What Can We Do About the Refugee Crisis?

 

schrank_immigrationAnnika Hernroth-Rothstein’s post about the fate of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose lifeless body washed up on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey, gave rise to many passionate comments about Europe’s refugee crisis. Understandably so.

I would prefer the term “the crisis of Middle East State failure,” but on this thread, I’d like to step back from discussions of nomenclature, the exact nature of the crisis, and who is to blame for it. There’s more than enough blame to go around. I don’t mean to say that assigning blame for it isn’t important: to fix a problem, we must understand how it came to be a problem; likewise, we must understand the cause of a problem if we’re to ensure it doesn’t happen again. So yes, we must assign blame. But we can assign it at leisure. The immediate problem needs immediate solutions, for without them, many more children will die.

On the podcast yesterday, I said something to the effect of, “There’s no solution,” or “There’s no easy solution.” I regret saying that. That a problem is hard does not mean it’s insoluble. To say that nothing can be done is obviously absurd. I only meant that I had not yet thought of a good solution.

I wanted to open this thread to put the collective intelligence, creativity, practical experience, and morality of Ricochet to work on this problem. I’d like people to come up with ideas, even if they might be silly — and I’d like to ask that no idea, however outlandish, be shouted down or mocked. Let’s just entertain any idea that comes to anyone’s mind to see if a part of it is good or might be bettered.

Among the principles I’d like us to use:

1) Half the refugee population are children. Keep that in mind.

2) We can grumble endlessly that other countries should be responsible for them; that they aren’t doing enough; that none of this should be our responsibility. I would argue that the latter point isn’t true: We’re been a significant actor in the region since the Second World War, and thus do share some of the responsibility for its condition now; but more importantly, we have limited power to change the policies of other countries; whereas we, the United States, are a sovereign nation that has the full power to change our own policies.

Finally, let’s acknowledge the countries who have done far more to shelter refugees than we have and far more than could reasonably be expected — Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Even if they have not solved the problem, and even if, in the case of Turkey, they have also contributed to causing it. There is much blame to go around. There is also much praise to go around. But none of that needs to go around on this thread: Let’s just figure out how we could save lives.

3) Even if an idea results in saving only one life, to have and implement an idea that saves a life is more than many of us will achieve in our lifetimes, and thus a good idea.

4) An idea that saves “a few people” is infinitely better than one that saves none. There is no reason to reject an idea because it isn’t “a comprehensive solution.” A “comprehensive solution” might not exist. Or it might: If you’ve got an idea for one, bring it on.

5) Let’s say the obvious: Most Americans would unhesitatingly say, “Let’s admit every one of those refugees.” We are a vast and rich country. We are anything but a cruel or an ungenerous people. But we are concerned that admitting millions of refugees from a culture very different from ours will further strain our own social order, which we sense to be unusually fragile right now. We’re concerned that we have lost the genius we once had for assimilating refugees. We are concerned that we no longer know how to integrate immigrants and make of them patriotic, productive Americans. We are concerned they will be a drain on our already-strained public finances. We are concerned, given the region from which they come and the fact that many of them are Muslims, that among these refugees may be terrorists or people whose religious beliefs are incompatible with the political principles we most hold dear.

6) None of these concerns are frivolous. No one who expresses them should be shouted down as a heartless bigot. These are risks that must be taken seriously: We can’t accept a very large number of refugees absent a full awareness that these are the risks we’d face, and a good, workable plan to minimize the risks.

7) Let’s also begin by saying something else that’s perhaps less obvious, but very true: In the past, America has admitted massive numbers of refugees, even from very different cultures, and has exhibited a historically unprecedented genius for integrating them. My grandparents were part of the wave of Jewish refugees that came to America fleeing the Nazis. As Zeynep Tufekci pointed out on her Twitter feed, This is what was said in America, at the time, about people like my grandparents:

CNwT2GxWsAAj9FcBut America did prove capable of integrating wave upon wave of Jewish refugees, most of whose children became fully American within one generation, and most of whose descendants are, like me, more loyal to America precisely because we understand that America was the country that opened its doors to us and saved our lives; it was the country that gave us opportunities to thrive that few people in all of human history had ever enjoyed. We were the flotsom of humanity — that’s what the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik means — but Americans made us Americans, fully equal citizens, just like them.

I was born in Stanford hospital in 1968, the best place and time in all of history for a Jewish girl to be born, and when I think how America embraced me — do you know that I literally never heard an anti-Semitic comment until I was 16? Not once? And never heard another until my early 30s? — I do, truly, regret that I have but one life to give to my country. If America could do this to wave upon wave of Jewish, Scots, Scots-Irish, German, Irish, Italian, Chinese, and Vietnamese refugees — and it did — it shows that it is theoretically possible to this, so long as we remain committed to the ideal that permitted this to happen: e pluribus unum. 

