© Josh Sager – November 2015
This Thanksgiving, world events force us to look back at the founding of our nation and consider our choices in the near future. We are a nation founded by immigrants and refugees of political and religious oppression. European minorities who faced religious and political oppression fled west to the USA and tried to build a nation that would protect their interests and lives.
Unfortunately, our nation’s history is not without some terrible ironies. After escaping from the threat of murder and oppression, our ancestors killed the Native Americans, imported African slaves to oppress and spent decades marginalizing various ethnic groups. Fortunately, through years of terrible struggle, our nation has improved a great deal and we now consider ourselves to be far more evolved in our thinking than our ancestors were. In spite of this, while celebrating Thanksgiving today, many Americans have completely forgotten our history and are now trying to shut the door on the most recent wave of immigrants and refugees from political/religious oppression.
War in the Middle East is driving millions of Syrians out of their homes and forcing them to leave the region as refugees. They are running from the endless violence of the barbaric Islamic State terrorist group and the crossfire between these terrorists and the strange and fragmented coalition that has aligned against them (the West, Russia, Assad, secular rebels, Kurds, Iran, Jordan and Egypt, just to name a few). These refugees are running to Europe and the USA to escape death and have been met with a mixed welcome—some have tried to make their transition easier, while many more have tried to block their journey or even use them to stir up hatred.
Despite the obvious parallels between our ancestors and the Syrians running from ISIS, we now have people like Donald Trump trying to demonize these desperate people. We also have these same people trying to similarly demonize South American and Central American immigrants who are running from the narco-violence that the war on drugs has produced in their societies.
We need to take this day to remember the refugees. Stop the hatred and fear, and begin thinking about how we can help. The idea that some refugees will come to our nation will ill-intent is very real, but it is also nothing new and is by no means an existential threat to our nation. It is certainly not a justification for the frankly Nazi-esque suggestions that we need to detain, register, or ban certain types of refugee from our nation.
Beyond the moral argument for this type of compassion for the refugee, we have a strong self-interest in finding a bit more compassion for the various refugees at our gates.
Instead of being seen in some regions as the nation that tortures, bombs, and talks about oppressing Muslims, a strong push to accept refugees from the Syrian conflict will help build goodwill and deter people from considering us enemies. Put simply, saving a refugee is far more effective than using a drone bomb to kill a terrorist, as that refugee will contribute to our society and stop members of their family from becoming anti-American, while a drone bomb is likely to create more terrorists by killing civilians and creating the perception that we are at war with Muslims.
Similarly, with South/Central American refugees, our compassion will allow millions of dedicated Americans to finally get legal status, work in our economy, and study in our universities. They can contribute to our society and help build it to even greater heights than we have already achieved.
While at dinner tonight, simply remember that refugees are not some scary thing to fear and demonize—they are the people who you are celebrating and, in all likelihood, everybody at your table is either an immigrant or the descendent of an immigrant.