For the first time in history, a pope addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Thursday. Pope Francis, as nicely as he could, admonished the United States for not doing more for immigrants, whether they be from Mexico, Central America or Syrian refugees.
“We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation,” the pope said. “To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.”
Well, that’s one approach, but not the one Congress has taken. Immigrant-bashing is de rigueur on the GOP presidential campaign trail, and the Obama administration has been slow to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis.
This week Secretary of State John Kerry reminded the world that America is “a land of second chances and a beacon of hope.” The United States, he said, will gradually open its borders to 30,000 more refugees over the next two years, including 10,000 more Syrians.
That’s not the least we could do. But it’s pretty close.
It cannot charitably be described as adequate, given the times and the magnitude of a crisis that U.S. polices in the Middle East had a lot to do with creating. Certainly it falls short of hopes held by many progressives, including some former Obama administration officials.
Then there are Republicans, who are tripping over each other to monger fear, avoiding even a modest offer of help.
Congressional leaders and GOP presidential candidates have ratcheted up anti-Muslim rhetoric. Some ignorantly equate all Muslims with terrorists and ignore Christian immigrants who are part of the mix. They argue that nearby nations should take all those fleeing warfare and worry that terrorists will outfox the lengthy vetting the U.S. conducts of asylum seekers, a process that takes up to two years to complete.
Such reactions belie America’s history as a land of opportunity. This year, the U.S. accepted about 70,000 refugees, most of them from Myanmar, Iraq and Somalia. It wasn’t enough. Iraqis who risked their lives to help U.S. soldiers and our allies to oust Saddam Hussein still face an uphill struggle to win the entrance lottery. Refugees from nations like Syria face even steeper odds.
Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, with rebels seeking the ouster of President Bashar Assad, the U.S. has admitted only 1,600 Syrians. To put that in context: Lebanon, a nation of 4.5 million, is now home to 1.1 million Syrian refugees, while Jordan, with a population of 6.5 million, has about 630,000 — some now heading to Europe because of dwindling aid and work opportunities.
In total, some 4 million Syrians have left in the wake of chemical weapons and bombs unleashed by Assad and Islamic State terrorists.
Of late, German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to have the biggest heart, aided by a post-World War II constitution that requires Germany to take in, house, feed and generally provide for refugees of war and evil dictators.
The guilt of World War II is hard at work on behalf of today’s refugees. Migrants like the economic opportunities that Germany, Sweden, and much of Europe seem to offer. Or at least it did until recently. Now the European Union is shuddering from the complex tide of refugees.
The United Nations estimates that 80 percent of those entering Europe through the Balkans are from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The other 20 percent are from equally harsh homelands including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burundi and sub-Saharan Africa.
A unified Europe is critical, both for migrants and for economic security. With Hungary posting ads in Lebanon and Jordan warning migrants it will harshly treat unauthorized entrants, the civilized world will rely on the European Union having the strength to rise to the challenges, not shrink into sparring separatists. U.S. exceptionalism does not apply here.
The best the U.S. can muster is an inadequate level of financial assistance to care for displaced Syrians in other lands and a modest hike in immigration. America’s fears suggest the terrorists have won.
(This editorial was commissioned from freelance editorialists and edited by the Post-Dispatch editorial board.)
Kevin Horrigan • 314-340-8135