George W. Bush's misguided attack on Iraq has had catastrophic consequences for the Iraqi people. Although the removal of Saddam Hussein was a blessing, the bloody chaos that resulted was not. Estimates of the number of dead in the ensuing strife starts at about 100,000 and rises rapidly. The number of injured is far greater.
Moreover, roughly four million people, about one-sixth of the population, have been driven from their homes. The most vulnerable tended to be Iraq's Christian community and Iraqis who aided U.S. personnel -- acting as translators, for instance. Yet the Bush administration resisted allowing any of these desperate people to come to America, since to resettle refugees would be to acknowledge that administration policy had failed to result in the promised paradise in Babylon.
This horrid neglect continues. Reports Hanna Ingber Win:
Of the millions displaced, the United States will resettle about 17,000 new Iraqis this coming fiscal year. While that is a relatively small number of arrivals compared to the number displaced, about a third of them will end up in El Cajon and Greater San Diego. More than 5,000 new Iraqis will arrive in San Diego County during the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009, according to Catholic Charities in the San Diego Diocese. Getting jobs, homes and visas to reunite the families of the new arrivals — many of whom put their lives and their families’ lives at risk by helping the U.S. military — is a monumental task.
As the Iraq War played out, the Bush administration seemed to do everything in its power to ignore the refugee crisis. Former President Bush, reluctant to admit to a failed war policy, never mentioned the plight of the refugees and for years refused to allow Iraqis fleeing the war zone to resettle in the U.S. Only after significant political pressure from members of Congress and advocacy groups did the administration’s policy begin to change, and refugees began gaining access to the United States.
As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama pledged to address the humanitarian crisis caused by the war. He vowed to increase the amount of aid given to countries like Syria and Jordan, which harbor most of the displaced people, as well as expedite the process of resettling refugees here.
“The Bush administration made every effort they could to try to minimize the issue [of Iraqi refugees] in the debate on the war,” Amelia Templeton, a refugee-policy analyst with Human Rights First, says not long after the presidential election. The Obama administration, on the other hand, she says, has made the issue an explicit policy priority. “Obama has said this is a major problem, that we are responsible for this problem and we will try to change this.”
Whether the Obama administration will live up to its rhetoric is still to be seen.
Immigration is an emotional issue at any time. But there is no excuse for not accepting more persecuted peoples who are fleeing violence sparked by U.S. military action and attacks sparked by their aid for U.S. military forces. If America refuses to act as a haven for these people, then yet another light will have gone out in what was once a shining city on a hill for the world.