Dear Future President,
As an American youth, I am terrified. Why? Already, I’m sure you’ve hypothesized some reasons—perhaps the prospect of applying and paying for college, choosing what I want to do with my life, or just navigating high school. These are all viable reasons, sure, but none is the chief cause of my disturbance. As an American youth, I am terrified because 50,000 Syrian children have been killed since the start of the conflict just five years ago. I am terrified because around 2.4 million Syrian children aren’t receiving an education because they are refugees, or because 14,000 Syrian schools have been destroyed. I am terrified because the worries of Syrian children are not applying or paying for college, but whether survival will last another day. Lastly, I am terrified because the country I live in, aware of the above realities, is content with writing a check and watching from a distance.
The lack of a comprehensive United States response to the Syrian refugee crisis can be credited to fears of terrorist infiltration. Shutting our doors is understandably appetizing—better safe than sorry, right? When weighing all possible courses of action, though, an open-door policy emerges as perhaps the most promising and sustainable route in combatting terrorism. Opening the US to a larger influx of Syrian refugees could deliver a significant blow to the Islamic State’s recruitment process. A major strategy employed by ISIS is one that uses negative Western attitudes toward Muslims as ammunition to alienate and, in turn, recruit. Recruitment also occurs in camps where refugees reside for long periods of time, the squalid conditions and bleakness of the environment prompting some to radicalize. The lack of a mobilized response to the crisis will result in a lost generation of Syrians, breeding further alienation and hostility. So, ironically, the policy of shutting out Muslim refugees to mitigate terrorism might only serve to strengthen terrorist efforts in the long term.
The Syrian people have been betrayed by the very government meant to protect them. Sound familiar? Recall the history of this country. Of course, Great Britain never used chemical weapons or airstrikes against its people, but remember why one of the most revered documents in American history was written: citizens felt abandoned by their government. Hence, the laying of foundational principles that we all revere today—“liberty,” “justice,” and “rights,” to name a few. Wait a second—why am I even mentioning this? Consider this: what if we didn’t have a land mass across the ocean to retreat to? What if it was not only our government’s back turned to us, but the whole world’s? What if we were stuck not only in the grip of tyranny, but in the middle of proxy war, civil war, the rise of terrorism, and all the while being rejected by those who claim to be a beacon of hope? We not only have a clear moral obligation to absorb more Syrian refugees, but an obligation on principle. How can we claim to value the “rights” to life and liberty when we protect them selectively? Surely there is danger in disguising rights as privileges.
Now, future President, I am not nearly as well-versed in foreign policy as you or your advisors, nor am I oblivious to the complexities of the Syrian conflict. I know the Syrian refugee crisis cannot be solved in an instant. I know our national security is at risk. I know that “better safe than sorry” is a comfortable position to take politically. But, I also know that risk can be managed. I know that no global issues can be solved in an instant, but that does not diminish their urgency. I know that “safe” now could absolutely mean “sorry” later. The United States must take direct and unequivocal action in absorbing more Syrian refugees. The moral imperative demands it and a more secure future requires it. A policy rooted in fear and political expediency not only undermines the very principles the United States stands for, but could also prove a detriment to security in the long term.
Future President, I ask you to reframe the Syrian refugee crisis from a political burden to a test of principles, which carries with it serious implications for our future. I ask you to ask yourself a question: what do we stand for?