Politics of Poverty

How to talk to your family about Syrian refugees this Thanksgiving

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Happy Thanksgiving! Photo: http://bit.ly/1zV9MnT

A few quick tips for answering those tough questions around the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Shannon Scribner is the Humanitarian Policy Manager for Oxfam America.

Every year my husband and I load up the car and our two kids and head down to North Carolina for Thanksgiving.  Our routine is pretty much always the same – we head out early Thursday morning to avoid traffic and arrive just in time to join 20 family members for Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s always a good time seeing my family.  I get to see how much the kids from each family have grown, get caught up on what everyone is doing, and reminisce about Thanksgivings past – like the times Grandma Stroble, who was a diabetic, would stash food she “couldn’t eat” into her purse.  All families have characters, mine is no exception.

After catching up and having a glass of wine or two, the conversation will turn, as it always does, to politics and the issues of our day.  My family is made up of Democrats, Republicans, Independents and even a Libertarian so the conversation is always lively.  One issue I know will come up this year is the Syrian migration crisis and whether or not the U.S. should continue to admit Syrian refugees.

My position on the subject will be well known among my family before I even walk through the door to be greeted with hugs and smiles.  For the last 10 years I have been working for Oxfam; and we work in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, witnessing firsthand the impact the war is having on people each day. Millions have lost everything – their homes, their jobs, their possessions, their homeland, their dignity.  Even their family members.  My family knows I’ll be in favor of the U.S. doing much, much more to help all of those in need, including resettling the most vulnerable families in the U.S.

I’m prepared to defend my position, because the facts are on my side.  If you think you may be having the same conversation with your family, here’s a quick look into the conversation that’s likely to take place around our table to help you prepare.

Uncle Adrian: “After the Paris attacks, why would we allow anymore Syrians into this country?  I’m glad Congress is keeping us safe by not letting in anymore Syrian refugees.”

Me: Exactly how does the legislation the House just passed to limit Syrian refugee resettlement keep us safer? The fact is, it doesn’t. None of the terrorists from the Paris attacks were Syrian refugees.  The refugees hoping to come to America are the very ones fleeing the Syrian regime and other armed groups, like the one responsible for the attacks in Paris.  I think you are confusing refugees with terrorists. Did you hear about the Syrian refugee family who after a four-year journey of trying to come to the U.S., were turned away from Indiana only to be welcomed, thankfully, in Connecticut?  These people aren’t our enemies Uncle Adrian.

Now, can you pass the mashed potatoes?

Aunt Tracey: “We’ve already taken in enough Syrian refugees.  Let other countries, especially those in the Middle East do their part.”

Me: Trace, we have actually only taken in about 2,000 Syrian refugees since the war broke out 4½ years ago.  Turkey is now hosting over 2 million refugees, and Lebanon over 1 million.  There are already over 4 million Syrian refugees in the Middle East. We can do a lot more.  This country has a long history of doing its part to help people fleeing violence and persecution – why would we turn our backs on Syrians?

Where’d that salad go?

Uncle Mike: “The possibility of letting one ISIS fighter into our country as a Syrian refugee, is too great a risk to the welfare of my family.Why would we ever want to take that risk?”

Me: Uncle Mike, it’s an understandable fear – the world is a scary place right now – but the U.S. refugee resettlement program is the absolute toughest way to come to the U.S. It’s an exhaustive screening process that has multiple steps and requires the cooperation of several U.S. government agencies. This isn’t an either-or decision.  The U.S. can both be safe and resettle refugees.

Quit hogging the cranberry sauce, Little Adrian!

Little Adrian: “I read on the CATO Institute website that since 1975, the U.S. has welcomed over 3 million refugees from around the world and not one of them has committed an act of terrorism.  I don’t understand why we are so focused on refugees.

Here are the cranberries – I’m not hogging them.”

Me: When did you become a Libertarian Little Adrian?  By the way, why do we still call you “little Adrian?” Aren’t you like 30 now?”

Uncle Bob: “The presidential candidates and Congress are saying that we can’t run background checks on Syrian refugees, and I heard Obama wants to fast track them through a system that is not very secure to begin with.”

Me: Contrary to what Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Ben Carson are saying, the U.S. does very thorough background checks and screenings on all refugees.  The process can take over two years due to required screenings, in-person interviews, investigations, and clearance by a host of government agencies including the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, FBI, National Counterterrorism Center and U.S. and international intelligence agencies. There is no shortcut. And who do you trust on security issues Uncle Bob?  A one-term Florida senator, the Apprentice and a neurosurgeon, or the heads of the FBI, CIA, and DOD?

Cousin Kellie: “Well I heard Obama was going to take up to 250,000 refugees.  That’s too many!  And can I just say, this wine is delicious!”

Me: Wrong.  President Obama has committed to taking 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this fiscal year (September 30, 2016). We can take in 10,000 Syrians and should be doing a lot more. We’re a generous county that will hopefully maintain our long tradition as place of refuge for those most in need.

Cousin Lisa: “If everything you and Little Adrian say is true, then why our politicians be focusing so much on Syrian refugees?”

Grandma Staver: “Because they just don’t know what they’re talking about!  They’re not sure what to do, need to look like they’re in control, and need to create a scapegoat to do it.  Instead of being honest and putting forward real solutions they are preying on people’s fears and insecurities.  You all are playing right into their hands! Now someone pass me the pumpkin pie.  All this nonsense has made me mad and in need of dessert.”
I’m so thankful for my Grandma Staver.  Here’s hoping you also have a Grandma Staver at your Thanksgiving table.

And if you want to take action, call your Senators and tell them to “vote no” on the Security Against Foreign Enemies Act and to get to work to address the global challenges we face with facts, humility and compassion.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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