When tragedy strikes either domestically or abroad, sound policy discussions and level headed decision-making too often give way to knee-jerk political posturing based in myth and fear rather than in reality.  Days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, governors and our elected leaders in Congress have succumbed to panic mongering, calling on the government to halt plans to accept 10,000 innocent and vulnerable Syrian refugees. 

The instinct to act out of fear is an understandable gut-reaction after such a horrific act of barbarity against one of our strongest allies, but it is not a wise foundation for long-term strategic decisions in the best interest of America.  The truth is that the very refugee populations at issue, including LGBT, Christians and Muslims fleeing fanaticism in Syria, are fiercely loyal to American values.  


Over the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of working with these populations on the ground in Turkey and the Middle East.  Through my training of government officials, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and NGOs, it is abundantly clear the United States has both a moral obligation and a strategic imperative to secure these refugees safely on American soil.   

LGBT, Christian and Muslim Syrian refugees determined to reclaim their faith from the clutches of tyranny revile the Islamic State’s murders in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad and other places around the globe.  They were the first victims of the would-be caliphate’s brutal terrorism.  Before fleeing their homeland, many witnessed loved-ones beheaded, daughters raped and beloved friends hurled from buildings. They will never forget the savagery that destroyed their world or the kindness of America opening its doors.

Many of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees have been languishing in Turkey for years.  Those hand-picked for resettlement in the United States will undergo the most stringent screening process in the world today.  This small fraction of the Syrian refugee population, which the U.S. government has already committed to resettling, will be intensely vetted by the top intelligence agencies.  If the slightest doubt arises about a refugee’s background, an indefinite hold will be placed on the case abroad until the concern is cleared or the refugee is rejected. 

In the balance are refugees like E. and G., a couple who escaped together from Syria. The two, who are known to be gay, face almost-certain execution at the hands of the Islamic State. A surgeon and an engineer, these two intelligent, thoughtful, gentle men are awaiting decisions on their cases at the Department of Homeland Security. Before being approved, they will be required to pass the United States’ elaborate and tough screening procedures. They will be exemplary new Americans if given the chance.

I continue to hear every day from desperate refugees like E. and G., who beg for the United States’ help to get to a safer place. For these refugees, the 11th hour has passed. Now is the time for the U.S. to act – and to act boldly.

Working on the front-lines of this international humanitarian crisis has taught me what political figures back home in America are espousing on cable news often has little to do with the reality on the ground.  Political demagoguery and gamesmanship might be good for election year politics, but they make for disastrous refugee policy. We have no right to play with people’s lives in this way. America’s reputation as a beacon of fairness is on the line, as is our country’s access to persecuted populations which are deeply opposed to the fanaticism they fled in Syria.

For U.S. policymakers and elected leaders to act out of fear instead of facts would be morally repugnant and harmful to our country’s long-term interest.  The world is looking to us for moral leadership.  I hope for the sake of our country’s international standing, the security of our citizens and the lives of the refugees I am working alongside others to save, that we find the collective conscience to do the right thing. 

Grungras is the founder and executive director of the Organization for Refuge, Asylum, and Migration (ORAM).  Grungras was recently in Ankara, Turkey training the Turkish government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on protecting highly vulnerable refugees.