In his Monday press conference on the latest Islamist atrocities, President Obama said that the United States must “welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety” and that “slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values.” The Democrats vying to succeed him said the same thing in their televised debate Saturday.
One problem: Relocating refugees from the Middle East to the U.S. is morally wrong.
Sure, welcoming refugees here makes us feel good. Newspapers run heart-warming stories of overcoming adversity; churches embrace the objects of their charity; politicians can wax nostalgic about their grandparents.
But the goal of refugee assistance is not to make us feel good. It is to assist as many people as possible with the resources available. And resettling a relative handful of them here to help us bask in our own righteousness means we are sacrificing the much larger number who could have been helped with the same resources.
Each refugee we bring to the United States means that eleven others are not being helped with that money.
In other words, each refugee we bring to the United States means that eleven others are not being helped with that money. Faced with twelve drowning people, only a monster would send them a luxurious one-man boat rather than twelve life jackets. And yet, with the best of intentions, that is exactly what we are doing when we choose one lucky winner to resettle here.
Some will object that we can do both — relocate some refugees here and care for others in their native region. But money is not infinite. Every dollar the government spends is borrowed and will have to be paid back by our grandchildren. What’s more, the U.N. estimates that there are 60 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world. Clearly, whatever amount we allocate to refugee protection will provide for only a fraction of the people in need.
Given these limitations on resources, it is wrong — morally wrong — to use those resources to resettle one refugee here when we could help twelve closer to their home.
There is little we can do to minimize the costs of resettling refugees. True, the private contractors the State Department pays to oversee the process are making a good living off of refugee resettlement, but reining them in won’t make much difference. Most of the costs come from social services; according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 90 percent of refugees from the Middle East receive food stamps and nearly three-quarters are on Medicaid or some other taxpayer-funded health care.
This should come as no surprise. Refugees arrive destitute and often traumatized. They have little education (those from the Middle East have an average of only 10.5 years of schooling), which means that even if they find work, it will pay little. And because they’re poor — almost all have incomes only slightly above the poverty line — they pay little in taxes.
Of course, we don’t resettle refugees for economic reasons but for humanitarian ones. And since the goal is humanitarian, a wise steward must use his resources so that they generate the greatest humanitarian return. It’s also true that refugees brought here will live better than those even in well-run in refugee camps in the region. But the goal of refugee protection is to provide people adequate succor until they can return home, not maximize opportunity for a select few.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports a $2.5 billion funding shortfall in caring for Syrian refugees in the Middle East. The five-year cost of resettling just 39,000 Syrians in the U.S. would erase the entire current UNHCR shortfall. Security concerns aside, it is morally unjustifiable to help the few at the expense of the many.
— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.