I (Still) Believe in Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
Freedom. It's a word that we, the American people, take for granted, but one that the people of Syria have not even considered in over five years. In the spring of 2011, conflict broke out across the country due to the unrest of the Arab Spring. It escalated into warfare after President Bashar al-Assad’s regime violently suppressed protests that called for his removal. Since then, over 11 million Syrians have left the country; 6.8 million are internally displaced, and 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. The Civil War has affected and decimated every Syrian’s life, creating a world of chaos and grief unimaginable to any of us.
Halfway across the world, we, the people of the United States, have remained uninvolved in the face of this crisis. For a country that roots itself in democracy, liberation, and justice, the U.S. has had a hard time mustering up the will to help these people in dire need of just that.
We claim that we are a progressive, accepting country; yet we spew xenophobic rhetoric and take in far fewer refugees than most global powers. I believe that if the United States claims to be tolerant and accepting, it is our responsibility to accept Syrian refugees with tolerance and sympathy.
Two hundred and forty years ago, the United States of America was founded on the ideals of liberty and justice for all. Many are quick to cite the founding documents and other archival works as evidence against such movements as LGBTQ+ rights (The Bible) and gun regulations (the Second Amendment), but choose to ignore these documents while discriminating. In the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, these civil rights are referred to: “...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
By denying Syrian refugees asylum, I believe that we are denying them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. President Barack Obama said, “slamming the door in [the faces of refugees] would be a betrayal of our values…that’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”
We have shut out those in need. We have ignored their pleas for help, despite knowing that they need it. Since the inception of this country, we have been a safe haven for those fleeing oppression and looking for a better life. Why should we not continue to uphold this? Why should we cut off those who need it most?
By denying them refuge, we have not upheld the core principals of our democracy and we have not completed our duty as a free nation.
It's also our obligation to help assimilate refugees into American society. America was founded by immigrants; we are a nation of multiculturalism—a melting pot. American poet Emma Lazarus’ most famous poem is the sonnet “the New Colossus,” which is mounted at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty.
"…keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
This is an archival text that we should be quick to quote and embody. The fact that it is mounted at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty, the literal symbol of freedom and liberation, is by design. They are words that welcome those in need of the prosperity that America yields and beckons them to a better life. Instead, President-elect Donald Trump's own son is trivializing the lives of Muslim refugees by referring to them as no more than “Skittles.” Thirty-one senators have said that they will refuse the entrance of refugees into their states, even though this is not their choice. Our country, founded by immigrants, is rejecting the very people that we need to support most: those who have fled tyrannical regimes and anti-American values.
As Americans, it's our job to uphold the same principles that our country was founded on and continue to provide shelter and protection for those who flee oppression: It's what George Washington would have wanted us to do.
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By Zoe Allen, 17