The Universal Notebook: Refugees are our responsibility

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The hopeless mess the United States is making in the Middle East was tragically emphasized on Oct. 3 when U.S. war planes mistakenly bombed a hospital in Afghanistan for an hour, reducing the Doctors Without Borders hospital to rubble and killing 22 people.

A less incendiary, but equally dramatic sign of the turmoil the U.S. has helped cause in the Middle East, are the millions of refugees now fleeing both the murderous Assad regime in Syria and the equally murderous Islamic State forces that rose to power after the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq and set off a chaos of slaughter and civil war.

We like to think of ourselves as the good guys in this terrible turmoil, but all sides in the Middle East have blood on their hands.

Given our complicity in the violence in the Middle East, you’d think the least the U.S. could do would be to open its arms to the flood of refugees. Yet of the estimated 4 million Syrian refugees, the U.S. has thus far only accepted something like 1,500. In response to the refugee crisis, the Obama administration has proposed increasing the total number of refugees the U.S. accepts from 70,000 a year to 85,000 a year in 2016 and 100,000 the following year. That’s just not good enough.

Last month, 20 former U.S. officials sent a letter to the president and Congress stating, “We urge that you announce support for a refugees admissions goal of 100,000 Syrian refugees on an extraordinary basis, over and above the current worldwide refugee ceiling of 70,000. With some four million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and hundreds of thousands of Syrian asylum seekers in Europe, this would be a responsible exercise in burden sharing.”

At the same time, 162 aid groups sent a similar petition letter to President Obama.

“In light of the continuing escalation of the dire refugee crises in the Middle East, contributing to the largest number of refugees since World War II,” they wrote, “we urge the United States to increase the number of refugees that we resettle to 200,000 for FY 16, with 100,000 of them being Syrian. This would not be the first time that the United States proudly carries out our historic tradition of welcoming refugees in large numbers. After the end of the wars in Southeast Asia, the United States resettled 111,000 Vietnamese refugees in 1979 and then essentially doubled that number to 207,000 in 1980.”

Given the nasty xenophobic nativism now raging through the country, whipped up by the likes of Donald Trump, it is probably too much to hope that America will open its arms, its pocketbooks and its homes to people fleeing endless wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. But this refugee crisis should remind us that Americans were once more compassionate and generous that we are today.

It was not until 1875, a century after its founding, that the U.S. first imposed restrictions on immigrants. The Page Act prohibited the entry of undesirables, defined as criminals, prostitutes and forced Chinese laborers. These prohibitions came on the heels of an ugly chapter in U.S. history during the 1850s, when the Know Nothing Party, which would have appealed to Trump and his followers, arose to try to limit the increase of Irish and German Catholics in the country.

Currently, there an estimated 41.3 million immigrants living in the United States, or about 13 percent of the population. That percentage was even higher, however between 1870 and 1910, when 14.7 percent of people in this country were immigrants. Projections are that a historic high of 14.9 percent will be reached around 2024.

Other than Native Americans, we’re all children of immigrants in this country, so we should be comfortable with a much higher percentage of foreign-born residents.

The U.S. can be generous when it wants to be or when it suits its needs, such as in 1942, when we let 5 million Mexicans in to tend our crops during World War II, or 1948, when we accepted 200,000 refugees displaced by WWII.

Pope Francis has asked all Catholic parishes and monasteries in Europe to take in a refugee family. If all the churches, temples and mosques in the United States did the same that would take care of 356,000 refugee families.

Most immigrants, of course, are not refugees. But if Germany, a country of 80 million people, can take 800,000 refugees this year, we can do a heck of a lot better than 70,000. We have a moral obligation to help those is dire need, especially those whose misfortune is partly our doing.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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  • Lucy Ball

    OMG! Turn off CNN, MSNBC and PBS.

    • EABeem

      And Faux News, Rush Lame-o and Glenn Beck?

      • ChiBolts

        Are you really one of those clowns who thinks that the source of the news is more important than the actual news itself?

        Calling it “Faux News” and dismissing Rush or Beck or anyone else really translates to “I don’t like you, therefore what you say isn’t true”.

        As for idiots who think they’re clever by saying “Faux News”, “faux” doesn’t sound like “fox”, it sounds like “foe”, which is just about right.

        The fact of the matter is you don’t like people reporting on things you’d rather ignore. So, naturally, they are your enemy.

