The conflicts in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world have sparked the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II. Some 21 million people, including more than 5 million Syrians, have fled their homes for neighboring countries or attempted the perilous sea crossing to Europe, and everywhere governments are struggling to cope with the influx. Many have reacted by closing their borders and imprisoning those seeking sanctuary. But Canada not only has taken in thousands of Syrian refugees, but its people have gone out of their way to make them welcome. If Canada, with a tenth of the population of the U.S. can be a Good Samaritan to desperate people, why can't Americans open their hearts to them as well?
It's hardly surprising that immigration and the threat of terrorism have become the two great political bugaboos of this most unusual presidential campaign season. Donald Trump has whipped up a toxic cloud of xenophobia calculated to convince Americans that immigrants are to blame for all the country's problems. The relentless campaign of fear and intimidation has blinded millions of Americans to their own legacy as a nation of immigrants.
Canada, which has a similar history of taking in people seeking greater freedom and opportunity from around the world, has instead responded by throwing open its doors to Syrian refugees, welcoming a far larger share of migrants compared to its population than almost other country. Between November 4, 2015 and February 29, 2016, Canada resettled more than 25,000 Syrian refugees. By contrast, the U.S. has accepted fewer than 1,300 new refugees so far this year, and in total it expects to take in a mere 9,000 for all of 2016. Even if it fulfills that pledge, the number of Syrian immigrants arriving in this country will be a minuscule fraction of the population. Having pulled up the welcome mat, Americans will take in fewer refugees that any other Western nation.
Canada's generosity springs not only from conscious government policies but also from the efforts of thousands of ordinary people — school teachers, hockey moms, artists and business owners — who feel a moral obligation to offer aid and comfort to people who have suffered unspeakable horror in their countries of origin. Poker buddies and church congregants have banded together to "adopt" total strangers and support them throughout their first year of resettlement. They help the newcomers find housing, enroll in language classes, place their children in school and apply for jobs so they can become self-sufficient within a year of their arrival.
In doing so, these voluntary mentors become surrogate families for the migrants, regarded as trusted friends, advisers and role models who can be counted on to help navigate the bureaucracy and lend a sympathetic ear when problems crop up. Group members meet regularly with their adopted families, share meals, take trips together and celebrate each other's birthdays and anniversaries.
The Canadian government carefully vets migrants from Syria, just as the U.S. does, to screen out people who represent potential security threats. But Canadians haven't been indoctrinated in the kind of hateful anti-Muslim rhetoric that American and European politicians have used to paint immigrants as violent criminals and terrorists who must be kept out of the country at all costs. Canadian officials recognize that the risk a refugee might be radicalized by Internet propaganda or an extremist cleric can never be entirely eliminated, but because most of the migrants are families with children, that risk is relatively small.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a lesson in compassion for strangers and in our ethical duty to help our neighbors. A traveler encounters a badly wounded man on a dark road at night and must decide whether to render aid even though the man belongs to a rival tribe. Despite the risk to his own life, he decides to do so in order to save another's. In today's global village, that is the paradigm Canada is following in its treatment of Syrian refugees, and its example is putting America to shame.