The Clinton administration has agreed to accept some 20,000 refugees displaced by the fighting in Kosovo and relocate them either to Guam or the Guantanamo military base in Cuba. U.S. officials apparently have no intention, of doing more than temporarily warehousing those victims of the latest Balkan tragedy -- much as the administration did Haitian refugees in 1993 and 1994. Washington insists that the Kosovars will eventually return home, in all likelihood escorted by NATO ground forces.
This policy is cynical and cruel. America can and should do betterthanindefinitely store the victims of ethnic cleansing in U.S.-run refugeecamps. Washington should let those Albanian Kosovars who wish to emigrateto the United States stay here permanently. America, a country founded andbuilt by immigrants, should willingly provide a haven to the latest victimsof hatred and madness in the Balkans.
The reality is that many of the Albanian Kosovars are unlikely to gohomeagain. To use them as pawns in NATO's violent and incoherent policy againstSerbia will merely victimize them a second time. There is no way to restorethem to their homes without a long-term NATO occupation force in Kosovo, astrategy that would entangle the United States (as NATO's leader) in afrustrating and dangerous venture for years or even decades.
Allowing the Kosovars to come to the United States would benefitboth themand this country. Instead of a poverty-stricken, war-ravaged land beset byfrequent spasms of ethno-religious violence, the immigrants would find aland of opportunity in which they could develop their abilities and pursuetheir dreams to the fullest. America would gain yet another contingent oftalented people to strengthen not only its economy but its society.
That has been America's experience throughout its history. Thiscountryhas benefited enormously over the decades from the folly of brutal andintolerant regimes around the world that, because of religious, ideologicalor ethnic fanaticism, cast out many of their best people. We would havebeen justified in sending sarcastic thank you notes to Berlin, Rome, Moscow,Beijing, Havana, Hanoi, Tehran and many other capitals for enhancing thequality of America's dynamic population mix. By taking in the AlbanianKosovars, we could add Belgrade to the list.
That is also the rebuttal to those who might object that welcomingtherefugees as new Americans would reward Serbia for its policy of ethniccleansing. The "reward" for such cruelty is illusory. A country'sgreatness is not measured by how many wheat fields, coal mines and forestsit has. The true measure of greatness is a country's people and their manytalents. By expelling hundreds of thousands of its Albanian citizens,Serbia will diminish, not enhance itself.
Some Americans, unfortunately, would have this country turn its backon itsimmigrant traditions and close the door to the newest victims of oppression.But even the favorite argument of immigration opponents -- that immigrantswould take jobs away from "real Americans" -- looks a bit silly today. Withunemployment rates at lows not seen in more than three decades andentry-level jobs in construction and service industries going begging, aninflux of refugees from Kosovo would strengthen, not weaken, the Americaneconomy.
Moreover, the contributions made by adult Kosovar immigrants wouldbemerely a small part of the total potential gain to America. True, a largepercentage of those refugees are not likely to be well-educated, and theymay lack English language skills and the knowledge of American ways. Buttheir children will not have those deficiencies. And as an expert onimmigration policy once aptly observed, many of the most talented immigrantshave come to this country disguised as small children. The bottom line isthat admitting the Kosovars would expand America's reservoir of talent inunexpected ways, not merely in the short term, but for generations to come.
America should be true to its traditions and give the AlbanianKosovars --and not just the 20,000 grudgingly agreed to by the Clintonadministration -- a permanent rather than a temporary refuge. That is a farbetter option than escalating an already dangerous Balkan conflict toforcibly return them to a devastated homeland where they will likely becaught up in the next round of ethnic bloodshed. Instead, let them come toAmerica. Let them come. Let them live.