Allow me to introduce myself. I am an immigrant. I moved to the United States in 2008. As sweeping life changes tend to be, it was an incredibly daunting move; not only did I leave behind many of my home nation’s customs but also assimilated, for want of a better word, into the American way of life. In many ways, moving to the U.S. was like learning to walk all over again—with inevitable obstacles presenting themselves along the way.
U.S. immigration policy dictated that the biggest of these obstacles was the application process itself. My path to residency—like many who enter the country seeking to live and work—was subject to mountainous paperwork, four-figure filing fees, and a nine-month approval period. It was not easy.
The growing pains that ensued thereafter—from homesickness to language confusion—were an inevitable, if sometimes humorous, byproduct of my sudden fish-out-of-water status.
As I came to face new obstacles—such as American office jargon, food terminology, and an alien healthcare system—I encountered people on both sides of the political divide who all seemed to have one thing in common: they all welcomed me with open arms. By this, I don’t just mean they took the time to say “hello” or to obligatorily ask “how are you?” I mean they took (and continue to take) a positive and enthusiastic interest in not only me, but my homeland and its history.
As I type this article on November 18, 2015—five days after the tragic events in Paris—it occurs to me that Hoosier hospitality, of which I have so often been the beneficiary, is rather at odds with much of the state’s no-can-do rhetoric toward Syrian refugees. But then there’s something I forgot to mention: I am a white British male with an apparently nice accent. Only those in complete denial would deem this fact irrelevant.
Something else I forgot to mention is that my move to the U.S. was one-hundred percent voluntary. I wasn’t fleeing unjust persecution, a civil war, or a chemically-armed military. I was fleeing my own comfort zone. Because I wanted to. Because I could.
By comparison, those obstacles now seem as flimsy as one of those ribbons at the finishing line of a marathon. This is an apt metaphor, by the way, because Syrian refugees—in stark contrast—are negotiating a marathon of their own. Not only have they traveled unimaginable distances—sometimes on foot—and not only have many lost loved ones along the way, but all of them face an application process far more thorough than my own.
This, of course, is just one reason why denying Syrian refugees the path to immigration - as many states have sought to do - is a move that completely defies logic. In the unlikely event that a terrorist were to masquerade as a refugee, the extensive law enforcement screening process would absolutely bring this information to light. And in case you were still doubting the effectiveness of such a process, consider this: of the millions of refugees that have been admitted to the United States in the last 30 years, the number that have gone on to commit acts of terrorism is precisely zero.
With these facts and figures in mind and with the knowledge that, historically, we all came to America from lands afar, there is one other reason we should forego the admittedly natural tendency toward fear and it is this: humans are equipped with an equally natural tendency toward compassion.
And so on that note, let me conclude by laying down a challenge to my American readers: For every ounce of warmth you have presented me, present it tenfold to those running from persecution. For every smile you have given me, give uproarious laughter to those caught up in civil war. For every interest you’ve shown in my country and its history, do it in infinitely greater measure for those who face the very genuine threat of chemical weapons.
After all, my journey was a mere walk in the park; theirs is a marathon.