No Refugee Left Behind - America's Future

March 11, 2021

Policy

No Refugee Left Behind

By: Mathieu Vaillancout

Mainstream media regularly covers individuals seeking haven from Syria. But, we seem to forget that there is a humanitarian crisis much closer to home: Venezuela. Unprecedented amounts of people are fleeing Venezuela because of economic and political turmoil. According to the UN Refugee Agency, 5.4 million refugees are from Venezuela worldwide. Syria’s numbers are equally staggering at 5.6 million refugees worldwide. According to the Brookings Institute, more than 16% of Venezuelans have fled their home country. And as of January 2020, 5000 people were fleeing Venezuela every day. Unlike Syria, there is still relatively limited help for refugees from Venezuela even though the situation is in the United States’ own backyard.

In the worst of cases, refugees from Venezuela are forced into prostitution or targeted for sexual assault in Colombia or Brazil. And thousands upon thousands are taking refuge into makeshift campsites in the border cities of  those same countries where crime and violence are rife. 

The US Historically Represents Hope for Refugees

The United States has not always been so closed off to refugees seeking asylum. In fact, in the not-so distant past, the US accepted refugees due to many different political, economic, and religious reasons. One may recall Cubans who fled Fidel Castro Cuba, Boat People who escaped Communist Vietnam in the late 1970s, or Jewish refuseniks who suffered discrimination in the ex-USSR. Those refugee groups did face opposition, but ultimately went on to live better lives in the United States.

The US cannot accept every Venezuelan refugee – but a healthy number of Venezuelan refugees have the advantage of easily integrating into the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, a substantial number of Venezuelans are able to speak English. And those who don’t know English will have an easier time learning it, assuming their native tongue is Spanish. 

Venezuelan-Americans are already members of civil society in the US. In fact, they became a group of voters  to woo in elections in South Florida, even though Venezuelan-Americans make up only 0.15% of American society, according to the 2018 survey conducted by the US Census Bureau. Not to mention, they’ve already impacted American professional sports industries like baseball. Quite a few well-known professional baseball players in the MLB (like the Houston Astros superstar José Altuve) were born and bred in Venezuela. 

Opening the US to Venezuelans

The Venezuelan humanitarian crisis is one of the biggest refugee crises in the Western Hemisphere in the last decade. And the United States should not turn a blind eye to people who need our help. The US did its part by accepting refugees from Cuba and Vietnam before. There is no good reason why the US should be closed to Venezuelans now.  

President Biden could have his own Ronald Reagan moment by making America ”a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere” for people who are suffering in Venezuela. Again, it’s unrealistic to expect the US to accept everyone who is seeking refuge, but helping even one extra person is better than none.