The best way the US could help Syrians: open the borders

Instead of expanding refugee settlement, President Trump has sought to slash the number of Syrians allowed to come to the US — while dropping bombs on Syria itself.

On Thursday night, President Donald Trump announced that the US had launched strikes against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in retaliation for Assad’s use of the chemical weapon sarin in an attack that killed dozens of civilians. “No child of God,” Trump said in a statement, “should ever suffer such horror.”

But the damage has already been done — and America, including President Trump himself, is already deeply culpable. Not because the US has shown undue hesitancy in dropping bombs on Syria before now, but because of its refusal to let Syrians help themselves by allowing more refugees to move to the United States. Expanding refugee resettlement would certainly work, would carry little in the way of short-term financial costs, and that would likely provide a powerful boost to the US economy and drastically increase the living standards of Syrians who were able to relocate. Instead, Trump has sought to slash the number of Syrians allowed to come to the US — while dropping bombs on Syria itself.

Letting Syrians come to the US would benefit them enormously, and quite possibly pay for itself

If we’re actually serious about helping Syrian people — both people who’ve stayed and refugees — it’s not enough to identify an intervention that seems like it could make things better and then declare that it’s the only viable solution. You have to compare it with alternative plans, and see which produces the most good at the least cost. And it’s very, very hard to argue that any military intervention that could avert further bloodshed in Syria — or even have prevented the bloodshed of the last four years — would have done more good, at lower cost, than this: simply issuing green cards to every Syrian who wants one — or even issuing them to just 1 million, or 500,000 — and providing airlifts to bring people here.

Let’s take immigration to start. The potential benefits to Syrians are enormous. For one thing, we would avoid the huge humanitarian toll associated with existing refugee migration. Many fewer boats would capsize. Many fewer children would drown. Many fewer people would suffocate in the back of trucks.

The economic benefits are massive, as well. According to research from economists Michael Clemens, Claudio E. Montenegro, and Lant Pritchett, a worker born in Egypt but living in the United States makes 12 times as much as an identical worker still in Egypt. A worker born in Yemen makes more than 15 times as much as his counterpart who stayed behind. Even in Jordan, Syria’s substantially richer neighbor, migrants make almost six times as much.

Updated by

Vox Media, Inc.

Leave a Comment or Reply