        How sad for you.

        • EABeem

          Most people realize that Fox News is a propaganda machine and that Limbaugh and Beck are charlatans. Sorry you don’t. Considering the source of information is fundamental to thinking analytically and critically. I do not believe anything I see on Fox. I don’t listen to Limbaugh and Beck.

          • amainah

            Then why judge Limbaugh and Beck if you don’t listen to them?

          • EABeem

            Stopped because I listened to them and all I heard was fear and prejudice.

          • amainah

            There is enough prejudice going around on both sides.
            What were you afraid of?

          • EABeem

            A government in the hands of people who don’t believe in government.

          • amainah

            They believe in government — just less of it than some. More individual responsibility and less dictated (read laws) behavior.

          • EABeem

            Unless they want to tell gay citizens they can’t marry or women they can’t control their own bodies or workers they can’t organize.

          • amainah

            Gay citizens can ” marry” each other — but they are only married on paper (follow the $$$) or– the politics..

            Women can control their own bodies but I assume you are referencing abortion which includes the rights of another? Why should we withhold the right of an expectant mother the to see her child before her child is born if she asks for it?

            Workers? Strikes are not illegal are they? Just walk away from your job if it doesn’t suit you.

          • EABeem

            I am saying that conservatives only want less govt and less govt interference when it suits their purposes. If conservatives were in charge, same-sex marriage would not be legal, women would not have any reproductive rights, and collective bargaining would be prohibited.

          • Kafir911

            Fear and prejudice? Let’s not forget racist, bigot, homophobe and Islamophobe he words liberals use when they are short on facts and the truth.

          • amainah

            Kids in a sandbox.

        • mikedropper

          Studies have shown that the majority of people who watch Fox News as their primary source of news are actually less informed about world events than people who don’t watch news at all.

          When watching a news program literally makes you less knowledgeable about the world, it’s worthy of the title “Faux News.”

          • amainah

            Studies have also shown that people who conduct studies are biased. 🙂

        • jay fulton

          In yesterday’s news we found out that fox news used a fake CIA employee to spread lies. The headline reads “Fox News’ terrorism expert arrested for lying about non-existent CIA career”. Why do you defend a deceptive propaganda machine, and think that it’s a reliable source of information? Flat out: it is False News, anyway you pronounce it. They hire politicians as staff. They fail to check sources. They hire fake consultants. They ridicule science. And, like you, they call people clowns when losing an argument.

          • Jason Coombs

            Lol, I’ll refer you to the Dan Rather story on Bush. 99% of “news” today is based on who can break a story quicker, not facts.

          • jay fulton

            nice attempt at deflection, but deflection won’t mislead the readers. What exactly is your response to the fact that the propaganda machine failed to check sources? (again, a repeat problem for them) They guy just got arrested, for pete’s sake. They gave him money and airtime. They picked him and presented him as newworthy.

          • Jason Coombs

            Lol, typical response. I assume you missed my point. News if one can call it that in today’s world is all about headlines alone, context be damned.

    • EABeem

      Oh yes, and let’s see, I have the Bible, Jesus, the Pope, the United Church of Christ, international aid organizations and good people everywhere on my side and you have…Trump? The Bible is clear. Let every single refugee into the country.

      • Kafir911

        I thought you were stupid before, but this column is your worst yet. How do you even have a column? This undoubtedly makes The Forecaster irrelevant.

        • EABeem

          Then by all means stop reading my column.

        • jay fulton

          Reading this comment section reminds me that calling people names happens when your arguments fail to convince. Wouldn’t it be more effective to dialogue and discuss?

          • Kafir911

            I have been back and forth with Mr. Beem for several years on numerous topics. This was a “stupid” article from many angles. I rarely uses epithets; that’s what liberals do. In this case it was called for.

      • Dennis

        “There you go again”. Please publish photos of those refugees that you will be taking into your home, because I know how passionate you are about this cause.

        • EABeem

          No one is asking anyone to take refugees into their homes. I am happy to pay substantially higher taxes to subsidize a more liberal immigration policy, I contribute to international aid through church and we will make a donation to Syrian relief. I am in favor of accepting more refugees both because we contributed to destroying their homeland and it’s the right thing to do.

          • knighthawk

            I agree quite a bit with you on much of the beginning of the article in that the middle east is a mess and their is a share to blame on the U.S. But agreement is hard to reach on many other points in the article and this comment.

