According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United States welcomes more displaced persons than any other country. The President and Congress set quotas each year for how many refugees will be accepted from different parts of the world. I doubt you will be surprised to learn that it is a very political process.
In the 1990s, the largest group of refugees by far came from the Soviet Union. Many of these were Jews, though some were evangelical Christians. Another large group of refugees have come from Vietnam, many after waiting for years in camps in Southeast Asia. Some are Catholic, some are Buddhist, and some adhere to other religions or none. Many refugees have come from the former Yugoslavia, the majority of them Bosnian Muslims.
St. Louis is home to the largest Bosnian population outside of Bosnia. The Bosnian immigrants here have worked hard and flourished as part of the community. The International Institute, based in St. Louis, is one organization that helps immigrants make their way in a new country.
When strangers move into your neighborhood or even next door, you don't know where they have come from, what they believe, what they have done, or what they hope to do. Freedom of movement is a good thing within our country, across city and county and state lines. Why is freedom of movement across national borders so different?
Coming to the United States as a refugee is much more complicated than crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The process can take up to two years. Those who seek refugee status are first vetted extensively by UN officials. Then they are referred to a particular national government for further examination. Refugees cannot simply choose their preferred country of residence and move there at will.
We can use passports and background checks and metal detectors and any other security methods we can imagine. But nothing and no one can guarantee that we will be 100% safe from bad guys. Bad guys are notorious for finding ways to get around legal, technological, and physical barriers.
Since September 11, 2001, just over 3,000 Americans have been killed in attacks by foreign terrorists in the United States. During that same period, American citizens have murdered some 200,000 people in the United States. Of whom should we be more afraid?
Terrorists want us to live in fear. Why should we give in to their desire? While politicians hem and haw, millions of capable, intelligent, hurting people are waiting for a chance to live in a place that offers peace and opportunity.
I don't expect the U.S. government to feed and clothe and house and educate millions of refugees from around the world. I do wish politicians would get out of the way and let the people of the United States, as individuals and through their churches and community organizations, welcome refugees. The color of their skin and the creed in their heart should not make a difference.
In his inimitable style, Stephen Colbert neatly summarizes the issue. He refers to Jeb Bush's preference that we only welcome Christian refugees from Syria, though Jeb! wasn't sure how refugees would prove their religion. Colbert provided the answer on The Late Show by saying: