As Syrian rockets rain inside the country, and now into neighboring Turkey, we witness horrors perpetrated onto an already horrible canvass of human destruction. Caught up in this brutal civil war are doctors, teachers, engineers, students and civilians whose only crime is being born in a dangerous corner of a country.
Amid a Syrian refugee crisis of epic proportions, President Donald Trump will address the nation and the world during Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech to Congress. High on his list of topics is immigration and foreign policy.
Trump and Congress are focused on one slice of the immigration issue — how to contend with “dreamers” who live, work and study in the United States and now face deportation. Like the Syrians who have fled to Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere, their crime is simply to have been born in conflict-ridden countries like El Salvador.
If the president wants a role model for how America can handle the global movement of people in distress, Syria is a good example. Amid all the destruction and death, an American — based organization is rescuing displaced Syrian students and scholars. The Institute of International Education works around the world to keep student and scholar exchanges alive and provides emergency assistance to those who are displaced by conflict and war.
Because of this platform, Syrian students are connected with educational opportunities overseas and the chance to keep studying. Syrian women are finding a way to resume their higher education programs despite the conflict at home. Many are going to the United States or Canada through temporary fellowships to finish university studies so they can, hopefully, go home one day and contribute to the rebuilding of their society.
Trump should look at what the institute is doing for Syrian students and scholars and other organizations are doing for refugees and ask: What can America do to help? How can we open our hearts and open our doors in a legitimate and fair way that shows the compassion of our citizens? Instead of walls, what bridges can we build to those who live in conflict? Instead of immigration bans, how can we ban together and save the innocents?
America is capable of generosity and protection. Yes, we all want to be safe and secure. Yes, the world has limited resources. But if the institute can support Syrian students and women, America can support migrants and refugees as well as those we have already accepted into the United States after hurricanes or horrors like war.
Much is in short supply these days. But humanity should never be in short supply.
Tara D. Sonenshine is senior career adviser at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.