, and involves multiple interviews and background investigations. The FBI and State, Defense, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services departments all play a role. While the authorities should always be evaluating and improving upon their screening procedures, the additional certifications required by H.R. 4038 are described by the Administration as “untenable” and “impractical” in its Statement of Administration Policy, in announcing its intention to veto the bill.
If Congress rejects posturing, it will vote down this legislation and spare the President the need to veto. When we let fear and prejudice dictate our response, the results shame us. That was true when we barred the door to Jews trying to escape the Holocaust. It was true when we held Japanese Americans in camps during World War II. It remains true when we turn away and incarcerate children and mothers fleeing violence in Central America. And it would be just as shameful now.
Playing on fear is not just unworthy of us – it is a damaging distraction. We do face threats, but they are much more likely to reach us through other routes than appeals for refugee status. The FBI, Homeland Security and other departments should not be diverting resources away from likelier sources of threat.
Nor should we be disrupting the rigorous process of screening now in place. The bill the House votes on Thursday would force a complete restructuring of our refugee resettlement procedures, according to Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration. That would detract from our security.
As Congress continues its work on spending legislation, it should provide enough funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which got $1.1 billion last year, and which should receive an increase to serve 85,000 refugees, up from 70,000 last year. This includes children fleeing violence in Central America and refugees from other troubled areas. We need to rise above fear and reject those who prey upon it. Welcoming refugees is a sign and a source of our nation’s strength.