Christine Flowers, 11/22/2015 [Archive]

Both Sides Half Right on Refugees

By Christine Flowers

I rarely write about immigration, partly because I spend enough time practicing immigration law, and partly because my conservative friends raise their eyebrows whenever I champion any form of legalization.

I believe conservatives are wrong on immigration reform, right on everything else, and if I could nudge them into line when it comes to the aliens, we could rule the world. Unfortunately, no one knows what to do with a conservative who believes that fixing our system is a good thing.

Speaking of that system, it's knocking at our Golden Door with increased intensity thanks to people stampeding across the Middle East fleeing imminent death. Some made it to Europe, and were welcomed with varying degrees of hospitality. Some of them perished on shipwrecked boats or from heat exhaustion or hunger. And still they came, because the choice between Syria's Assad and the Islamic State madmen was no choice at all. Death, if it had to come, was preferable to life in those conditions.

Technically, they are all refugees, persons displaced from their homelands because of war and persecution. We could argue that not every Syrian fleeing his homeland has a legitimate fear based on one of the 1951 Refugee Convention's enumerated grounds, but it's hard to look at the tidal wave of suffering rushing across borders and not think that "refugee" fits.

Similarly, it's hard for anyone to look at this mass of humanity and not feel compassion, unless of course you're that mess of humanity called Donald Trump.

The thing is, you can question our policies in regards to refugees without automatically having a heart made of stone. Nuance seems to fly out the window whenever the two parties start talking about immigration.

While far too many conservatives do dip into the xenophobia thesaurus when explaining their opposition to immigration ("they don't speak right," "they bring disease," "they steal jobs from real Americans") they are absolutely justified to demand accountability from our government when it comes to admitting refugees at a time of crisis and terroristic threats. No one could watch the horrors in Paris without questioning the wisdom of inviting that madness across our own borders.

Yes, it's common to vet refugees before they enter the United States. But we also vet asylum applicants, the ones who are already in the country when they are approved for the benefit, and some of them have turned out to be horrific mistakes, like the Tsarnaev brothers. There is no guarantee of safety and we can't really know the hearts and minds of those we invite into safe harbor. But that does not mean that conservatives who raise the issue are bigots, even though it serves the liberal playbook to paint them so.

Philosophically, I stand with the Democrats when they say we should err on the side of compassion, since statistics show the vast majority of the people admitted since 2001 were victims, not victimizers. The Tsarnaev brothers were the exception, not the rule.

However, I find it repulsive that so many liberals will try and use this tragedy to earn political brownie points, particularly since most of their experience with true refugees probably comes from several viewings of "Moscow on the Hudson."

To conservatives, I would make this overture: Keep an open mind about those seeking safe haven. Yes, demand vetting and surveillance and don't let the opposition make you feel racist because it's the "Syrian Crisis" and not "Italian Crisis." The real trick is not to let the other guys, who think abortion is a human right, make you look like heartless beasts.

To liberals, I'd invite you to stop attacking fellow citizens for fear-mongering and treat their concerns with respect. Maybe then I'll believe your concern for Emma Lazarus' progeny is something more than just a bid for Hillary's victory.

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©2015 Christine Flowers. Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at cflowers1961@gmail.com.

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