There are more refugees today than at any time since WWII. The few global agencies that aid them have paltry budgets, and a long history of creating squalid refugee camps that breed despair, fail to teach the skills or values required to succeed in modern economies, and incubate radicalism.

So what ideas might work?

A comment on Annika’s thread jumped out at me:

Douglas: Anyone clamoring to bring these people in should have to open their own homes to them. THAT would be humanitarian.

While I think Douglas meant this to be sarcastic, he’s absolutely right. Douglas, would you be willing? I certainly would. I owe it to the generation who took in my family; and even if I didn’t, what better use could I make of my home? It would be cramped, but I could take in a family of three. I don’t know if the French government would let me, but I can ask.

What if we could start a program to match refugees with families willing to sponsor them for, say, ten years, to take responsibility for them, to guarantee that they will not be a burden on the state, to educate their children, to teach them English, to teach them about America and the responsibility of citizenship, to help them train to do useful jobs, and keep careful watch on them to be sure they don’t slip through the cracks?

I think many Americans would be willing, don’t you?

A private initiative like this, launched in cooperation with State and the INS — what are the obstacles? Could it be done? Is it a good idea? How could we make it work?

What other ideas come to mind?

 

There are 208 comments.

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  1. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    I’ll repeat the two ideas I mentioned in Annika’s thread:

    1.) Donate time, money, or both to a charity or charities operating in the Middle East.

    2.) For those truly intent on taking a proactive role, sign up with the Kurds and fight alongside them against ISIS, as a number of American soldiers-of-fortune are already doing.

    Also, I endorse what Douglas said regarding individuals and families in America hosting refugees.

    What I strenuously object to is the U.S. government admitting thousands of refugees without the expressed consent of the American people, forcibly placing them in communities where they are not welcome, and effectively both ghettoizing them and making them wards of the state. And I also object to the moralizing and name-calling coming from some open-borders supporters in Annika’s thread.

    • #1
  2. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    That said, it’s past 4am here in South Texas, so I’m heading to bed. It might be several hours before I reply. Goodnight!

    • #2
  3. Mike Rapkoch Moderator
    Mike Rapkoch
    @MikeRapkoch

    I think the guiding principle has to be saving people one at a time. Big plans are great, but rarely succeed, at least in the short term. Mother Teresa would have gotten nowhere if she’d waited for big donations and thousands of volunteers. She focused on the person in front of her, offering them what they needed at that moment–food, care, or just a pair of arms.She knew her mission was impossible: She didn’t care. She simply went out into the streets. Today, the Missionaries of Charity have convents in some 130 countries. They still do exactly what Mother did: Head out into the streets to meet one person at a time.

    As for refugees, the legal issues are complex. The political issues are daunting. It is simply impossible. That is both why how Mother did it.

    That’s not a policy suggestion. I’m working on that. But the very fact that it is impossible proves it can be done. Your Jewish Refugee example proves it too.

    • #3
  4. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    I have no desire to smother this country under another human wave in the barbaric cultural tsunami Obama is visiting upon us.  “Oh, but this is different!”  No it is not.

    This is an awful miserable crying screaming tragedy.  This stuff is all baked into the cake, however.  Get used to it.  America voted for it twice.  This horrific spectacle and much much more are the result of the collapse and withdrawal of the United States from the region.  We were addressing this problem by fixing it at the source.  Now we’re not, and the method of disengagement was so appalling that it has just made everything worse.  Everything.

    Stand by for more of this.  We don’t get to have a “one-off” policy of accepting a bunch of refugees as an exception.  This is the new normal.

    I am sure I sound like a big old hater.  I went to Afghanistan the first time because I wanted to help.  The money’s not bad, but it’s also not bad as I type right here in my kitchen.  I was a true believer in the project.  So don;t call me names.

    This crisis must be answered, to the extent that we answer at all, with a policy that can simply be left in place.  Because A) this is going to happen a lot more, and B) none of these things ever get rolled back anyway.

    • #4
  5. Carsten Koenig Member
    Carsten Koenig
    @atlanticus

    I appreciate the deep human empathy which drives these questions. But beside the pratical questions, I see the imminent danger that the western governments could be willing to misuse these human tragedies to restrict civic rights. We know the terrible Rahm-Emanuel-Doctrine about the biased driven misuse of moments of crisis.

    In order to help refugees, why not increase the taxes? It would be hard to oppose that implicit moral force. Why not seize or expropriate private property?

