It is not very often that our Edgefield County Council is asked to weigh in on foreign policy. It happened last week. As the regular meeting concluded on January 5th, a citizen rose to address possible refugee resettlement. Will our County Council, as other County Councils have done, pass a Resolution against refugee resettlement here in Edgefield County? Fortunately, the Council did not do so, nor should they. Here is why. Accepting refugees into our country is a federal responsibility, only the federal government may decide who is and who is not to be offered refuge in the United States. Most of us know that there is a serious controversy about accepting refugees from the current war zone in Iraq and particularly in Syria, where hundreds of thousands have been misplaced or have had to flee. Like many of our own forebears, thousands of those have sought a new life here in the United States. How can we be sure, totally sure, that among their numbers there are no violent jihadists, no individuals who want to come here to do us harm?
The answer, of course, is that we can’t. We can never be totally sure that anybody moving into our nation, our state, or our county is who and what they claim to be. This should not be news; it has always been the case. With every wave of immigrants, some already here have decried that these new people are different, they are not like us; they are possibly criminals and maybe murderers. People who are not like you and me, cannot be trusted. This argument was heard about Irish Catholic immigrants, about Eastern European Jewish immigrants, about Vietnamese immigrants of several faiths. Now, we are hearing it about not just immigrants looking for a better life, but those actually seeking refuge from war. And again, they are different from us – they are Syrians, they are Muslims. And it’s different this time: their religion and culture, we are told, inspire them, or at least some of them, to murder us.
How do we respond? We are afraid. We fear the unknown, and we see Muslims on the news who violently attack their neighbors in Paris and in California and visualize that happening here, too. But what are the chances, really? The refugees who seek asylum here in the United States are “vetted” for almost two years before being allowed entry. Refugees who have so far been allowed to settle in South Carolina have been families, and very small numbers at that. Of those who have committed crimes in the west, not only in California but also in Paris, only one among the 20 or so fanatics identified so far was even suspected (in France) of masquerading as a refugee – one among the tens of thousands who have sought refuge there, and none among those who have sought refuge here.
As Americans, we are rightly proud of our culture of open arms, of eventually, even if not immediately, “welcoming the stranger.” Our Edgefield County Council needs to reflect the welcoming heritage that characterizes most of us and not the fear that seems to have gripped a small number of us. Many of the roads leading in say “Welcome to Edgefield County.” We don’t need to add a message, overt or otherwise, that says “Except for you people.” All are welcome. We need to live the Biblical call: “I was a stranger, and you took me in.”