Defending Obama’s Syrian Refugee Agenda

The following is an excerpt from a paper I wrote in American Foreign Policy with Professor Tizoc Chavez at Vanderbilt University.

There are over four and a half million Syrian refugees that are currently registered with the U.N. There exist humanitarian obligations. The United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Refugee Protocol establish that refugees have the right to live and work in a country where they are safe. The civil war in Syria has killed over 200,000 people, and decreased the life expectancy by twenty years. Although there is no way that the U.S. alone can solve this problem, that doesn’t mean that we should stop at 10,000. If the U.S. were to admit 100,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, it would help reestablish its place as a leader in human rights. The U.S. would be once again leading by example, and therefore increase its soft power.

If the U.S. were to admit more Syrian refugees, ISIL’s recruitment ability would also be weakened, as its propaganda relies fundamentally on the ideas that the U.S. is intolerant towards Islam and Muslims and that the ISIL caliphate is the safest place in the world for Muslims. What better way to invalidate these claims than to offer a reasonable amount of Syrians admission to the U.S.?

Some, like Ted Cruz, have perpetuated the idea that the vast majority of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. are men who fit the terrorist profile, and this somehow makes it less of a humanitarian effort. However, 67% of refugees that the U.N. refers to the U.S. have been children under 12 years and women.

Many Americans fear that refugees are a detriment to the American economy, that admitting them is a charitable act that costs them a great deal because they require expensive resettlement and enormous amounts of welfare. However, after ten years, refugees receive about the same amount of benefits and reach an income of about 87% of U.S. born Americans. In fact, refugees actually improve the U.S.’s economy in the long run. According to the Migration Policy Institute, “refugee men are employed at a higher rate than their U.S.-born peers,” and women are employed at the same rate. With birth rates in the U.S. declining, Social Security is accelerating into bankruptcy as our population ages. More working age people in America means more people paying taxes to support social programs that benefit older Americans. Bolstering our population with younger immigrants who are willing and able to work is how the U.S. has continued to grow while Japan and some European countries have stagnated with their low birth rates. More working people in the U.S. also does not “take jobs” from “more deserving” Americans. The number of jobs are generally increased by immigrants, and this similarly will hold for refugees because they will be consuming goods and services, starting small business, and increasing demand for labor in America. The troubles that European countries face with massive influxes of refugees are largely social, not economic. From 1975 to 1995, the U.S. admitted nearly 500,000 Vietnamese refugees. Instead of being an economic burden on the U.S., the 1.9 million Vietnamese Americans today have a higher median household income than the average. As the education and skill levels of the two groups are roughly similar, there is no reason to believe Syrian refugees would be radically different from these Vietnamese Americans.

The biggest concern Americans openly raise about admitting Syrian refugees is security. However this concern is mostly founded on misconceptions about Syrians and Muslims in general, specifically that they and immigrants in general are much more prone to committing acts of violence than native born Americans. There is also the misconception that the U.S. currently does not or cannot properly vet refugees, when the vetting process for refugees is actually more intensive than it is for any other type of immigrant. For Syrian refugees the process can take up to three years and involves several federal departments such as Homeland Security and State, as well as national intelligence agencies. The refugee vetting process for the U.S. is so thorough, that out of 784,000 refugees admitted to the U.S. since 9/11, none have been found to be participating in terrorist activities in the U.S. On top of this, Syrian refugees are more extensively checked than refugees from other countries. In fact, our screening process for Syrian refugees is fundamentally much more extensive than that of European countries, which helps explain why the U.S. has not only experienced proportionally fewer issues than Europe due to fewer refugees, but far fewer even than that.

Before the Paris attacks, Americans narrowly approved Obama’s decision to admit more Syrian refugees at 51% to 45%, but immediately after the attacks, before even 2,000 Syrian refugees had moved to the U.S., Americans strongly disapproved 60% to 37%. This disapproval is mostly the result of a fear, inspired by high profile and misrepresentative tragedies, that rationality and resolve must quell.

