With millions of Syrians seeking humanitarian assistance since the 2011 onset of a civil war with no end in sight, some are calling for the United States to admit refugees in far greater numbers. They point to the Statue of Liberty and say that America has a moral obligation to provide refuge to the tired and the poor. Others point to a spate of sexual assaults in Germany perpetrated by migrants, and they caution that the U.S. must be selective in admitting people into its borders.
Must America choose between upholding its values and protecting its citizens? On January 13, 2016, Intelligence Squared US brought in two teams of expert panelists to debate the motion, “The U.S. Should Let In 100,000 Syrian Refugees.”
Arguing for the motion were former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, and former U.K. Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs David Miliband, now president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee.
The team in favor of the motion argued that resettlement of Syrian refugees into richer nations was necessary because neighboring Middle East countries lacked the resources to cope with the refugees’ needs and numbers. As a nation built on its humanistic values, the U.S. should let in more refugees, setting an example to lead European and Asian countries to also take more. The panelists maintained that the federal cost would be minimal and that the systems for resettlement were secure and effective. Unlike in Europe, where refugees were flowing in by boatloads, no one could get into the U.S. without passing a thorough screening process involving multiple intelligence agencies. Finally, they said that a refusal to accept refugees would strengthen terrorists’ propaganda-driven recruitment efforts by playing into the radicalist narrative of the Muslim world being victimized by Western prejudice.
The opposition asserted that the poor and uneducated populations being selected for refugee status would struggle to integrate socially, culturally and economically. Their children born in the U.S., who would not have gone through the screening process, would be susceptible to radicalization. Drawing a parallel to the large-scale resettlement of Somali refugees since 1990, those debating against the motion noted that almost all Somali Americans today depend on government assistance. They also argued that the low-cost estimates for resettlement failed to take into account that refugees typically end up in poor neighborhoods unprepared to bear the burden of providing services to these individuals. They maintained that money would be more effectively allocated to provide assistance in the region, where the purchasing power of every dollar would be multiplied several times to help a greater number of Syrians.
Pre-Debate Poll Results
Before the debate, 52 percent of respondents voted in favor of the motion, while 12 percent voted against. 36 percent were undecided.
Post-Debate Poll Results
After the debate, 72 percent voted for the motion, indicating a considerable increase of 20 percent. 21 percent voted against, and 8 percent were undecided.
For audio and video of the full IQ2US debate, visit http://intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/past-debates/item/1492-the-u-s-should-let-in-100-000-syrian-refugees