Thursday, November 19, 2015

Americans Welcomed Me with Open Arms. Why Can't They do This for Syrian Refugees?

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.

Sometimes, it's better hearing me in a British accent. Click the red button below.
Laurence Brown is a British expat living in the United States and is Editor-in-chief of Lost in the Pond. He writes popular expat narratives for BBC America and loves nothing more than to share his posts with anglophiles and expats on social media. Follow Lost in the Pond on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

11 comments:

Sandra G said...

We were not at war with those trying to rule your country. I absolutely enjoy your posts but completely disagree with you on this. We are at war whether our idiot president admits it or not. At times of war you DO NOT allow people into your country that could POSSIBLY be a threat. I don't care what paperwork they have to go through...it will not work to keep the terrorists out. There is no red flashing TERRORIST that appears on the screen when their name is pulled up. I do feel for the real refugees, but as a country we can not always be responsible for others, especially when it is detrimental to our own people (and the financial burden of an already broke country is detrimental enough without the fear of terrorist attacks). Just because 200+yrs ago everyone was a "refugee" doesn't mean the same rules apply today. America doesn't always have to be the savior of the world...America needs to start being the savior to her own people first.

That being said, I'm from Indiana also. I live in CA now. You're right, they welcomed you because you were white. I married a Mexican and went back to visit...completely different experience then when I went alone. Sad, but true. Still doesn't change my opinion on the refugees...but I give you that point.

Thanks for sharing. Still enjoy your posts :)

Jonathan Thomas said...

You hit the nail on the head Laurence. You were accepted because you're white, have a British accent and you're a charming bloke. Whether they admit it or not, White Americans by a large majority are racist and afraid of people they don't understand. They have been their entire history. It's sad that we still haven't grown out of it.

ph214 said...

While I understand your point of view, I think most peoples problem with taking in the refugees is that there is no real screening to tell a refugee from a terrorist. The Boston Bombers were "refugees". I dont believe there is a way to to screen this many people and be assured that each one is who they really are. In the aftermath of 9/11, Boston bombings and now watching Paris being attacked, it creates fear. All Muslims are NOT terrorists...however if you have 1.2 billion people through out the world who are Muslim. Radical Muslims are believed to be between 15- 25%, so by those numbers your looking at around 300 Million people who are looking to kill you for not believing in their religion. Thats ALOT of people. While I feel for those who are really refugees, and my heart aches for them and their suffering...I also have to place my family first. I live 5 minutes from Manhattan, I know the damage that can be done. I dont have any answers for this situation...So I just try to see things through open eye and not eyes filled with fear.

Laurence M. Brown said...

The Boston bombers were not refugees: http://www.snopes.com/tsarnaev-refugees/

ph214 said...

I stand corrected. Again.. I dont have an answer to fix any of this.

Jeff Beech-Garwood said...

Hi Laurence,

Thankyou for this (and all your other) post. As a fellow Brit and a Christian, I agree with your comment. I try (and fail) to obey Jesus who told us to love our enemies - and the vast majority of the refugees are not our enemies.

Gloria said...

I support what you wrote 100%. In my entire life, I've never remembered seeing so much hate and fear in people as I'm seeing right now. It breaks my heart and I just want to give every single one of those refugee children a big hug, a warm bed, a house, and lots of their favorite food and toys.

kate said...

Well fuck me. 15-25% extremists eh? God damn. Id be interested to know where on earth you pulled that figure from. That means I must know at least 4 terrorists fairly well. And as my company has a huge Base in Bradford we clearly employ dozens of them. Must be the well behaved terrorists.... or maybe the quiet ones.

What a complete and utter twat.

Tanya said...

Laurence, this is the best post you have ever written. Your obvious common sense and proven facts and figures sadly will make no dent in the ridiculous rhetoric that is being bandied about lately. When I watch the Republican presidential nominees and governors talking about this issue, I find it hard to believe that they are not punking us! Racist and xenophobic soundbites, do any of these people have any critical thinking skills at all? I am embarrassed and saddened that so many "Christian" Americans can go along with this sickening display of unpatriotic and unChristian values.

Elizabeth West said...

I'm sorry, people, but denying refugees is not going to keep terrorists out. There are already ISIS sympathizers in the US. What you're spouting now is just xenophobic nonsense. You're reacting to events and paranoid rhetoric instead of really thinking about this.

France is still accepting refugees even after the recent attacks. That is a great big FU to ISIS--from a country smaller than the state of Texas, with far less defense against invaders. That alone should tell you something about how backward the US is becoming.

The biggest problem Europe will have with refugees isn't terrorism; it's space and the strain on their social systems. But they will work it out somehow and we can too. We have space--plenty of it. And it's a bigger FU to terrorists and dictators and oppressive systems to band together and extend a helping hand in mercy. Because THAT is what makes us stronger, not closing borders and hating on people who are just trying to live.

Simon Harris said...

The problem with Europe is the sheer amount of numbers, they are literally flooding in and the majority are not staying in the first safe place that they reach (claiming asylum) they are then dragging their families on foot across Europe to try to find the richest country to stay, hence they are 'economic migrants' as opposed to a war refugee who would stay in the first place they landed safely. This is a huge problem for Europe, a closer comparison for the US would be illegal immigration from South America.

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...