            >I am happy to pay substantially higher taxes to subsidize a more liberal immigration policy

            There are many people in this state that don’t want to pay a cent higher on their taxes to help subsidize others, in their own state.

            I don’t know where your source of spare cash to change the world is coming from but it is quite economically unfeasible to consider allowing the number of Syrian refugees that you are suggesting. People are struggling to support themselves and they are having their money handed back out to “the needy”.

            These people did not invade the middle east; the government did. I’m not here to single any leaders out, but the entire government in general should not be taking so many hard working people’s money and handing over to Syrian refugees because of a “moral standpoint” or a screw up a few years ago. Government is already rather large as it is and the people are getting less and less of a say of where their money is going.

            The U.S. did not become a great nation because it was moral. We now are a superpower so yes, we do provide good relief programs and attempt to police the world, but when it comes down to it, we do have a lot of economic turmoil, and our share of the pie on the global scale is shrinking. We need to change our policies to help ourselves out first, and then we can have a moral end goal of helping others, but only after we can address our own issues.

      • Kafir911

        For the most part all of the above have historically done noble work on behalf of the the poor and downtrodden. However, “Church World Services, a subsidiary of the National Council of Churches representing 37 denominations, is where communist ideology found a natural home. In the 1970s, the NCC was co-opted by the KGB to promote Marxist liberation theology and social justice. The NCC has been used as a vehicle to subvert churches on behalf of the communist cause for decades.” -“Disinformation”, Ion Mihai Pacepa

        Although I’m a Catholic, this Marxist Pope may not necessarily be the worst of the 266 popes thus far. There have been some scoundrels as well as great one such as Pius II, the so-called “Hitler’s Pope”. As an American, I am ashamed that we elected a Marxist President twice and there’s no doubt he’s the absolute worst of the total of 44.

  • Kafir911

    There has been a lot of predictable moral outrage from the media about the
    comments made by Republican candidates on illegal immigration. I think a case
    could also be made on the economic and cultural impact of LEGAL refugees and
    asylum seekers.

    Locally, I see the number of panhandlers increasing but notice a number of
    refugees driving SUVs and mini-vans. There has been a proliferation of Halal
    shops in Portland while small businesses are failing. At Maine Medical Center,
    Home Depot and at L.L.Bean, I’ve seen numerous refugees doing the jobs that
    Maine citizens could be doing. The Portland City Council is poised to reduce the
    number of firemen and policemen, cut back on services and raise property taxes
    in order to provide millions of general assistance dollars to continue to
    re-settle refugees not terribly anxious to assimilate.

    The 1980 Refugee Act has been a disaster for America and an affront to our
    national sovereignty. However, it has been a boon to the nine primary national
    contractors (6 religious/3 secular) and 350 sub-contractors who are paid by the
    head with your tax dollars to re-settle these immigrants many of whom do not
    meet the strict definition of a refugee. These voluntary agencies used to rely
    on volunteers and fund their charitable work with private donations. Today, they
    receive, on average, 76% of their funding from the government.

    In 2013, we brought in 69,926 refugees, 25,199 asylees and 13,026 asylee
    families, issued 1,902 Special Immigrant Visas and approved 45,618 Diversity
    Visas. In addition, we absorbed @ 20,00 Cubans and Haitians and thousands more
    who received Temporary Protected Status. The estimated re-location costs exceed
    $10 billion annually. If you think this is chump change, consider that this is
    greater than this year’s revenue for the NFL of $9+ billion.

    The Left, under their open borders agenda, wants to convert these unskilled,
    uneducated and dependent immigrants (37.8% are on cash assistance, 61% receive
    food stamps, 48.4% receive Medicaid, 17.8% are on TANF and 14.8% receive SSI)
    into voters. The Right wants access to cheap labor. Who really thinks it is a
    wise and noble idea for this Administration to bring thousands of Syrian
    refugees even when the FBI says it’s impossible to vet them and ISIS promises
    to exploit the refugee program to seed America with terrorists. Call me an
    insensitive racist or bigot, but to me this is a form of cultural suicide.

    • Scott Harriman

      If you lose out on a job to someone with limited connections, financial resources, cultural awareness and English skills* then maybe you weren’t a good fit for that job.

