Refugee Fears Run Counter To Our Long-Held American Ideals

Right now, in the days before Thanksgiving, there is a battle being fought over the deeper meaning of the holiday. And that’s not even getting into the over-commercialization of the holiday weekend or the battle over whether people should be required to work on Thanksgiving Day.

No, our concern over what Thanksgiving is supposed to represent can be seen in the current political battle over Syrian refugees — an under-the-radar issue that was suddenly heightened to marquee status a week ago when ISIS terrorists wreaked havoc on Paris (not to mention the devastation in other areas, such as Beirut and Kenya). While most of the terrorists involved appear to be homegrown in France and Belgium, there has been a concern raised in some quarters about how dangerous terrorists could slip in among the refugees fleeing war-torn Syria by the hundreds of thousands.

Thus far, the United States has agreed to take in 10,000 of Syria’s tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. That’s a minuscule amount compared to the numbers being resettled in many parts of Europe. The U.S. government has said that only refugees who meet strict background check standards will get refugee status here, with a heavy emphasis on women and young children.

Nevertheless, we are seeing a very public display of fear mongering by politicians seeking to prevent refugees from finding a home in a country built on the principles of taking in those in need. Numerous governors and presidential candidates have come out with strongly worded NIMBY messages, despite there being no legal means for states to prevent refugees from residing within their borders.

It is a hypocrisy that the United States has long been eloquently and expertly adept at showing the world.

In the late 1800s, it was Native Americans whose lands were raided by military forces, its occupants herded into reservations.

In the late 1930s, it was European Jews who were denied entry into the United States due to religious bigotry, despite having allowed in millions of immigrants from all over Europe and Asia prior to the prelude to World War II. Later, 6 million Jews and millions more of other backgrounds died in concentration camps.

In the early 1940s, it was Japanese-Americans who were kicked off their lawfully owned land and forced into internment camps because of unjustified fears following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

This is not what our nation is supposed to stand for. And while this stance would be appalling any time of the year, it seems especially glaring as we enter the holiday season.

Thanksgiving Day is supposed to be a day of thanks, where Americans are reminded of the bounty of treasures that is a part of our lives. But Thanksgiving is also a call to action. It is vital for us to remember that the word thanksgiving is composed of two words: thanks and giving. We are reminded to give thanks and to share what we have — to share our economic and material wealth, and to share also our time and talents with other people who could use our help and support.

It is time for this nation to do more than talk the talk. We need to walk the walk.