Last week Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a picture of a bowl of Skittles with this message:
“If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”
Like many others who protested, I am grieved by the casualness by which someone from a nation at peace can dismiss the horrible sufferings of those fleeing their own nation as victims of terrorism.
The New York Times shares some of the criticism Trump Jr. received after his tweet, including this classic from Binyamin Appelbaum: “Pause to reflect on the fact that this was sent from an iPhone, which was created by [Steve Jobs] the son of a Syrian immigrant.”
Not only is it cavalier to compare candy to victims of unspeakable atrocities, the “bowl of Skittles” image makes us feel like there’s a high percent chance that someone in the room eating Skittles will die. But both the vetting process and statistics argue otherwise.
John Oliver explains the incredibly difficult 18-24 month process it usually takes for a Syrian refugee to enter America. Step 1 is applying to the UNHCR which generally rejects 99% of applicants. For the lucky 1%, it’s on to Step 2, applying to the US State Department. This includes security screenings by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, Homeland Security, and then extra screenings specifically for Syrians. There is an interview, fingerprinting and a health screening, and the Director of the FBI has to sign off on every single Syrian refugee! Step 3 is cultural orientation, while continued research goes on in the background to make sure no new information would disqualify the refugee. This is the most thorough vetting of anyone in the world trying to gain refugee status in America.
The statistics also refute the Skittles analogy. If there are 3 poison Skittles in a bowl of 300, that’s 1 in 100. But both the New York Times article and John Oliver point to statistics that say 1 in tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or even more would be more accurate.
Check out John Oliver’s video clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U-t3GetV_Q
If we deny all Syrian refugees out of fear that one will be a terrorist, what kind of uncompassionate, short-sighted protectionism is this? We could be missing out on a Jerry Seinfeld, Paula Abdul, Johnny Manziel, and as previously mentioned, Steve Jobs.
I’d like to offer a better parallel than Skittles—Italian immigrants to America. The power of the mafia peaked in Italy in the early to mid-1900s. They expanded their operations to other countries including the US, bringing crime and death in their wake. What if we had discovered 60-100 years ago that 1 in 250,000 Italian Americans had connections to the mafia? Should we have closed our doors to Italian immigrants as well? Think of all the trouble it would have saved us!
But we didn’t, and I’m so glad we didn’t! Would American history have been the same without Frank Sinatra, Lee Iacocca, Jack Nicholson, Yogi Berra, Madonna, Jay Leno, Quentin Tarantino, Vince Lombardi, Jon Bon Jovi, Robert DeNiro, Mario Cuomo, Dan Marino, Lady Gaga, Mario Puzo, Rachel Ray, Ray Romano, Selena Gomez, Tommy Lasorda, Rudy Giuliani, Hulk Hogan, Henry Mancini, Sylvester Stallone, Harry Caray, Bradley Cooper, Joe Montana, Bruce Springsteen, Wolfgang Puck, Vin Diesel, Ariana Grande, Nancy Pelosi, Kate Hudson, Mario Andretti, Alicia Keys, John Travolta, Jennifer Aniston, Phil Mickelson, Steve Carell, Leonardo DiCaprio, Demi Lovato, the Jacuzzi family, the Jonas brothers, Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, several Nobel Prize winners, plus several thousand more Americans with Italian heritage who are household names? Remove all of them from our history—unimaginable! America wouldn’t be America without them.
Syrians are not Skittles. They are hurting people, victims of the same terrorism we hate. They are also intelligent, skilled, creative human beings who might invent whatever will come after the iPhone. Let’s welcome them with open arms and see how they make our nation of immigrants a richer place.