The civil war in Syria is a tragic, complicated event that requires a multilateral solution, but it has also provided a great opportunity for the U.S. to reassert itself as a humanitarian leader. Canada, which has a population one-tenth as large as the U.S., has already taken over 25,000 refugees without issue. The UK, a populace one-fifth that of the U.S., is planning on taking 20,000 over the next five years. Germany welcomed over 1 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees in 2015. Jordan, with its mere 6.5 million population size has taken over 600,000 Syrian refugees. While it would be difficult for the U.S. to take as many as those countries because of our extensive screening process, we can still do better than we have been considering America’s massive relative size. Once, America turned down 908 Jewish refugees on the MS St. Louis in 1939. Forced to return to Europe, about a quarter were killed in the Holocaust. Allowing history to repeat itself and being content with the paltry 10,000 refugees will damage the U.S’s reputation and weaken its position as the moral leader in the world. This will in turn weaken our justification for spreading our values and interests across the world. By aggressively enacting an agenda to safely resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees, the U.S. can simultaneously rebuild its moral reputation while undermining ISIL’s rhetoric. We currently lag behind our allies, but we can still catch up and assume the position once again as the leading country of the free world.

Why We Should be More Concerned with Gun Suicides

Currently, we are seeing much discussion about increased gun control. This was spurred on by the mass shooting in Orlando. Whenever there is a mass shooting in this country, such as Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech, we see an increased call for gun control measures which are almost always defeated. These mass shootings are, without fail, highly publicized and covered by the media, which is what leads to the increased rhetoric for gun control. When there is a mass shooting, sales of guns usually increase because people believe that owning a gun will protect them from shooters. There always is this backlash to the call for more gun control.

However, while these gun control activists are well-intentioned, they often forget about where the majority of gun deaths are coming from. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2010, 61% of gun deaths in the U.S. were due to suicide, whereas only 35% were due to homicide. In 2010, 19,362 people in the U.S. died from gun suicide. Decreasing the amount of suicides should be as much of a reason for gun control as decreasing the amount of homicides, if not more. Much of gun control legislation is focused on preventing homicides but is ineffective against suicides, such as limiting assault weapons. Legislation that can attack both homicides and suicides can involve improving mental health or preventing people with mental health issues from obtaining guns.


Not only are most gun deaths suicides, but most suicides are through guns. In fact it more than doubles the second most frequent method, suffocation, at 50.9% compared to 24.8%.


One might argue that people will just find other ways to commit suicide. But this argument fails for the same reason it fails against trying to prevent homicides. No one is saying that gun control would get rid of half of all suicides, but on the margins it may make a difference and save lives, especially considering that guns are far and away the most common method of suicide. Having a gun in the house sometimes plants the idea of suicide in the victims mind. We should be trying to make it harder for people with mental health issues to commit suicide, and taking away the primary method of suicide may set up a barrier for some people.

However, the underlying way to prevent both suicides and homicides is mental health and socialization. While we do need gun control, it should be the last line of defense against these acts. But these methods are rarely as discussed as gun control when there is much more we can do on these fronts.

Perhaps the reason people don’t care more about gun suicides is that people are more afraid getting shot in a mass shooting than they are of committing suicide. Most people think that they have total control over whether or not they commit suicide, and so they fear the uncontrollable chance of getting shot by a murderer in comparison. However, the chances of getting caught in a mass shooting are astronomically lower than the chances of knowing someone who commits suicide. We often have no knowledge and no control over people we know contemplating suicide. And just because one doesn’t want to commit suicide today does not mean he or she will never want to do so. Probably most suicide victims did not always want to be.

The fact is that this lack of attention paid to suicide is founded in emotion, not rationality. Mainstream media likes to report mass shootings because they generate views and are shocking, and it’s good that people know about them. But we cannot allow ourselves to ignore the suicides in this country. We shouldn’t only talk about gun control when there is a mass shooting, but we should constantly be trying to solve this issue. These pushes for legislation frequently fail, as we’ve seen most recently with Paul Ryan refusing to put gun control legislation up for a vote. If suicide gun deaths were more well-known, arguments for gun control would be stronger as there would be more potential lives saved. We must also attack the root causes of homicides and suicides, which is a failure in socialization or mental health, and not be overly preoccupied with peripheral preventative measures such as gun control.

