Viewpoints

Refugees can help make America great again

In this 2015 file photo, Syrian refugee Jana Makkiyeh, 3, whose family comes from Damascus, Syria, holds a teddy bear while standing near her family's tent at a makeshift camp for asylum seekers in Roszke, southern Hungary.
In this 2015 file photo, Syrian refugee Jana Makkiyeh, 3, whose family comes from Damascus, Syria, holds a teddy bear while standing near her family's tent at a makeshift camp for asylum seekers in Roszke, southern Hungary. AP

I am a 17-year-old high school student in San Luis Obispo, California. I am proud to be the son of two Iraqi immigrants, which is not common in our town. My parents were born in Iraq. My father’s family fled Iraq when he was a child because of religious and financial persecution and my mother is a political and religious refugee. Both of my parents came to this country with the determination to succeed. My mother, a perinatologist, earned her medical degree at the University of Chicago. Caring for mothers and their babies is her passion. My father, knowing no English at age 8, is passionate about helping others as a lawyer. My father worked his way through Cal Poly and later, law school at the University of Notre Dame, and became a manager of a law firm.

My parents both deeply appreciate the blessings of freedom to pursue their happiness. They are productive and giving members of our community and they are eternally grateful for the opportunities that this great country has given them. They have not only helped many through medical and legal struggles, but also been a source of support to me and so many more with their involvement in our community.

During the 2016 election cycle, I heard then-candidate Donald Trump call the influx of Syrian and Iraqi refugees a “matter of terrorism.” I was shocked. The leading Republican Candidate at the time was calling hardworking and productive members of society, like my loving parents and many more refugees around the country, dangerous!

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Going to school those days was a struggle, with many kids jokingly asking what I would bomb today or what would happen to “that hairy terrorist” if Donald Trump were elected. I hid the pain behind my usual big smile. I still do. It’s all right. I am blessed to be here. As I watched the destruction of Aleppo and Mosul (my grandparents’ hometown) and saw the faces of children like me who were fearful for their lives, I remembered my mother vividly describing the same scenes of violence during the first Gulf War and the civil war that followed, and I realized that those children could have been me and my little sister if it were not for the generosity of this awesome country.

Today, as we continue to watch even more atrocities committed against civilians in Syria, we need to come together and provide a safe haven for these refugees so that they too can add to the richness of this great country. But, according to an analysis by the International Rescue Committee, we are on track to admit fewer than half of the refugees we pledged to take in this year, with Syrians among those hardest hit by the cuts .

Data show that most refugees are hard-working taxpayers with many starting businesses and becoming homeowners. They are not dangerous because danger is what they risked everything to escape. President Trump, I implore you to reconsider your foreign policy regarding the Middle East and instead try to help the 13.5 million Syrians fleeing this violence. Outrage and bombs are not the only support we should provide. When the house is on fire, punishing the arsonist is not enough. We must also help the residents escape. Let America become even greater by being a beacon of hope to these forsaken people. The odds are excellent that they will be productive members of our society and community.

Emile Naccasha will start his senior year in high school this fall.

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