Our world is currently seeing the largest refugee crisis it has ever known. According to the World Bank and the United Nations, over 65 million people are currently displaced from their homes, 21.3 million of which are displaced because they have literally no other choice. Their flight is entirely involuntary. The report details these numbers also lays out the root of the problem and the reason we are seeing an unprecedented number of refugees. It shows that the heart of the issue involves ten conflicts around the world accounting for the majority of forced displacement every year for the past 25 years. Admittedly, we have a lot of problems here of our own that we struggle to solve (mostly because we endlessly waste our money on pumping up military and subsidizing large corporations). Often these issues blind Americans; pulling us in to the seductive idea that refugees are not our problem and not our priority. They just need to stand up for themselves and fix their own countries, because we have too much fixing of our own to do here in the United States. When we begin to believe this, we fall into the cowardly mindset that refugees are weak, they do not deserve our hospitality, or that they need to work to attain it. When we do this we become entirely un-American.
I know most people have different views of what it means to be “American,” but instead of going through the thousands of different interpretations, let’s just take a brief look at our history. The first settlers in what would become the United States were nothing more than religious refugees. They fled persecution in Europe and hoped to find a safe haven where they might be able to practice their religion freely and begin a new life. This wasn’t the first place they fled to either—they tried going almost anywhere else before they ended up halfway across the world in a place they would not have chosen without a huge nudge from those who chased them out of their homeland. This story repeats itself over and over again throughout our history all the way up to the present.
Given everything about our history as a country, to disregard the modern refugee crisis and to tell those struggling to find safety that they are simply too weak and that they need to stand up and fix their own problems would be to look our ancestors in the face and tell them that they should have stayed behind in Europe and stood up for themselves. It would be to tell them that their journey to this land was one of cowardice and not bravery and I hope we can all agree that this would be a lie.
It feels like we hear it every day now: “We are a nation of immigrants.” What I am telling you is that we are not just a nation of immigrants, we are a nation of refugees who came in search of freedom and safety. In other words, we are a nation of people who (should) understand the plight of every refugee in this world today. Unfortunately, we are also a nation who has failed to live up to the responsibility of helping those who are just like ourselves. We have instead repeatedly discriminated against people who came here in search of the same things we all want.
Compassion alone should be enough to convince us we need to increase our role in alleviating the urgent refugee crisis going on all over the world, but if compassion does not do the trick, then let us look to the responsibility that stems from our history and from the standards that we set for ourselves yet fail to meet over and over again. It is time we stand up for what we say we believe in and stop blaming our problems on immigrants while we refuse to help refugees, opting instead to continue to fail at solving our own problems first.