    It must be possible to discuss these questions and to defend the rule of law without being labeled as egomanic.

    If we give up the fundamental rule of law – which does not exclude private help, but which exclude the governmental coercion to help – we will lose more than the refugees would win.

    • #5
  6. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    I like the idea of “You want to take in refugees?  Go ahead.”  But that would just become another endless chain immigration deal.  Who would take in Muslim refugees?  Many Muslim families and communities.  When would they be asked to leave?  Never.  None of these are bad, and may be commendable.  But it’s a recipe for disaster.  Well, disaster for “America”.  Amrika would be fine.

    • #6
  7. Al Kennedy Inactive
    Al Kennedy
    @AlKennedy

    Claire, I’m not sure where you are going with this post.

    Yes, Americans are the most generous people on earth.  They spent millions to rebuild Europe and Japan.  They took in millions of people before and after the Second World War.  They have consistently been the first to respond generously to natural disasters in countries far from the US.

    America is not responsible for this tragedy.  The Obama administration said when President Obama was inaugurated, “we are out of the Middle East”.  He has followed through, and the UN and the EU have not stepped up to their responsibilities.  When the Second World War ended, America was the only country that had any economic, financial or economic power.  Those days are over.  I am not opposed to sending in the American military to build housing and mess halls, but where are the UN and EU in this crisis?

    You are more of an expert on Turkey than I am, but Erdogan couldn’t hold Jordan’s King Abdullah coat in terms of who has supported refugee relief.

    Asking the Ricochet community what governments should be doing simply demonstrates the impotence of those organizations.  I’m sorry, I just don’t get it.

    • #7
  8. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Al Kennedy: Asking the Ricochet community what governments should be doing

    No, I’m asking what we could do, and how we could get the government out of our way so we can do it.

    • #8
  9. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    In my great grandparents’ generation – the wave of Jewish immigrants fleeing Tsarist Russia – there was no public assistance to fall back on, so this

    About 51% of immigrant-led households receive at least one kind of welfare benefit, including Medicaid, food stamps, school lunches and housing assistance, compared to 30% for native-led households, according to the report from the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for lower levels of immigration.

    Those numbers increase for households with children, with 76% of immigrant-led households receiving welfare, compared to 52% for the native-born.

    would have been a headline from Mars.

    In those days, the public schools aggressively assimilated and acculturated the immigrants; multiculturalism was not on the agenda.

    What if we could start a program to match refugees with families willing to sponsor them for, say, ten years, to take responsibility for them, to guarantee that they will not be a burden on the state, to educate their children, to teach them English, to teach them about America and the responsibility of citizenship, to help them train to do useful jobs, and keep careful watch on them to be sure they don’t slip through the cracks?

    We need to do a better job of that with the immigrants we already have; with kids whose grandparents were born in the USA, for that matter.

    • #9
  10. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Your grandparents were not seeking to replace the Constitution with halacha, either. What will we do to screen out the Muslim Brotherhood, Quds Force, ISIS, etc. agents who will be among the refugees? With our current immigration plus multiculturalism plus official willful blindness, an open door policy would be insane.

    We need to think of something, though. Things in Syria are going to get a lot worse as Putin moves to fill the power vacuum created by Obama. Quds Force and Hizbollah are about to have a lot more money to play with and Europe seems to be heading for full Camp of the Saints conditions.

    • #10
  11. Mike Rapkoch Moderator
    Mike Rapkoch
    @MikeRapkoch

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Al Kennedy: Asking the Ricochet community what governments should be doing

    No, I’m asking what we could do, and how we could get the government out of our way so we can do it.

    Which is the sensible conservative approach. If individuals and families could sponsor refugees as Claire suggests, we would avoid refugee camps and mass and uncontrollable immigration. The responsibility would rest on the sponsors. This is an important point. If sponsors were responsible for 10 years, we would cut out mere do gooders who were only in it for the initial thrill. This would significantly reduce the risk of refugees slipping threw the cracks.

    • #11
  12. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Ball Diamond Ball: Who would take in Muslim refugees?

    I would take in a family of Muslim refugees. I lived among Muslims for years, and many of them helped me when I needed it.

    My question is whether a program could be established such that I could in some way legally take responsibility for a family for a period of, say, 10 years, during which time they would swear and undertake to become fully Americanized (in a sensibly-defined way), and I would undertake to support them in that. I envision making myself legally responsible, as their sponsor, for ensuring they learned English and the other skills they’d need to be gainful, productive citizens who would not become a burden to the taxpayer but rather responsible taxpayers themselves; I’d be responsible for making sure they broke no laws; and they would be responsible for doing what countless refugees before them have done — working incessantly to become self-supporting, loyal Americans. Could such a program work?

