I believe in general that America needs a more open form of immigration laws that allow for more immigrants, spanning from refugees seeking asylum and low-skilled workers through employment visa programs that allow more cross-border commerce and freedom of movement as well as more economic based paths to lawful work and citizenship granted through programs such as the H1B visa. This presents an opportunity to both tackle economic as well as moral benefits. As it relates to refugees, finding ways to alleviate suffering and finding ways to grant asylum is the moral obligation of a free and prosperous society, and if those of us on the right side of the ideological spectrum want to claim our nation is founded upon Judeo-Christian values, then we should be able to put our money where our mouths are and facilitate goodwill, charity, and the safety of persecuted populations in any form as they seek asylum on our shores.
That being said, in the face of the Paris attacks, where it is known that at least one attacker used Syrian refugee status to slip into France, it is in fact appropriate to pause and urge restraint while we collectively create sound and comprehensive strategies that allow us to vet and prioritize refugees while starting to deal with the root problems that create the mess in the first place. After all, one of the chief raison d’etre of government should be to protect and ensure the safety of its citizens. This should be one of its chief aims. The recent swath of governors rushing to close off their states may be a bit hasty and rash in my opinion, but it reflects the genuine and well-founded concerns of U.S. citizens. I believe that American citizens at large and those in the middle ranging from center-left to center-right can serve as the basis of a persuadable coalition to support refugees in this time of global crisis. However, the moralizing hectoring of President Obama to take on refugees that is completely decoupled from sound strategies to ensure America’s safety or to address the actual root of the problem and chaos in the Middle East will naturally leave much of the nation’s citizenry skeptical that this same President will implement sound strategies to vet incoming refugees and keep American citizens safe. With Obama’s moralizing, I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite novels, Augustus by John Williams, in which one of Augustus’s key advisors, Gaius Maecenas, admonishes one of his friends that, “It seems to me that the moralist is the most useless and contemptible of creatures. He is useless in that he would expend his energies upon making judgments rather than upon gaining knowledge, for the reason that judgment is easy and knowledge is difficult. He is contemptible in that his judgments reflect a vision of himself which in his ignorance and pride he would impose upon the world. I implore you, do not become a moralist; you will destroy your art and your mind.”
A more responsible strategy would in fact be to couple refugee resettlement plans with clarity in how we are going to join and lead a global coalition of the willing to eradicate (not contain) ISIS, promote the reform of Islam at large, and promote the peace and stability of Syria and Iraq. Plans to deal with refugees and support of refugee areas in countries closer to Iraq and Syria such as Jordan and Turkey should also be part of this strategy. We should also be willing to prioritize refugee status for communities that suffer the most at the hands of ISIS and the Assad regime, including Yazidis, Christians, moderate Sunnis that have fought on the side of moderate forces, and secularists. The ability to vet inbound refugees with whatever means we have at our disposal, admittedly a difficult task, coupled with enhanced intelligence capabilities with monitoring of metadata that Obama has done much to gut, should also be part of the mix.
So by all means, bring in the huddled masses. Accepting the battered refugee is an action that lives up to America’s finest ideals and follows a precedent of accepting refugees during the Bosnian conflict and the Iraq War, not to mention European refugees that came in large numbers during both World Wars. In times where America was at our worst were times of not accepting enough of those in need, such as Jews fleeing the depravations of the Holocaust and broad European pogroms perpetrated on them in the early 20th century. I would also argue refugees do much to add to the unique fabric and narrative of American diversity and the American story. Grateful refugees and their descendants make some of the finest citizens this country has ever known. However, given the safety imperative is the highest responsibility of any government, let’s craft the refugee plan alongside comprehensive strategy that includes in the long-run eliminating the source of the cancer itself rather than simply addressing its symptoms as well as a plan for vetting incoming refugees and ways to prioritize them. Once that plan is laid out to the American people, then fears can be allayed and the support of the majority of American citizens will follow.