Editorial: Reject Refugees or Entertain Angels?
(This article was originally published in The Memphis Commercial Appeal, November 27, 2017.)
Before you overdose on peppermint lattes, remember that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. For me, it's also about re-watching the classic black-and-white film "Casablanca."
Were you expecting something else?
In case you need a refresher, "Casablanca" is the story of an American expatriate, the surly Humphrey Bogart, who helps a hero named Victor Laszlo and his wife escape the Nazis in Morocco during the Second World War. Victor and his wife Ilsa are in search of "letters of transit" to make it to America and continue the resistance.
The film won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards in 1942.
Broadly speaking, the moral argument of the film depends on the ability of our hero Victor Laszlo and his wife to enter the U.S. from French Morocco.
Though Nazis are back in fashion today, there's another existential threat to the world. The Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram continue to terrorize 315 million people living in 20 countries across the Middle East and North Africa through systematic violence and oppression.
As it was 75 years ago we are morally bound to provide safe migration to the victims in this part of the world and heroes of the War on Terror. The women and men who have taken Victor Laszlo's place, the heroes in today's fight against terrorism, are from many different countries and practice many different religions.
American soldiers fight against foreign and domestic enemies alongside men and women from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Mexico. Disgustingly, some of the battlefield heroes have been undocumented residents in America who were deported after serving their adopted country.
But heroes aren't just the brave people who engage in combat. They are the mothers and children who faced terrorists in their home countries, refused to join them, and survived for the sake of their families. They can teach us about combating extremist ideologies, religious intolerance, and violence.
Letters of transit don't exist in 2017. Not even for heroes. In fact, people looking for safety today find it more difficult to obtain entry or asylum in the U.S. because of systematic efforts by both the federal and state government.
Our own Tennessee legislature was the first in the nation to sue the federal government in order to halt the refugee resettlement program that brought in a mere 2,000 heroes in 2016.
The refugee resettlement program is thorough enough to weed out terrorists and attempts to slow down immigration and resettlement run contrary to the American values that shaped the world after the end of the First World War.
America is a diverse country. Our strength as a nation depends on including all of the countries of the world in this great experiment of hope and freedom.
Victor Laszlo declares in the film, "If we stop fighting our enemies the world will die." Our fight against terrorism occurs on battlefields in Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria. Our fight against our enemies takes place in the hearts and minds of the survivors of terror. They look to us so that they may find hope and justice in the world.
You might be wondering why this conversation needs to happen around Christmas. Well, the Christmas story is all about a family that needed refuge for a night. They found it in a stable and their child was born.
According to my faith that child did wonderful and heroic things. That child was the light of the world. This Christmas, let's renew our calling as a nation to provide safe haven to strangers, to entertain angels in our midst, and to welcome their children as many of us would welcome Jesus Christ.
In the question over what to do about immigration and refugee resettlement, to quote Bogart, "Here's looking at you."