Immigration: What Makes America Great

With all of the rhetoric coming out in this election cycle, there has been a lot of discussion about immigration to the US. Although Donald Trump has emphasized illegal immigration in his rhetoric, the fact is that he energizes many people who are against immigration in general. Anti-immigration sentiment has always been strong in the U.S., illegal or not. According to Gallup, 41% of Americans want to decrease the amount of immigration to the U.S., compared to only 22% who want to increase it. According to Pew Research Center, 71% of Republicans believe that immigrants make the economy worse. Most Republicans actually believe immigrants make American society worse off in the long run. Note that these surveys are not about illegal immigration, but just immigration in general. These beliefs are often founded on misconceptions and mild xenophobia.

A common misconception is that immigration takes away jobs or decreases wages for Americans. However, evidence shows that immigrants are 30% more likely to start a business than non-immigrants. In 2011, 28% of new businesses in the U.S.were started by immigrants, even though they only account for 12.9% of the population.

In fact, the economic benefits of immigration are numerous, including contribution to innovation and investments. It’s not just small business creation that creates jobs. Simply having a job and purchasing things contribute to the economy as well, along with self-employment. The job market is not a zero sum game. As many jobs that immigrants “take”, more are created by the small businesses and increase in demand that go along with immigration.



The Axis of Conservatism

You may have heard of all the ways that liberals are destroying America, including our runaway Supreme Court, socialist president, and such blatantly liberal media outlets such as CNN and The New York Times. But when one steps back and looks at the United States from a global perspective, its policies look like that of a backwater, backwards nation. Compared to many other western industrialized nations, the U.S. lacks a significant welfare state, universal health care, paid parental leave, abortion rights, gun control, and union strength. The poor in the U.S. are comparatively poorer than the underclasses of our peers. Western European nations such as Spain, France, Portugal, Norway, and Sweden, as well as Canada all legalized gay marriage years before the U.S. did. It’s clear that in terms of policy, generally speaking the U.S. is more towards the right when compared to other western nations. The Democratic Party, considered the “liberal” party in America, is much more conservative when compared to liberal parties in other countries such as the British Labour Party or the Greek Syriza Party. The Republican Party is absurdly draconian in comparison to the British Conservative party.

The public sphere just isn’t as substantial in the U.S, such as transportation, roads, schools, and unemployment insurance. The only public good that the U.S. is exceptionally strong in is the military. In America, it’s all about privatizing, or having people pay for things directly rather than be taxed. For example, in England, the price of every university is capped at £9,000 per year, which translates into $13,662. The average tuition is approximately $9,108 per year in England. Compare this to the U.S. where the average public 4-year college as an in-state student costs $18,943, out of state costs $32,762, and 4-year private colleges cost $42,419. Not to mention the fact that it is not uncommon for the tuition of American private universities to reach $65,000. To pay for these policies, Western European countries employ comparatively higher income tax rates to pay for the welfare of all, and taxes make up a higher percentage of GDP in these countries. In the U.S., the burden rests on the individual, not the society.Read less

These policies don’t just come out of the blue, however. They reflect a more conservative electorate. According to a series of surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center, Americans are much more likely than citizens of Western European countries to think it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral, to believe that homosexuality should be rejected, that success in life is self-determined, and that it’s not important to have nobody in need. These survey results all reflect an American sense of individualism that can be traced back to before the founding, but has continued to be bolstered throughout the centuries.

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Noam Chomsky on American Exceptionalism

Noam Chomsky gave a talk today at Rutgers University about American Exceptionalism, the idea that the U.S. is unique and extremely important in the world for the spread of equality, freedom, and human rights. This is a summary of the talking points.

It seems that many of the agendas pursued by the American government in terms of foreign policy are done in the name of liberty and democracy. Paradoxically, the U.S. is internationally seen as the single greatest threat to world peace. The U.S. has a history of rejecting World Court judgements, consistently violates the idea of non-aggression, and funds the unbridled aggression of its cronies Israel and the newest member of the group Saudi Arabia. Instead of being the leading nation of the free world as we like to think ourselves as, we ignore precedent, international law, and act like a rogue nation while condoning the actions of other lunatic states.

