Like Jewish Refugees of Old, Syrian Refugees Pose Little Threat

As hard as it is to imagine, American conservatism (and even liberalism) of the 1930s and 1940s was marked by a staunch hatred of the Jews, quite the opposite of the undying, unquestioning support for Israel today.

Adolf Hitler’s persecution of the Jews was well-known in the United States, though President Franklin Roosevelt and his cabinet hesitated to criticize it. In 1934, a resolution in the Senate called for the U.S. government to condemn Hitler’s early discriminatory policies and push for the restoration of Jewish rights, but Roosevelt’s State Department ensured the resolution disappeared in committee (see Offner, American Appeasement). When Roosevelt’s secretary of labor requested priority in immigration be granted to victims of racial and religious persecution, the State Department rejected the idea.

Even after Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938, during which the Nazis murdered dozens of Jews, burned thousands of synagogues, homes, and businesses, and rounded up tens of thousands to be shipped off to concentration camps, most Americans refused compassion. The events were reported in the major American newspapers.

Many Americans feared Jews would steal their jobs, but also widely regarded them as racially inferior Christ-killers; some created myths about Jews taking over the world, which partially inspired Hitler.

There was also fear that Jewish refugees were Nazi spies. “Among the refugees there are some spies,” Roosevelt warned in 1940. The Saturday Evening Post wrote that “disguised as refugees, Nazi agents have penetrated all over the world, as spies, fifth columnists, propagandists, or secret commercial agents.” According to historian Max Paul Friedman, no Jewish refugee was ever discovered to be a spy.

Still, a survey of college students from December 12, 1938 asked if the U.S. should offer a haven for Jewish refugees. 68.8% said no. A January 20, 1939 survey that asked if the government should allow in “10,000 refugee children from Germany — most of them Jewish” saw 61% of Americans polled say no.

By 1938, over 300,000 Germans, mostly Jews, had applied to enter the U.S. Only 20,000 were allowed in. The U.S. rejected anyone who might end up on welfare; many Jews lost everything to the Nazis and would need public assistance. Anne Frank’s family was rejected.

A ship carrying Jewish refugees was turned away on the American shore because of strict immigration quotas. Some of the refugees onboard later died in the Holocaust.

These barriers ensured that the immigration limit on Germans went unfilled until 1938, even though hundreds of thousands wanted in. The 1938-1939 quota for Germans was 27,370. Meanwhile, the quota for Britain and Ireland was 65,721. Though it was an era of high unemployment and it was reasonable to worry about competition for the few jobs available, the fact that many Americans did not alter their views in the face of Hitler’s barbarity is highly disturbing, yet predictable in a time of virulent racism and anti-semitism.

Today, the story is quite similar. 12 million Syrians, half of them children, have fled their homes in the Syrian Civil War that began in 2011. 4 million have left Syria. 700,000 have traveled to Europe in 2015 alone. Having left everything behind to escape the violence and destruction in Syria, they are desperate for shelter, warm clothing, food, clean water, medicine, etc. 3,200 have died on their journey.

The Obama administration will take in 10,000 Syrian refugees, an almost meaningless number in the face of the crisis. 75,000 refugees will be accepted from elsewhere in the world.

There is a huge push from conservatives to stop even this quota. Half of U.S. governors declared refugees unwelcome. The terror attack in Paris on Friday contributed to the intensity of this opposition.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz declared that allowing Syrian Muslim refugees into the U.S. is “lunacy,” that they should be sent to “majority-Muslim countries,” but that “Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them.” Cruz insisted “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror,” ignoring the horrific attacks by extremist Christians in recent memory; Americans are twice as likely to die at the hands of right-wing American terrorists than Muslim jihadists.

Of the 68 people charged in the U.S. for links to ISIS, 55 were U.S. citizens (44 born in America).

Fellow politicians echoed his heartless bigotry, in just the latest chapter of increasing anti-Muslim hatred in America. Many citizens believe all Muslims to be extremist, violent, dangerous, a stereotype they do not often apply to Christians after Christian extremist violence. This writer saw one grammatically-challenged Kansan post on social media:

The pampered Americans have no idea what is going on here. You are not educated at all as to the danger of these immigrants. They will rape our women and destroy our culture. It is foolish and naive to say “let’s be generous and let them all come in. It is the stupidest thing I have ever heard it. You are completely ignorant of the facts of the matter. Would you invite a rapist who wants to rape your wife and kill you in your sleep into your home? This is the way of the Muslims. Dude, they want to conquer the world and their religion is Satanic. Absolutely Satanic. I wish we could prevent all Muslim men from coming over here. Actually, the children are so brainwashed I would be okay with not allowing any Muslims over here.

53% of Americans, according to one poll after the Paris attacks, oppose accepting any refugees from Syria.

Apparently many Americans are having great difficulty grasping the idea that Syrian refugees are men, women, and children fleeing ISIS (which has committed genocide not just against Christians, but also Yezidi, Shi’a Muslims, and even fellow Sunni Muslims), fleeing the oppressive Islamic dictatorship of Syria, and fleeing the war between them. 250,000 have died in Syria so far.

Where surveys have been conducted, Muslims in the region overwhelmingly despise ISIS.

Contrary to the claims of Ben Carson and other conservatives, the majority of the refugees are not young males. Males 18-59 make up 22.1% of the 4 million refugees (males 12-17 make up 6.6%). Of all the refugees the U.S. has accepted thus far, only 2% have been single males of combat age. The State Department is rightly focusing on the most vulnerable: families with children.

Fears of terrorists sneaking in with the refugees are severely misplaced, as Fusion notes. Since 9/11, of the more than 750,000 refugees taken in by the U.S., not one has been arrested for domestic terrorism. Only three have been arrested for financially supporting foreign extremist groups (and only one of these spoke of attacking the U.S.). None were from Syria. About 2,000 Syrians have already entered the U.S. refugee program without incident.

Further, a great many Middle Easterners, non-refugees, have migrated to the U.S. since 9/11:

The U.S. has admitted 1.5 million migrants from the Middle East since September 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks that have occurred since 9/11 have been committed either by American natives or non-refugee immigrants.

A small threat exists in any migration program (even though immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than the native-born), but it is not worsened by an inflow of people with refugee status, who see a more rigorous screening process.

The Migration Policy Institute notes:

[The] refugee resettlement program is the least likely avenue for a terrorist to choose. Refugees who are selected for resettlement to the United States go through a painstaking, many-layered review before they are accepted. The FBI, Department of Homeland Security, State Department, and national intelligence agencies independently check refugees’ biometric data against security databases. The whole process typically takes 18-24 months, with high hurdles for security clearance.

As The Hill reported, “A Department of Homeland Security official stated that there is no evidence that refugees accepted into the U.S. are more likely to commit terrorism than anyone else in the country” and that refugee settlement in the Middle East creates a greater risk of refugee radicalization. Better resettlement conditions and distance from the beating heart of extremism contribute to this.

Though not perfect, the refugee path is “the most stringent security process for entering the United States,” as a State Department spokesman said.

When the potential risk is minimal, and the potential human good enormous, the ethics of the matter are plain.

Conservatives who believe in the preservation of gun ownership rights, despite the risk of terror attacks by native-born right-wing extremists, should understand this.

It is interesting that some conservatives, who would perhaps be quickest to compare ISIS to Hitler, are also the ones most ardently refusing to aid the victims of ISIS. They should be the ones pushing hardest to allow in refugees. The fact that many Americans did not alter their views in the face of ISIS’s barbarity is highly disturbing, yet predictable in a time of virulent racism and anti-Muslim hatred.

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