      (*I realize not all Maine refugees fit this description, but, in my experience, it applies to most.)

      • Kafir911

        What?! The ORR requires that refugees/asylum seekers go to the head of the line for jobs, housing, food stamps, cash assistance, TANF and so on.

        • KC1979

          That is certainly not true. Your bigotry is showing.

          • Kafir911

            You might want to check the website, “Refugee Resettlement Watch” or read Ann Corcoran’s book, “Refugee Resettlement and the Hijra to America” or Jim Simpson’s “The Red-Green Axis”. Throwing out baseless accusations only silences those who have not done their research.

          • KC1979

            Corcoran and Simpson, huh? Might as well throw some Coulter and Malkin in for good measure. Yeah, I’ve read them and have fully explored RRW. I have also followed the support Corcoran has been receiving by white supremacist groups over the years. You might want to step out your echo chamber for awhile and read materials not written by hate mongers.

          • Kafir911

            First I’m a bigot and now a hate monger. Good try, you apologist and “useful idiot”…which gets us no where.
            Have you read Ion Mihael Pacepa” book, “Disinformation”?

          • KC1979

            I didn’t call you a hate monger, I called Corcoran and Simpson hate mongers. I’m not sure how Pacepa’s work is relevant in here. He’s far better than Corcoran, at least.

          • Kafir911

            Pacepa’s work is all about deception and disinformation. Google an article that appeared in National Review, 4/23/15 on the KGB and “The Secret Roots of Liberation Theology” for starters. Incidentally, Michael Savage is all over the refugee
            infestation today on 970AM. You should listen in, but then again, he’s just another hate monger, correct?

  • ChiBolts

    Your compassion, our money — as usual.

    • EABeem

      I pay more in taxes than most people and I don’t whine about it.

      • Kafir911

        But, because you’re likely in the bottom 50% of the Adjusted Gross Income of personal federal income taxes paid, you’ll get a refund.

        • EABeem

          Household income top 10%. Get refund because a lot withheld. I’m sure you mean well, but you are mistaken about just about everything from what I have seen.

          • Kafir911

            Nice try. Apparently, reality exists only in your mind.

            The top 10% pay 70% of all federal taxes collected. I doubt if you’re in that category unless you receive an undeclared cash subsidy from George Soros.

          • EABeem

            And you wonder why I find it pointless to engage with you. You hide behind a screen name while I put my name and picture on all of my comments. I am one of the only journalists you will ever find who regularly responds to critics. I tell you our household income is above $150K, which is the top 10% for income in the US, and you tell be I’m a liar. You seriously do not know what you are talking about most of the time in these anonymous comments. I will respond to you the next time you use your real name and tell me how much you make a year.

          • Kafir911

            Is your wife a surgeon because you can’t be making that kind of income with your communist diatribes (except in Falmouth). I will meet you in person anywhere and anytime. Name the location and time and bring cameras or video recorders. You will lose all rational discussions and I’ll leave my gun at home so you can speak freely.

          • EABeem

            Not interested. No point talking to someone who has already dismissed what I might have to say and whose views I find so misguided.

          • jay fulton

            EABeem has a right to speak freely, regardless of whether you possess a threatening gun. It’s in our constitution.

          • Kafir911

            It wasn’t a threat. Since the Left wants to confiscate our guns I thought I would throw it in to a mind-numbing futile discussion.
            You might want to Google UN Resolution 16/18 that Hillary is in favor of when you bring up the protection of free speech in the First Amendment.

    • splurker

      You have the lucky privilege of being born in this country with all of the infrastructure and systems in place for a relatively easy existence…If you had no clean water to drink and you were getting bombed by your own army would you stay?

      Your money…sheesh…20 years ago I used to identify more with the Republican agenda, but this “me first” mindset and anyone who asks for help is demonized as lazy or cheating will be that partys death warrant…

  • Giaour

    Mr. Beem…the only thing worse than a fool is an old fool, and judging from your photo, you qualify. If you’re in your 20’s and not a liberal, you have no heart. If you’re in your 40’s and still a liberal, you have no brain. That includes beyond your 40’s. You said, “you’d think the least the U.S. could do would be to open its arms to the flood of refugees.” Just this one question for you, Beemer: wouldn’t you think that the neighboring Islamic countries, believing in the same vile Qur’an that says they must help their Muslim brothers and sisters, might consider taking in a few “refugees”? But they take none, and we should take more? Useful idiot. Useful to them.