    I don’t think any analogous program exists in France, and I’m not sure whether, as a US citizen, I’d be seen as qualified to teach French values to a family of refugees, but I would certainly be willing to try, if it were possible.

    • #12
  13. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Ontheleftcoast: What will we do to screen out the Muslim Brotherhood, Quds Force, ISIS, etc. agents who will be among the refugees?

    Well, one thing we could do is make it very plain that these groups are absolutely not permitted legal entry and will be deported immediately if they prove to be associated with these groups. Because they’d be at first living with and then sponsored for ten years by individual citizens who would be responsible for making sure that they were learning English, studying, and getting jobs, I think it would be much less likely that the signs that they were sleeper agents would go unnoticed.

    Of course that’s a risk, but it should be weighed against the certainty that many innocent people will die unless they’re given refuge. I think the risk can be minimized by matching them to families that in a sense adopt them, rather than having the state or a government program “adopt” them.

    • #13
  14. Al Kennedy Inactive
    Al Kennedy
    @AlKennedy

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Al Kennedy: Asking the Ricochet community what governments should be doing

    No, I’m asking what we could do, and how we could get the government out of our way so we can do it.

    Claire, “we” has to be a government response or a UN response.  Which one are you championing?  I’m having trouble environing how any government gets out of the way.  Which non-government group do you think could lead this effort?

    • #14
  15. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I have written before on the idea ofexportingAmerica – establishing little regional cities of refuge around the world, open to people who crave opportunity and want to lead productive, American-style lives.

    The inventor of this idea has put it into a fascinating and delightful short story. Give it a read!

    So instead of importing them all here, let’s bring America to them – from the bottom up instead of from the top down.

    This is grand cultural imperialism, in the finest tradition of the finest colonialist civilization of the Western World. It would give hope to millions of people. And these city-states would, over time, provide a real alternative to the chaos and evil of the surrounding regions. It would not be nation-building: it would be creating little Americas all over the world, comprised of people who want to be there, and who crave the ideals that made this country so very great.

    • #15
  16. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Al Kennedy: t Erdogan couldn’t hold Jordan’s King Abdullah coat in terms of who has supported refugee relief.

    In April 2015, according to the UNHCR, there were an estimated 2,138,999 Syrian refugees in Turkey; 1,196,560 in Lebanon; 628,427 in Jordan; 247,861 in Iraq; 133,862 in Egypt; 105,000 in Germany. The US has taken in fewer than 1,000. Of course, these numbers have to be put in the context of the population of the country: The population of Turkey is about 75 million; Jordan’s is 6.5 million. So yes, Jordan has taken in many more as a percentage of its population.

    • #16
  17. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Al Kennedy: Which non-government group do you think could lead this effort?

    I’m wondering how we could start one, and whether we could ask Congress to pass legislation allowing us to do this.

    • #17
  18. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Carsten Koenig: t must be possible to discuss these questions and to defend the rule of law without being labeled as egomanic.

    I agree. No argument at all from me about that; to the contrary.

    • #18
  19. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    I think the US should stick to its annual immigration intake which is now 1 million legal immigrants per year. Some people think even this number is too high. There is no way we can absorb and integrate a sufficient number of people to make a true difference in crisis countries. If we do, our own country will be overwhelmed.

    The way to solve this is at the very highest level, to show some leadership and talk to Putin on how to settle the Syria crisis. That will allow millions of Syrians to go back home.

    • #19
  20. kmtanner Inactive
    kmtanner
    @kmtanner

    Many conservatives will blame Obama and liberals Bush. Both are little right and wrong, but also very churlish.

    If you want to help, help. Give money or go to the refugee camps, but dont philosophize about it in the web if you want to help. Voting is as useless.

    • #20
  21. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    kmtanner:If you want to help, help. Give money or go to the refugee camps, but dont philosophize about it in the web if you want to help. Voting is as useless.

    Or we could figure out a way to enable solutions that help in the short AND long term – neither of the above does the job.

    Good ideas are powerful; let’s make them work.

    • #21
  22. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Claire, my question is about trends, not a shocked “whom on Earth” type question.
    In general, who would? That sort of thing.

    • #22
  23. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Marion Evans: There is no way we can absorb and integrate a sufficient number of people to make a true difference in crisis countries.

    No, but we can absorb and integrate a sufficient number to make a true difference to those we absorb and integrate. As I said in my post, if we insist we either help everyone or help no one, we will help no one.

