As of October 2016, 54 percent of registered voters have said that the United States does not have the responsibility to accept refugees from Syria.
The majority’s opinion matches up well with reality; the U.S. has taken in 18,007 refugees from Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011. Just for comparison, Germany, a country about the size of Montana, took in 890,000 refugees in 2015 alone.
In fact, the U.S. has taken in a grand total of 3 million refugees since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, which created the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program and the current national standard for the screening and admission of refugees into the country. Once again, as a comparison, Turkey has taken in 3 million refugees from Syria alone since 2011.
The U.S. is far larger than Germany and Turkey and has all of the resources necessary to accept more refugees, so why are we so hesitant to do so? This question is much too complex to be fully answered in a single blog post, but it is something to think about nonetheless.
It is likely that many Americans don’t know anything about the Syrian people beyond the stereotypes and horror stories they may have heard. Most people would agree that it is perfectly valid to not want a person with malicious, terroristic intent to be allowed entry to the country.
The issue with this mentality is that it is simply not realistic. Each incoming refugee undergoes a strict and highly structured admissions process lasting 18-24 months that includes a review of applications by the State Department and other federal agencies, in-person interviews, health screenings, and cultural orientations. The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program also strategically accepts both those who are the most vulnerable, and those with the best chance of long-term integration. As a result of this, people with critical medical conditions or disabilities and families with young children are much more likely to be admitted to the U.S. than any other group. 72 percent (or 13,014) of Syrian refugees that have been allowed entry to the U.S. since 2011 are women and children under the age of 14.
Some may be surprised to learn that there were Syrian immigrants in the U.S. long before Syrian refugees had begun being accepted into the country. The difference between these two groups is that an immigrant is a person that chooses to resettle in another country, and a refugee is a person that is forced to flee from their home country because it is unsafe for them to live there. This can be due to war, as it is in Syria’s case, or to environmental disasters, political persecution, and/ or religious or ethnic intolerance. The vast majority of Syrian people that immigrated to the U.S. did so before the refugee crisis began and are, for the most part, thriving.
91 percent of Syrian immigrants that have been in the country for more than 20 years have become U.S. citizens, as compared to only 70 percent of immigrants overall. In addition to this, 57 percent of Syrian immigrants that have been in the U.S. for over 10 years have reported that they can speak English very well, slightly higher than the rate for immigrants overall, 52 percent.
Syrian immigrants are generally very well-educated; 27 percent of Syrian immigrant men hold a master’s, doctorate, or professional degree, as compared to only 10-13 percent of all other citizens, both U.S. born and immigrants. Because of this, Syrian immigrants earn a median annual wage of $52,000. This is much higher than the country’s median wage for immigrants overall (which is $36,000), and is even higher than the median wage for U.S.-born workers ($45,000).
Syrian immigrants also have very high rates of business ownership. 11 percent of Syrian immigrants are business owners, as compared to only 3 percent of U.S. born citizens. These businesses range from medical offices to food services and automobile dealerships, and benefit more people than just their owners. These businesses provide employment, create jobs, and help bring about growth in the local economy.
These statistics show that the Syrian people are a valuable addition to the United States, and should encourage us to continue accepting more refugees. The U.S. already has a rich community of Syrian Americans, which will help make the transition to a new culture easier, and ultimately make for even more success stories. America was built on the foundation of people from all different backgrounds coming together to form one nation, and that is what continues to make this country great.