The U.S. has consistently blocked non-proliferation attempts in the Middle East to prevent investigation of Israel’s nuclear arms. The so-called Iranian threat is not military in nature. The intelligence states that the Iranian development of a nuclear weapon is for the purpose of a “deterrence strategy” as in, Israel and Saudi Arabia will be less aggressive if Iran has access to a nuclear weapon. While it’s certainly important that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons, it’s hardly the case that Iran would truly threaten to use them. The reaction the U.S. Congress had is reflective of what politics has become in the U.S. The entire Republican caucus is unilaterally opposed to the Iran deal. The entire spectrum has shifted to the right. Moderate Democrats such as Bill Clinton would have been seen as moderate Republicans in the ‘60s.

The normalization of relations with Cuba is long overdue. America has always been alone in its embargo with Cuba, other than its yes-man, Israel. America’s goal has long been to dominate the Western Hemisphere. It has been running a century long protection racket, and when a country like Cuba does not bow down, America does not tolerate it.

In conclusion, Noam Chomsky made many accurate points regarding the U.S. However, he may have been slightly over critical in certain respects. It certainly is true that the U.S. must be less aggressive and cease to condone the aggression of its allies. Also, many Americans are ignorant of the acts of violence and negligence America has committed in these last few decades. In order to solve a problem we must first acknowledge it exists. The U.S. is far from perfect. However, we must remain optimistic, raise awareness, and work to prevent future violence.

The Under-appreciated Alexander Hamilton

     Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton has taken Broadway by storm. Currently the number one show on Broadway, the show is a summary of the “ten dollar founding father without a father” Alexander Hamilton’s life in hip-hop form. I had the privilege of seeing it during previews with my sister at Richard Rogers. The show, based on facts from Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, brings new awareness to an otherwise underrated and under-appreciated key figure in the early stages of the U.S.

      Alexander Hamilton was born in the Virgin Islands. There, he proved his value to peers who crowd funded his migration to New York City. Through raw talent and intellect, he found himself at the right hand of General of the Continental Army, George Washington. But his real value came after the Revolution. Although James Madison usually takes most of the credit for writing The Federalist Papers because he is responsible for the two most cited issues, No. 10 and 51, it’s Alexander Hamilton who actually wrote the majority of the papers. Hamilton was a driving force behind the ratification of the Constitution. He then became a member of his friend George Washington’s cabinet as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Under Washington, Hamilton was granted power that no other secretary of the Treasury has been granted since. With the post of White House Chief of Staff not existing until 1946, Hamilton took on this role as a power behind the throne and acted as the brains behind Washington. Hamilton then laid the foundation for the precursor of the Federal Reserve, saving the young nation from early economic disaster.

      Under Washington, Hamilton and his Federalists often clashed with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, a figure that is widely recognized amongst the American public and is known as an ancestor to the modern day Democratic Party. However, many of the ideals that Hamilton fought for and embodied are fought for now by progressives, whereas Jefferson fought for many conservative values. Hamilton battled for a strong central government, implied powers provided to Congress by the Constitution, and economic controls over businesses. Hamilton envisioned America as an industrial powerhouse, while Jefferson envisioned America to remain an agricultural state.  Hamilton was also an avid abolitionist, after witnessing the horrors of slavery in the Virgin Islands. His conflict with Jefferson was the precursor to the conflict between Northern and Southern interests in the Civil War. In many ways, Hamilton pushed for liberal ideals, with his spiritual successor being Abraham Lincoln.
      Despite all of this, Alexander Hamilton remains relatively unknown to the American public. Most don’t even recognize his face on the ten dollar bill compared to Lincoln on the five and Washington on the one. According to this poll on Rasmussen, less than 3% of Americans view Hamilton as the greatest founding father. However, Hamilton’s legacy thrives today as it is his vision of America that exists now, not Jefferson’s. A stronger central government with a Federal Reserve, along with almost a century of being the world’s top economic power can be attributed to Alexander Hamilton.

Left Field

Welcome to Left Field, an intercollegiate multi-author blog that discusses topics all over the political spectrum. Our goal is to both provide college students with an outlet to express researched opinions, as well as inform people about relevant issues.