Open Freedom’s Door to Syria’s Fleeing Families
by Cristina Tisa Capello, Guest Writer
I never knew true fear until I had children. Nothing can cripple me inside more than fear for the well being of my children—not even the thought of losing my wonderful husband, my parents, or my brother. Not even in 2004 when my Humvee made the first lurch on the convoy into Iraq did I feel that kind of terror.
As I traveled through the desolate desert landscape with my fellow soldiers, we encountered pockets of primitive homes. The children in these communities—brightly dressed, dirty, and unkempt—ran toward our convoy waving and smiling as we passed. Some of them were as small as the daughter my husband and I left behind, and I fantasized about stowing them away in my duffle bag to bring them to America. I could give them a life they didn’t have the capacity to imagine. Instead, we brought them soccer balls, blankets, toys, and candy. We rebuilt their schools and cleaned up their communities. We tried to help their local businessmen and leaders rebuild their lives to open up the possibility of a better life for their families.
I’ve thought a lot about those people in the past few days. I’ll bet many of those families would have given a lot for the chance to leave the hopelessness of their lives to have the chance for a better one somewhere in the West—Germany, the U.K., Canada, and even the United States. Some of them would have been strapping men capable of waging war. Many of them might have been fathers to those beautiful young children I saw running toward my vehicle. They feel the same fear for their children that I feel for mine. They are no less deserving of that life than I—or you.
My heart breaks for what refugees around the world experience. Most Americans cannot imagine the life these people have led and now lead. The weak are victimized. The strong are strong-armed. They dream of escape and a life without persecution, fear, and reprisal. There are easier ways of sneaking into a country. Achieving refugee status, then gaining entry into a nation is a grueling and probably humiliating process. We cannot be the nation to let fear and prejudice control our policy. We cannot lead from the rear—or from behind closed doors. It doesn’t matter if we are the beacon of freedom and democracy if our light shines in one direction only.
Turning Syrian and other war-torn refugees away because we fear terrorists may sneak into the country to inflict horror in our communities is wrong. The United States does not admit people into our nation haphazardly. “Syrian” is not a synonym for “terrorist,” and we cannot lump them together. I am ashamed of this attitude.
I am not naive. I know there are evil people in this world. I know horrific things happen. I also know that we must extend this kindness to these people. We must be a soft place to fall for people who need it most. We can do this because we have a solid foundation of strength and might.
We are capable of protecting against threats, but it is naïve at best and arrogant at worst to presume a nation can eliminate all threats. Consider the homegrown terrorists who inflicted murder and mayhem in our schools, theaters, malls, and elsewhere. Despite our best efforts to balance our freedom with our need for security, evil finds its way within our borders and tragedy ensues. Our national pursuit of achieving the impossible is preventing us from shining our light of freedom in all directions.
I fear for my children every time they are in a car with someone else. I fear for my children when they go out publicly to spend time with friends. I fear for them every single day. But I can’t teach them to stand up for those who can’t or don’t stand up for themselves if I advocate closing our doors to people who come from an unfriendly land. I can’t teach them about what it is to be American if we no longer demonstrate it.
I can’t stop all bad things from happening. And neither can you. But we can do our best to preserve the spirit and promise of our beloved America.
“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-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” These aren’t just words. They are the embodiment of what we want our America to be for ourselves and for the world. These words represent the ideal we hold up for ourselves and the moral mandate we present to the world. If we reject Syrian refugees because we are fearful of terrorists, we will effectively dispense with our Americanism.
And then what will be left?
Cristina Tisa Capello is a mother of three children and has been married to Henry “Paco” Capello since 2001. She graduated from Bucknell University in 1996 with a B.A. in International Relations and History and from SUNY Brockport in 1999 with a M.S.Ed. in Education, and will graduate with her J.D. from Louisiana State University in December 2015. Cristina deployed with the 256th Brigade Combat Team to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom 3, and commanded the 256th Special Troops Battalion’s rear detachment during OIF 10/Operation New Dawn in 2010.
Statue of Liberty image courtesy of the National Park Service, via Flickr.