    If we do, our own country will be overwhelmed. The way to solve this is at the very highest level, to show some leadership and talk to Putin on how to settle the Syria crisis. That will allow millions of Syrians to go back home.

    I absolutely agree that this will remain a catastrophe until the Middle East is rebuilt. That’s not incompatible with saying that we should save as many lives as we can in the interim.

    • #23
  24. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Ball Diamond Ball: In general, who would? That sort of thing.

    My guess? It would be the same people who adopt children generally. I suspect Christians would be over-represented, not Muslims, because most Americans are Christians.

    • #24
  25. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    I absolutely agree that this will remain a catastrophe until the Middle East is rebuilt.

    I doubt this can happen as long as Iran and Saudi Arabia are theocracies. Good piece by Tom Friedman in case you missed it:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/02/opinion/thomas-friedman-our-radical-islamic-bff-saudi-arabia.html

    • #25
  26. Al Kennedy Inactive
    Al Kennedy
    @AlKennedy

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Al Kennedy: Which non-government group do you think could lead this effort?

    I’m wondering how we could start one, and whether we could ask Congress to pass legislation allowing us to do this.

    Claire, I’m sorry.  I just don’t think this will happen.

    • #26
  27. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    I fall into the camp with other folks that say No to bringing a refugee crisis here, but that made me think why. Contrary to popular belief I am not heartless and still believe in American Exceptionalism. So why the restrictionist motivation.

    I think because of the debacle we’ve made of immigration. We have soiled our sovereignty with exploiting illegal immigration, lowered our standards with respect to language and citizenship for political gains that now when we are needed to lead on the matter the welcome mat is thrown in the garbage.

    That is a shame, but political decisions have consequences. Sometimes unanticipated and unhappy ones. We are supposed to be a nation of laws not political whims.

    Imagine if English was the national language and every illegal immigrant found at the border or within was deported within 72 hours and it was still a privilege to come here. Then this refugee crisis happened.

    America would have the capacity to open our doors and hearts to these folks and they would be met with a warm, welcome, English speaking nation. They could get temporary refuge or start a new life.

    Now, not so much. We don’t have much left, but it is worth defending. I am sorry for their plight. I am also sorry for ours.

    • #27
  28. lesserson Member
    lesserson
    @LesserSonofBarsham

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Ball Diamond Ball: Who would take in Muslim refugees?

    My question is whether a program could be established such that I could in some way legally take responsibility for a family for a period of, say, 10 years, during which time they would swear and undertake to become fully Americanized …(SNIP)… Could such a program work?

    This idea has legs, but there are some hurdles brought up by BDB that I worry would cause it to break down. Once someone is here, even if found to be criminal, they are unlikely to be sent back. We already have this problem with illegal immigration from Mexico. There is no stomach to break up families to send a father back to a war zone, even less to send the entire family back. It’s unlikely another country would take them. There’s a high likelihood that they will not have a stable country to return to for decades. What happens if the family that’s taken in refuses to learn English and assimilate but can’t be returned to Europe because of the “optics”? Is there a mechanism that could be put in place to overcome that?

    • #28
  29. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    kmtanner: Give money or go to the refugee camps,

    Refugee camps are and must be the most temporary of solutions. The evidence on the long-term effects of warehousing in refugee camps is in and it’s terrible; they do not help these people become productive citizens. They need to become fully integrated into a new culture, not warehoused in what is designed to be a ghetto. The kids need to learn to read and write and become American or French or British or German; they need to be surrounded by the citizens of the new country; they need job skills, they are not helped by long-term warehousing and international charity. That’s not to say there’s no role at all for refugee camps, but the goal to be to shelter them for the shortest time possible and then get them working and living dignified lives.

    • #29
  30. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Marion Evans: There is no way we can absorb and integrate a sufficient number of people to make a true difference in crisis countries.

    No, but we can absorb and integrate a sufficient number to make a true difference to those we absorb and integrate. As I said in my post, if we insist we either help everyone or help no one, we will help no one.

    I think part of the problem is that the recent refugees from there, Somalia, and elsewhere do not integrate. We don’t hold them accountable or encourage them to integrate.

    We don’t wear burkas, we don’t obey cults, we speak English, and we socialize. These refugees of late do not integrate or learn the language. They don’t come here to learn our culture and assimilate. They come here to bring their culture and nation to a place where they won’t be oppressed.

    If they want their nation and culture then they need to stay, fight, and be willing to die for it. A sovereign nation is something you die for to ensure the liberty of your posterity. If you want it your way in the future be ready to die today.

    If you aren’t willing to die for your country, you don’t deserve one. If you want to run to another country the you are absolutely subject to the host nation’s customs and culture.

    • #30

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