Debate on Allowing Syrian Refugees Into the United States by I.C.

In September 2015, the body of Aylan Kurdi, 3, washed up on a Turkish beach. A photographer snapped a picture that would change everything. It is the image of the lifeless body of the little boy, dressed in a red t-shirt and blue shorts, lying with his pudgy cheek pressed softly against the sand as if he were sleeping.  This single image has galvanized the Syrian crisis throughout the globe and moved millions to lend a hand to the refugees.

Aylan and his family were Syrian refugees seeking a new life in Canada. The smugglers they hired promised Aylan’s father a trip overseas on a motor boat. Instead, the smugglers came with a 15 foot, rubber raft. During the journey, the raft flipped in high waves throwing Aylan and his family into the frigid water. Aylan’s father was the only survivor (Park, Haeyoun). Tragic stories such as Aylan’s are common among the 12 million people driven by desperation and violence to leave their Syrian homeland.  All of them leave wondering where their next home will be.

In 2011, the violent Syrian Civil War began displacing millions of Syrians, leaving them no place to turn. Since then, the war has displaced approximately 4.2 million Syrians (World Vision). This diaspora threatens to become the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. The United States has done its part to help the Syrian refugees.  Since 2011, the United States has provided asylum to only approximately 0.0005 percent or 2,290 of all Syrian refugees (Bremmer, Ian).

Under pressure from European countries, President Obama recently raised the number of Syrians who may be granted asylum from 2,000 to 10,000 this fiscal year (Park, Hayoun). Syrians accounted for only two percent of the 70,000 refugees admitted in the U.S this last fiscal year (Park, Haeyoun). However, these numbers pale in comparison to the numbers admitted by other countries. As an example, since 2012, Germany has admitted 92,991 refugees (Park, Haeyoun).

Obama’s attempts to aid the refugees have been diminished by concerns of national security The terrorist attacks on Paris have added the more to the already-intense, global debate.  The attacks occurred on the evening of November 13, 2015, terrorists carried out a series of violent attacks killing 130 people in the streets of Paris, France ( “Paris Terror Attacks”).  French authorities later determined the attacks were executed by Syrian refugees.

In the wake of the attack, the French government has, nonetheless, kept its promise to allow 30,000 refugees legal status in the next two years (Tharoor, Ishaan).  The French President, Francois Hollande, says it is France’s “humanitarian duty” to honor its commitment to the refugees (Tharoor, Ishaan).

The additional refugees that will be granted asylum in the United States will come from 18,000 referrals sent by the United Nations. According to State department officials, more than half of these 18,000 refugees are injured children (Park Haeyoun) who have missed years of schooling and witnessed unspeakable violence and brutality (World Vision). Some also faced forceful recruitment by warring parties to serve as fighters or human shields (World Vision). Some United States Presidential candidates voiced their opinions prior to the Paris attacks  about the risks of granting Syrians asylum in the U.S.  Rather, than prompting the candidates to support acceptance of more Syrian refugees, the attacks accomplished the opposite:  the candidates became even more leery of Syrian refugees.  All the  Republican candidates oppose Obama’s plan to increase the number of Syrians granted asylum in the U.S.( Kaplan, Thomas).  In particular, candidate Donald Trump took a strong and angry stance stating, “If Obama, through his weakness, lets them come in, I’m sending them out if I win”( Kaplan, Thomas).

The Democratic candidates have expressed the opposite perspective and fully support Obama’s proposal. Former Secretary of State and presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, claims she would grant even more refugees legal status. “I said we should go to 65” — meaning 65,000 refugees — “but only if we have as careful a screening and vetting process as we can imagine”, she said on November 12, 2015 (Kaplan, Thomas).

In addition, more than half of the nation’s governors have spoken out against allowing refugees into their states (Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brumfield). All but one are Republican governors. For most, the concern is one of national security after the attacks on Paris. Alabama governor, Robert Bentley, vociferously rejected Obama’s plan saying, “As your governor, I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way” (Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brumfield).

However, the final decision is not in the hands of the individual states.  Professor Stephen I. Vladeck of American University said,  “Legally, states have no authority to do anything because the question of who should be allowed in this country is one that the Constitution commits to the federal government” (Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brumfield).  Although, he says, the cooperation from the states is necessary to complete the task. “So a state can’t say it is legally objecting, but it can refuse to cooperate, which makes things much more difficult.” (Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brumfield).

President Obama however, does not intend to give up the fight for the refugees. “We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic,” Obama said. “We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks.”(Liptak, Kevin, and Jim Acosta).  Nonetheless, the future of the refugees is still unclear.


Works Cited

Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brumfield. “Syrian Refugees Not Welcome in 31 U.S. States –” CNN. Cable News Network, 19 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Park, Haeyoun. “Paris Attacks Intensify Debate Over How Many Syrian Refugees to Allow Into the U.S.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 Oct. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

“What You Need to Know: Crisis in Syria, Refugees, and the Impact on Children.” World Vision. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brumfield. “Syrian Refugees Not Welcome in 31 U.S. States –” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

Kaplan, Thomas, and Wilson Andrews. “Presidential Candidates on Allowing Syrian Refugees in the United States.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Nov. 2015. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

“Paris Terror Attacks –” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

Liptak, Kevin, and Jim Acosta. “Barack Obama Slams GOP over Refugee Stance –” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.