US leaders are turning their backs on Syrian refugees and public opinion

US leaders are turning their backs on Syrian refugees and public opinion
A U.S. senator from Louisiana, then a gubernatorial candidate, said it would be "outrageous and irresponsible" to let Syrian refugees seek safety in the U.S. The mayor of one of the largest cities in Virginia said refugees weren’t welcome in his town – and invoked Japanese internment camps from the 1940s as an example of how to handle the issue. The governor of New Jersey said he would prevent even orphaned toddlers from settling in the state for fear that it could somehow open the door to a terror attack.

It’s in this climate that the governors of dozens of states have taken steps to block refugees, while Congress is considering more than 25 bills to restrict refugees from entering the U.S., even though there are extensive safeguards in place to screen all refugees. One bill would actually authorize "recurrent security monitoring" – essentially constant surveillance – of refugees.

The fact is, refugees are people who are fleeing persecution, war and violence. They are mothers, fathers and children; they are students, working-class people and white-collar professionals. They’re being forced from their homes, often under threat of violence and murder. They’re human beings, looking for the same safety we all want and deserve.

While politicians may not see that, it turns out that the vast majority of the American public does. In a groundbreaking new poll conducted by GlobeScan and commissioned by Amnesty International, 63 percent of Americans said the U.S. government should do more to help refugees. Fully 71 percent of Americans said they welcome refugees to the country, and 42 percent said they would welcome refugees to live in their own neighborhood.

Those are the numbers. These are the values behind them: Americans are compassionate people. We refuse to turn our backs on the violence and abuse that refugees face. We know that all human beings have the right to be free from violence and discrimination. We want to help refugees whose human rights are being violated – and we want our government to help.

The U.S. can do more and we must. Since 2011, more than 4.2 million Syrians have been displaced by war and violence, and fewer than 3,000 of them have resettled in the U.S.

President Barack Obama has committed to resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. His administration needs to meet that commitment and then increase it so that more refugees can be protected from human rights abuses. The president and Congress also need to increase U.S. support to help those countries hosting the vast majority of refugees.

Margaret Huang in US News & World Report

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