Resist perpetuation of xenophobic policies in the US
Rather than sticking to a stubborn and futile refusal to allow refugees entry, some states have recently taken to following Republican front runner Donald Trump’s lead in calling for a special registry. Such is the case with South Carolina and New York.
Both states have proposed state bills requiring refugees originating from places the United States deems state sponsors of terrorism — specifically Syria, Sudan and Iran — to enter into registries, according to a March 20 MSNBC article.
The proclaimed purpose of these bills is to help ensure national security in the wake of an influx of refugees from the countries in question — a total of 6,369 people from Syria, Sudan and Iran in Fiscal Year 2015, according to the Department of State.
Proponents of the bills seek to make it clear that American security is their first priority. Despite this, the supporters of these bills would never want Americans to view them as lacking compassion. No; in fact, sponsoring state senator Kevin Bryant of South Carolina remarked, “Why should we bring one refugee here when we could spend the same money and help 10 in their part of the world?”
This statement seeks to garner support for the bill by attempting to project a humanitarian motive, but with this, Bryant propagates ignorance on a few levels.
First of all, throwing money at every problem does not always magically solve it. Many issues that these refugees have will take more than mere American dollars; they require changes in leadership, more power to the people and especially, time. In the interim, these refugees are not safe, and a wad of American dollars will not stop a bullet or a bomb. Boiling the situation down to dollar signs woefully misrepresents the facts and circumstances faced by the refugees South Carolina and New York seek to place on registries.
Beyond that, however, even if this did not oversimplify the problem, Bryant would still be wrong; the inaccuracy of his math would be laughable if not for its potential to destroy people’s lives. According to a Nov. 20, 2015 U.S. News and World Report article, the only money the U.S. government gives refugees that it does not expect them to pay back as soon as they find work is a $1,000 stipend. Other expenses — primarily airfare to get to the U.S. — are loans. Bryant clearly has a poor understanding of money, as $1,000 would not go a long way toward helping 10 refugees in “their part of the world.”
Regardless, many would still support these bills with the justification of saving American lives because politicians prioritize the lives of their constituents — as they should.
The trouble is, however, that the threat of these refugees is based more on conjecture and fear than on actual fact. Between 9/11 and October of last year, foreign terrorists claimed 26 lives on American soil, compared to the 48 claimed by domestic terrorists, according to an Oct. 15, 2015 Washington Post article. While any loss of life is too much, the disproportionate fear of refugees vilifies one group and ignores the other.
Americans can try to hide behind fallible logic and platforms of national security, but really, proponents of policies like these care little for truth or facts. The likelihood of politicians proposing these policies with an intent to increase the number of refugees they could help is slim to none, and they either do not care enough to pay attention to the statistics, or they willfully ignore them. The bottom line is that, in America, the masses are terrified of immigrants regardless of their background, and these policies demonstrate that the fear is the only thing that matters to these particular politicians.
In the mid-19th century, Americans — particularly those affiliated with the Know-Nothing Party — greeted Irish immigrants with resentment and fear of the job competition. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act sought to curb Chinese immigration. In the 1940s, people of Japanese, Italian and German descent posed such an imaginary threat that President Franklin D. Roosevelt grossly overstepped his powers as president and used Executive Order 9066 to arrest or intern tens of thousands of Japanese-, Italian- and German-Americans — including first- and second-generation immigrants. In the decades following during the Cold War, Americans feared immigrants of Russian and Eastern European origin who may have been infected with the plague of communism, resulting in the second Red Scare.
To those who claim that the current refugee situation is entirely unprecedented and therefore incomparable to any past event, consider undeniable parallels. Take, for example, comments about building walls to keep immigrants out; as early as the 1750s, one politician remarked, “We should build a wall of brass around the country.” Then, it was John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court talking about Catholics; now, it is GOP frontrunner Donald Trump talking about Mexicans. Nearly three centuries later, nativist sentiment has not changed.
History has shown that immigrants’ place of origin is arbitrary; if they try to cross the border from any angle, they are scary.
Speaking against the bill in South Carolina, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ibrahim Hooper, declared, “If it is not illegal, it is at least un-American.”
Though Hooper means well with his strategic appeal to opponents’ patriotism, he could not be more wrong. In theory, America propagates freedom and opportunity for all. In reality, xenophobia is more American than apple pie and baseball.
Americans have consistently met every mass immigration to the United States with fear and resentment, regardless of specific circumstances. A pattern has emerged, and change will only come with a drastic change of heart by the American people.
First, Americans must reject xenophobic policies proposed by their states, like these two bills in South Carolina and New York. Then, beyond the state level, as Americans watch the presidential race progress, they must consider history. America has let its fear drive it to wrongfully imprison or exclude thousands — walls and registries are not actually that far-fetched. The winner in November will undoubtedly shape history — just as each president has before — and if America elects someone who spews xenophobic, nativist propaganda, it has chosen to repeat history rather than shape it.