The Syrian refugee crisis has reached a breaking point. More than 4 million men, women, and children have fled war-torn Syria to seek shelter in other countries.

But many U.S. politicians have announced in recent weeks "There is no room at the inn" for these displaced Syrians -- a cruel irony during the Christmas season. Following the recent Paris attacks, over half the nation's governors announced they would not accept Syrians into their states, fearing the security risk was too high. Several Republican presidential candidates expressed similar concerns.


These views are unfounded -- and un-American. The United States should not shy away from its role as a human rights leader and welcome these refugees. And while the Obama administration has pledged to accept at least 10,000 displaced Syrians, the United States can -- and should -- accept many more. 

For many people, the Syrian refugee crisis is a regional crisis best resolved by leaders in the countries directly affected. The United States, after all, is under no legal obligation to take in any of the refugees flooding countries like Italy, Greece, and Germany.

But this is a humanitarian crisis -- one in which geography must not limit our compassion or our leadership. In making the journey to Europe, many refugees have endured unthinkable suffering. Almost 3,500 have died in the Mediterranean this year alone. At the end of their arduous trip, many refugee children show signs of beating and rape at the hands of their smugglers.

Nearly 40 percent of all Syrian refugees are children younger than twelve.

The question of how many refugees we can resettle must not be about divisive politics, but rather about the principles that actually unite us. As the world's most powerful defender of human rights, the United States has a moral responsibility to "walk the talk." We should provide protection, alleviate suffering, and offer refugees fleeing ISIS a chance to rebuild their lives.

We are a nation of faith and a people of hope. So the most natural course of action is for our country to accept more displaced Syrian families.

It's hardly unprecedented for the United States to welcome numerous refugees from war-savaged countries. In 1979, for instance, our nation resettled 111,000 people fleeing Vietnam. The next year, that number nearly doubled to 207,000 -- and we still had room in our hearts to accept another 120,000 refugees from Cuba.

Between 1975 and 1995, the United States resettled over 800,000 people from countries throughout Southeast Asia.

These efforts were motivated, not by self-interest, but by our nation's commitment to protecting the rights and dignity of all human beings.  

So it's deeply troubling to hear the Syrian refugee crisis cast by some as a threat to national security. In the wake of the Paris attacks, some officials have suggested refugees should take a religion test to ensure no Muslims enter the country. Others have said the United States should not provide safe haven for any refugees at all.

But Syrian refugees already endure an intensive screening process to enter our country. They undergo a rigorous background check, have their fingerprints run through a series of databases, and sit down for an in-person interview, among other measures.

Moreover, mandating a religious test is antithetical to our country's values. As President Obama recently noted, "We don't have religious tests to our compassion."

Fortunately, there is a growing movement to accept refugees. Several Democratic lawmakers have asked that 65,000 Syrian refugees be allowed to resettle in the next year.

But fulfilling our responsibilities will require a far stronger response. In a recent letter to President Obama, leaders from 20 non-profit and faith-based organizations, including myself, urged him to welcome many more refugees next year.

The Middle East's current refugee crisis is the worst since World War II. So America's response should be at least as generous as our efforts to welcome refugees from places like Southeast Asia and Cuba.

The United States must stop treating the Syrian refugee crisis as a challenge only for nations across the Atlantic. We must instead treat it as a challenge for all of humanity. I believe that most Americans are ready to rise to the challenge -- and to offer those who have suffered unfathomable loss the extraordinary welcome that is America's legacy. 

Hartke is president and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.