Many spoke about the violent deaths of family members and the bombs that had destroyed their schools and homes during the ongoing civil war in Syria.
The only hope spoke of by any of these refugees rested on the chance they might find peace here in the United States, a concept some in the university community have begun to embrace.
The U.S. needs to offer Syrian refugees this chance. And to do so, we must accept refugees in greater numbers, while also working to put a stop to any xenophobic intolerance held by U.S. citizens, so that life is peaceful for these refugees once they arrive.
President Barack Obama has already committed to taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next fiscal year, which began in October. This is a good place to start, especially when considering the U.S. has only taken in about 1,800 Syrian refugees in the span of the four years since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
Eric Rosario, the education chair of UNICEF X Temple, which raised awareness about the Syrian refugee crisis at an October event, agrees that the U.S. should be taking an active role in aiding refugees, especially because of our position as a global power and economic leader, he said.
“I’m very happy Obama did bump the number up to 10,000,” said Rosario, a junior political science major. “We are in a position to help and we should do so.”
“I do believe we should be taking in more,” he added.
Like Rosario, I too believe the number of refugees taken into the U.S. needs to increase in the next few years—a decision that will largely depend on the winner of the next presidential election.
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley have both said the U.S. should accept 65,000 Syrian refugees in the coming years, while Republican presidential candidates are nowhere near as gracious.
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has suggested only those Syrian refugees who are Christian be allowed into the U.S., though the vast majority of Syrian refugees are Muslim. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has proposed barring Muslims from entering the U.S. altogether.
For a country with a rich immigrant history, whose founding principles include religious freedom and tolerance, we have a moral obligation to accept all the refugees we can securely admit, regardless of their religious beliefs.
I understand though, much of the fear surrounding this plan does not come from providing asylum to refugees who may be Muslim, but in unknowingly admitting terrorists linked to ISIS into the U.S.
While I don’t think fears of ISIS are unfounded, I do believe Americans should have more faith in the vetting processes and security practices of our own government.
The average processing time for refugee applications is about two years, but can be longer when security risks are a factor.
Diane Chogo, a freshman political science major, can attest to the difficulty of this application process from her family’s own experience.
Chogo came to the U.S. as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo when she was 3 years old with her mother and sister.
The application process to resettle in the U.S. took Chogo’s family only one year to complete, she said, because the Red Cross was able to help her family gain sponsorship with a church, which quickened the process.
Although Chogo’s application process took less time to complete than it usually does for most refugees she said the application itself was still rigorous. Chogo’s mother told her there was a lot of paperwork and traveling. At one point, her family had to travel to Benin, an African country thousands of miles to the northwest.
“[My mother] said that there’s a lot of interviews to make sure that the right people are coming,” Chogo said. “And if [officials are] wary about your situation, they do ask around and are really strict about what your history was in the country.”
In the case of Syrian refugees, Chogo said she doesn’t fear members of ISIS entering the U.S. in disguise, because she believes other refugees would alert U.S. officials of their presence.
President Obama has stated the U.S. is accepting refugees most in need, like women and children. And with the Atlantic Ocean serving as a barrier, the U.S. has more control over who is making their way into the country, unlike European nations.
We need to trust the U.S. government to do its job. In the meantime, we need to do our job—upholding American principles.
My hope going forward is that the U.S. government continues offering aid to relief organizations, as well as asylum to refugees throughout this crisis. And I encourage my fellow U.S. citizens to make sure Syrian refugees, who have suffered unimaginable tragedy over the past several years, feel at home when they finally arrive here in the U.S.
After all, it’s the American thing to do.
Jenny Roberts can be reached at email@example.com