What Happened? We As a Nation Are Better Than This

Friday June 15, 2018

We As a Nation Are Better Than This

By John Dickson


We have moved from America the brave to America the mean.

On this World Refugee Day, look at how we are treating this most vulnerable group.  Across the partisan divide, the U.S. used to agree on a few fundamental principles and values.  Going back as far as the Carter Presidency, different Administrations promoted different policies, but at least they shared the same appreciation for a nation that strove to be generous and welcoming.

When he signed the Refugee Act in 1980, Jimmy Carter cited “our long tradition as a haven for people uprooted by persecution and political turmoil.”

In 1981, when Ronald Reagan pushed for a new approach on immigration and refugee policy, he sprinkled his announcement with language that would surely get him ostracized by current inhabitants of the White House.   He said we were “a land that welcomes peoples from other countries;” that we “share in the responsibility of welcoming and resettling those who flee oppression;” that we “have a special relationship with our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico,” and that “both the United States and Mexico have historically benefited from Mexicans obtaining employment in the United States.”

Ten years later, George H.W. Bush raised the number of refugees eligible for resettlement in the U.S. to 132,000, and said it was “justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest.”  The ceiling he proposed far exceeds Obama’s ramped-up 110,000 figure during the refugee crisis, and furthermore, by saying it is in the “national interest,” he couches the decision in hard foreign policy terms.

The Clinton Administration focused on improvements to the resettlement process, stating “refugees have unique experiences and come with a range of backgrounds — from engineers with advanced technical degrees to illiterate farmers — all of whom need refugee-specific services.”

George W. Bush used his language of compassionate conservatism to address suffering in other nations as we “heed the universal call of all faiths to love our neighbors as we would want to be loved ourselves.”

At the United Nations, Barack Obama called our refugee response “a test of our common humanity,” and referred “our own heritage as nations, including the United States of America, that have been built by immigrants and refugees.”

Today, the language of refugee resettlement is all about security and costs.  “Some refugees are terrorists,” flies in the face of the evidence that only three Americans have died in terrorist attacks at the hands of refugees since 1975, and those were committed by Cubans in the 1970s.  We hear that refugee resettlement “increases financial strain on Americans,” when we know that a government report – that was squashed – showed that refugees paid in $63 billion more than they received in government services.

Today, the lofty rhetoric is gone, cooperation with other nations spurned, our role as a leader no longer recognized.  We as a nation are better than this. We have always been better than this, and I believe one day we will return to our nation’s long-held principles and values of generosity and welcome.  It is in our national interest.

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