Rich Lowry: U.S. should not feel migrant guilt

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry

The U.S. has joined the global bidding on Syrian refugees. At first it said it would take 10,000 Syrians. Now it says it will increase the annual U.S. overall refugee intake from 70,000 to 100,000 during the next three years to help deal with the migrant wave deluging Europe.

The Obama administration’s attitude used to be that Syria is a faraway country of which we know nothing, and it stood by while Syria descended into mayhem and madness. It turns out that Syria is not so far away that some of its nearly biblical exodus — half of the country’s population is displaced — won’t touch our shores.

You can only have pity for people who have seen their country destroyed. Yet Syrians are only part of the European migration crisis. It should be understood, at the highest level of abstraction, as people fleeing some of the poorest, worst-governed, most strife-torn places in the world for some of the richest, best-governed and peaceful ones.

If the U.S. is letting a guilty conscience prod it into taking some of that flow, it shouldn’t. The U.S. is already incredibly generous to migrants, and settling Syrians here is not the most cost-effective or sensible way for us to help.

The U.S. is already the migrant capital of the world. It is host to “about 20 percent of the world’s international migrants, even as it represents less than 5 percent of the global population,” according to the Migration Policy Institute. About a quarter of the U.S. population is foreign-born or the children of immigrants.

Our generosity has extended to Muslim migrants. Before the European crisis, the Pew Research Center projected that by 2030, the U.S. would have a larger number of Muslims than any European country besides Russia and France.

The U.S. already has been dealing with its own, smaller-scale migrant crisis. More than 100,000 migrants from Central America came here last year, and the vast majority aren’t going back. There are tens of thousands more this year. Notably, no European country is offering to welcome any as a sign of its good international citizenship.

Taking people and flying them halfway around the world to come live in an alien society is much easier said than done.

It used to be that refugees to the U.S. were sponsored by a family or a church. Now they are supported by a panoply of government programs on top of traditional welfare benefits, from food, housing, clothing and job training, to day care, transportation assistance and English classes, to guidance on what assistance they are entitled to as refugees.

If this sounds involved and expensive, it is. According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. spent $1.1 billion screening and resettling 70,000 refugees last year. In another generous first-world country, Norway, the government estimates that it costs $125,000 to support each refugee. That would support about 25 Syrian refugees if it were devoted to supporting them in Jordan.

Then there’s the question of security. The administration talks a big game about vetting the new Syrian refugees, but given that there are no records about them and we won’t be cooperating with the Syrian government, any definitive screening will be next to impossible.

Even if the vetting is perfect, the lesson of Somali refugees in the U.S. is that a poorly assimilated population of Muslim immigrants can provide a recruiting pool for radicals.

The displaced Syrian refugees should find refuge, just not necessarily here or in the West. There are any number of nearby Muslim countries that are obvious destinations. We should (at the very least) take the resources that we would devote to resettling Syrian refugees and spend them on helping the front-line states in the Middle East.

The first step to getting a handle on U.S. immigration policy is not consent to always saying “more.”


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