Syrian Refugees and Communist Refugees: A Parallel


Current political issues are rarely unprecedented. Problems faced today might be different from yesterday’s as far as subject or magnitude, but difficult political problems tend to reoccur. Several politicians, including a presidential candidate, have balked at the acceptance of Syrian refugees.

The reasoning has been heard before: perhaps the refugees will not integrate properly into western society, or they will be harboring terrorists among them. These reasons are always present when discussing any racial exclusion in America.

Whether these concerns are legitimate or the solutions brought forth are effective are, and might always be, points of disagreement, but exclusion has not been the only method tried out by the American government.

A recent Op-Ed recalls the Cold War and the “Red Scare,” and how the administration tried to address the global political climate at the time. Although we have the luxury of looking back on these times with a skeptical eye, the fear in the American people of a Communist infiltrator subverting the country from the inside was very much real.

Perhaps that was why Communists were added to a list of “subversives” ineligible to enter the United States at that time. Yet the law only barred around 32 individuals from entering the country each year, with only seven denied annually from 1961 to 1991. Instead, the U.S. accepted 2.6 million refugees, mostly from communist countries.

This is because the Cold War was mostly an ideological one instead of a physical one. President Reagan wanted to show that “Democracy was best,” and always held American doors open to all those fleeing communist oppression and seeking a better life. Again, we cannot look at these events through only one perspective; of course Reagan’s policy of open doors to communist refugees drew much opposition from people fearing communist infiltration. But in the end, the communist ideal fell apart, not from bombs and bullets, but from disillusion.

We currently face a similar ideological enemy. Perhaps it is time to widen our vision on how we deal with refugees and consider other weapons at our disposal besides walls and bombs. Communism was defeated with freedom, after all.