    • EABeem

      The fact that the Gulf States have refused to take any refugees only makes it more urgent that the U.S. accept more. Nothing much to admire in Saudi Arabian society unless you worship money.

  • Guest

    While I admire your compassionate side, E A Beam, sometimes it’s not tempered by a dose of reality. Have you honestly done your homework? When I first started seeing mainstream media’s videos of crying refugees and their children in desperation wanting to escape war-ridden Syria (a war created covertly by CIA) …hearing about people dying in a transport truck, barbed wire, soldiers, and police pushing people away, it really bothered me as well. If faced with the same situation most of us would flee in desperation, too. Then I recalled Sibel Edmond’s (FBI whistleblower) warning about how countries like the U.S.(CIA) infiltrate others to oust the current government, start wars, and set up a puppet government to take resources under many guises, including pumping up humanitarian crises which, logically, most compassionate human beings have immediate gut-level responses. In looking at many sources outside mainstream media it’s become abundantly clear why some were calling the refugee exodus a Trojan horse. So, where were these refugees getting their cigarettes, cellphones, etc? Why were they throwing away tents, cellphones, all manner of garbage …and cases of water, and food given to them by generous citizens in France, Hungary, etc…. and the local police? Why are 69% of the refugees men? Have you seen any of the videos and photos left behind on discarded cellphones? It’s really concerning to see men and even a refugee boy using a symbolic gesture of beheading/throat cutting with his hand as he’s being videotaped coming into an EU station. The UN reports 579,617 refugees have entered the EU so far, the majority men, and Germany is to receive 1.5 million asylum seekers in 2015 (920,000 in the last quarter alone, and a estimated total of 7 million possible with family reunification). Did you see the picture of garbage strewn areas in Germany, and the German parent’s complaint in Facebook that German students were expected to make beds and perform other acts of servitude in temporary housing facilities which the predominantly able-bodied refugees could do for themselves? And take a look at the link from Gatestone Institute, International Policy Council about the violence, and gang-type activities and responses to police from some of the refugee men. Do you know who George Soros is and how he spends his billions and why? Also take a look at what happened to DHS Senior Special agent Taylor Johnson, a whistleblower working for ICE. A federal program grants green cards to “foreign investors” – individuals donating $500,000 for investment in U.S. companies can get into the U.S. in as little as 16 days without being vetted as required. The Program is called EB-5, and there are over 800 operating EB-5 regional centers in the U.S. supposedly only allowed to process 10,000 applicants/year. Predominantly applicants are coming from China, Russia, Pakistan, Malaysia. Regarding the Syrian refugees, the U.S. is increasing it’s “host cities” and increasing acceptance of 40,000 – and this number is just what mainstream media is telling us. The U.S. is covertly transporting far more than most realize – without vetting them. What is reported in the link and happening in Germany (and other EU nations) will also happen here.

    http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/6668/germany-migrant-crime-wave

    • Kafir911

      Careful. Beem will be calling you names as most liberals do for revealing the facts. One thing I’d like to add, if I may,is that this trumped up mass
      immigration problem is a form of civilization jihad known as the “Hijra”, the migration to and colonization of the land of the kuffar (infidels).

  • poppypapa

    “Studies have shown….” “Most experts believe…” “Scientific research has proven….” “According to the prevailing consensus….” “The American people are tired of….”

    OK; I’m convinced.

    • EABeem

      Are you sure you’re commenting on the right column. Those phrases do not appear in it as far as I can see. It’s just straightforward statement of the position that we owe it to Syrian refugees to help as much as possible and it’s the moral thing to do.

  • James Post

    When there was a massive exodus from Cuba in 1980, Fidel Castro included lots of criminals within the masses who were allowed to leave for the USA. Accepting Syrian refugees is conceptually fine, but how do you ensure that they are refugees and not terrorists, or criminals, similar to the fast one Fidel pulled on us? I have seen videos of displaced people, dominated by young Syrian men, who were supposedly trying to get out of Syria. At least in these videos, I saw few women and children. The process of accepting 200,000 Syrian refugees must including a way to vet the Syrians to protect us from the importation of terrorists.

  • Kafir911

    This video on “refugees” should cut through the clutter:
    https://cqrcengage.com/act/app/document/9792526