Taking In Syrian Refugees Is a Moral Duty

Refugees rest on beds at an improvised temporary shelter in a sports hall in Hanau, Germany, September 22, 2015. This year, Germany will admit nearly 10 times America’s total refugee intake from Syria alone. Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

This article first appeared on the Niskanen site.

According to Bobby Jindal, "the answer [to the Syrian refugee crisis] is not to…allow even more people to come into America." That would be merely "to put a Band-Aid" on the problem, said the Louisiana governor at the early debate between also-ran GOP presidential candidates on September 16.

"Simply allowing more people into our country doesn't solve this problem," Jindal said. "The way to solve this problem is for us to be clear to our friends and allies that we are going to replace [Bashar] Assad, we're going to hunt down and destroy ISIS."

According to Jindal's reasoning, Americans should have turned away European Jews fleeing the Holocaust because taking them in wouldn't have ended the Third Reich.

As it happens, our government did turn back ships loaded with Jewish refugees trying to escape Hitler. Americans came to regret this shameful chapter of our history and vowed never to allow it to happen again. Making good on this promise is the reason America created its refugee and asylum laws.

Jindal is guilty of equivocating between two different problems: the refugee crisis and the civil war that caused it. If the point of accepting refugees is to solve the problems they are fleeing, we would never accept any refugees. Opening your home to a neighbor whose house has burned down won't turn back time and stop the fire from starting.

But of course that's not the point. Likewise, providing a haven for refugees won't solve the root problem of the Syrian crisis. But it does solve the immediate problems facing refugees: homelessness, fear of death, persecution and violence. That is why we give them shelter. Because they need it.

Jindal prefaced his remarks by asserting that America is "the most compassionate country in the entire world." That's true, if we measure compassion in terms of money donated to needy people around the world.

But extending compassion to refugees means opening our doors and offering a safe place out from harm's way. The U.S. will allow at most 85,000 refugees into America next year. Around 10,000 of those will come from Syria.

This year, Germany will admit nearly 10 times America's total refugee intake from Syria alone. Many Americans would love to give help to Syrian refugees, to open their homes and help them resettle here, yet our government's stingy refugee quota (and lack of imagination in refugee policy) stands in the way.

America obviously can't help every Syrian refugee. But if Germany, a country with a third of America's population, can help 800,000 people, America can do more.

To argue that it's pointless to help more refugees, because it won't stop the war they're fleeing, is worse than illogical. It's callousness disguised as pragmatism.

America's monstrously cold-hearted failure of hospitality during World War II seemed sensible at the time. Arguments like Jindal's are a way of rationalizing the same sort of fear, prejudice and selfishness that led to that failure of compassion—and to the regret that led us to pledge "never again."

David Bier is an immigration policy analyst at the Niskanen Center. He is an expert on visa reform, border security, and interior enforcement. From 2013 to 2015, he drafted immigration legislation as senior policy advisor for Congressman Raúl Labrador, a member of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. Previously, Mr. Bier was an immigration policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.