Syndicated Columnists

Steve Schwegler: Our compassion requires us to help refugees

The dangers of today are real, writes guest columnist Steve Schwehler, but we must remember the past for clarity about the United States’ responsibilities to refugees.
The dangers of today are real, writes guest columnist Steve Schwehler, but we must remember the past for clarity about the United States’ responsibilities to refugees. AP

The desire for a ban on Muslim immigration is understandable but wrong.

President Donald Trump’s executive order potentially denies help to those who have risked their lives to assist us. The order poisons our relations with others who witness our lack of compassion. And the order deprives the United States of prospective immigrants to serve the interests of our country and economy.

I have taught and worked with hundreds of Muslims from the Mideast. They are not evil people, and the damage done by imposing a ban far outweighs any benefits.

We must be vigilant about who enters our borders. The dangers are real with evil people seeking to kill and destroy. We spend up to two years vetting individuals who wish to come to the United States. Search for Heritage Foundation Vetting Process for a full explanation of that procedure.

This process does not guarantee that each individual who comes into the country will remain innocent of criminal and terrorist acts. But we can never guarantee that all government, corporate and individual acts are risk-free.

But why should we pursue this policy of allowing Muslims from war-torn areas into the country?

First, consider the model of our actions after the war in Vietnam. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, the United States settled almost 1.3 million refugees and immigrants from Southeast Asia. There was bipartisan support for the Indochina Migration and Refugee Act of 1975. The fall of Saigon and the collapse of options for hundreds of thousands of people required the United States to take a stand and welcome deserving, vetted migrants from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. President Gerald Ford, a Republican, signed the bill.

We owe the deserving and needy of Iraq, Syria and war-torn countries a chance at a normal life. Their countries have been devastated by conflict begun by the United States in Iraq that was ill-conceived but well-intentioned. We sought to replace a tyrant with a democratic state that would shine its light as an example to other states in the region. Sadly, our efforts failed.

Decades ago we had a responsibility to the people of Southeast Asia to help those not able to continue life there. We met our responsibility. Will we do the same for the dispossessed of the Mideast?

Second, we need more hardworking immigrants to take jobs and stimulate our economy. Studies show that, even with initial government assistance for living and job training, immigrants fill jobs, pay taxes and are good for the economy. They do not threaten those among us who have experienced wage decline and job misfortune.

The refugees and migrants now leaving Syria and other countries can be assimilated successfully into the United States. They can serve our wider culture and our economy.

As a teacher of Indochina refugees in the mid-1970s, I saw my students gain language ability and cultural awareness followed by hard work to reward their adopted country. New immigrants will do the same.

Third, our country is morally obligated to provide a new home to refugees. For a country of many people who hold Christian beliefs, note what Jesus said when asked what he meant when he commanded to love your neighbor. The story of the Good Samaritan shows a person coming from one ethnic group who rendered dignity and assistance to a person outside his own group. So should we. With careful review and vigilance we will meet our national interests and moral obligations. My forebears were welcomed from Germany during their endless wars and conflict.

What about yours?

Steve Schwegler is a volunteer at a local GED program. He has taught in Southeast Asia, in refugee programs and at the international language center at KU.