Whether  the U.S. should increase the number of refugees it is willing to accept and resettle is a debate often framed in terms of compassion versus security: Those in favor of taking more refugees assert that it is the humane thing to do, our moral calling as Americans; those against warn that accepting refugees from the Syrian Civil War will threaten our national security because some of them might be terrorists. 

Although progressives like myself think that American inclusivity is self-evidently supportive of refugees, that hasn’t convinced conservatives thus far. As for the argument that refugees are potential terrorists, not only have such claims been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked — indeed, a November 2015 edition of TIME magazine notes that between 2001 and 2015, zero out of 750,000 refugees were arrested on terrorism charges — there’s a very strong case to be made that not accepting refugees actually goes against the interests of the United States.

Let’s start with the countries neighboring Syria, where families stay as they apply for asylum. According to Aug. 16 data from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), there are just over 4.8 million registered Syrian refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The United Nations Office for Coordinating Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that funding for humanitarian aid for Syria is only at 42 percent of its goal; moreover, “nearly 1 million Syrian refugee children are out of school in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan,” according to an Aug. 2 Reuters article. Though the education of displaced children may seem like a distant problem to many Americans, David Miliband, current President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, points out that “if you care about extremism, you’ve got 200,000 Syrian kids growing up in Lebanon with no education.” And although countries like Jordan have taken steps to educate more Syrian children on their own, they cannot do it by themselves. Such efforts have consumed more than a fourth of Jordan’s national budget, according to an Aug. 15 Times of Israel article; the same article also cites Jordan’s King Abdullah lamenting that “Jordan is doing its utmost to help refugees,” but “we have reached our limits.” 

So it is clear that simply leaving refugees in Syria, or in countries bordering Syria, is not a viable option, given that bordering countries are being physically overwhelmed by refugees. The question then becomes how the international community ought to coordinate refugee resettlement so that countries are able to take in as many refugee families as they are able without burdening their national budgets as Jordan has. 

According to an Aug. 5 New York Times article, the Obama Administration is currently on track to slightly exceed its goal of settling 10,000 refugees in the United States this year; however, this figure represents literally “0.2 percent of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees worldwide,” according to a July 12 article in the Atlantic. We are more than capable of taking in far, far more refugees, and refusing to do so damages our credibility on a host of issues that all of us should care about very much. 

First of all, our intransigence gives countries, especially those in Europe, license to refuse refugees — or at the very least underfund efforts to integrate them — and point to the United States’ example as justification. This collective action problem means that the countries whose governments have thus far been generous with accepting refugees — countries such as Germany — will begin to feel overwhelmed. The sense that governments can’t handle the number of refugees they have chosen to accept will not only lead to decreased public support for further refugee intake but will also stymie efforts to integrate Syrian families into German society. This sort of catch-22 only plays into the rhetoric of groups like the Islamic State, who want those fleeing Assad to see that Western liberal society will never be a place where they will feel welcome. 

Further, refusing to take in more refugees harms our credibility in the fight against the Islamic State group and the effort to bring an end to the Syrian Civil War. Reasonable people can disagree on how to accomplish these goals, but nothing will be done effectively without assembling an international coalition including European and Arab countries. And yes, ending the Syrian Civil War for good is the only way to solve the refugee crisis in the long-term, but until we get to that point, we need to come to terms with the fact that shouldering the burden of taking in refugees is part of what a responsible nation does. 

Finally, not taking in more refugees places us in our own way when it comes to lessening human rights abuses more broadly. How will the Arab League listen to us when we ask them to commit ground troops to the fight against the Islamic State group while we ourselves refuse to do the same? Why would they agree when we ask them to accept more refugees while we aren’t accepting enough as it is? We’ve made a commitment to ourselves and to the world to defeat the Islamic State  group — a barbaric cult whose aims include annihilating one of our closest allies, Israel, and turning most of Iraq and Syria into a medieval-style caliphate that threatens the stability of the entire region. This March, President Obama vowed in a press conference to “go after ISIL aggressively until it’s removed from Syria and from Iraq and finally destroyed.” We must lead by example when it comes to taking in refugees because that is what it means to be the nation that leads the free world. 

At the end of the day, our uncharitable refugee intake carries with it a serious opportunity cost. If we want to change Americans’ attitudes toward accepting refugees from Syria, this deserves just as much mention as the positive benefits of taking in refugees. 

There’s a reason this entire debate can sound like a broken record: “Anti-refugee hysteria,” as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof put it in his Aug. 25 column, has persisted throughout American history. Donald Trump’s foreign policy slogan “America First” is a slogan borrowed word-for-word from the 1930s and 1940s, when fearmongering anti-Semites calling themselves “America Firsters” suggested that Jews seeking refuge in the U.S. were really spies for the Soviet Union. In his 2004 novel, “The Plot Against America,” Philip Roth explains that this phenomenon was so powerful in 1940 that “for many America Firsters there was no debating even with the facts” that Jews were a “[great] danger to this country.” The chauvinism of the 1930s and 1940s is deeply relevant to the xenophobia and Islamophobia that plague our public discourse today: after all, bigotry is most potent when it speaks the language of patriotism.