THE BLOG
09/22/2015 03:35 pm ET Updated Sep 22, 2016

Americans Must Respond to Refugee Crisis in Europe, US

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images

Over the past weeks, hearts have both ached and felt relief from images of the refugee crisis in Europe. The photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lifeless on a beach in Turkey was haunting. One can imagine his mother tying his shoes and ruffling his hair the morning before they boarded a raft for the trip that would mark the end of their lives. They were simply seeking safety.

At the same time there was a sense of relief and justice when video aired of German citizens clapping and greeting the first Syrian refugees to arrive on trains in Munich, Germany. The German government has agreed to accept 800,000 Syrians. Last year, the United States resettled just 1,500 Syrians. Certainly the U.S. can do better.

Yes, America can and should do better by Syrian refugees, and refugees and asylees worldwide. In 1980 the U.S. resettled a record 207,000 refugees. Yet last year, in the midst of undoubtedly the worst global refugee crisis since World War II, the U.S. offered up only 70,000 slots for refugees total.

The president will announce the numbers of refugees to be admitted during fiscal year 2016 at the end of September. Now is the time for Americans, and persons of faith and conscience especially, to advocate for higher refugee admissions from all countries. And, if there is true commitment to welcoming the stranger, one more step must be taken.

The U.S. government must stop locking in detention centers refugees and asylees arriving daily at the U.S.-Mexico border. Their plight is no different than the scores of refugees and asylees arriving in Europe. All want freedom from harm and danger. If Americans care how refugees and asylees are greeted in Europe, the nation also must be adamant about how these global citizens are welcomed on U.S. soil.

In 2014, tens of thousands of Central American children and families arrived seeking protection in the U.S. They were unwelcomed by the Obama administration, which housed them in private, for-profit detention centers. In fact, the government built two new detention centers and increased the nation's capacity to imprison asylum-seeking families from 85 to almost 4,000 families.

Regardless of whether refugees have been vetted before arriving in the U.S., or whether they arrive with no documentation or prior vetting, the asylum process makes clear that both means are equal in the eyes of the law. Both the Central Americans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border and the Syrians arriving in Europe have claims for protection, have not been previously vetted, and have in many cases travelled with false documents via smugglers to get them to their destination. Both groups have suffered on the journey and both, under national law and international agreement, have a right to have their claims for protection heard without penalty or being returned to the homes they fled.

As Americans pray for refugees and their safe passage in Europe, the country -- and especially people of faith and conscience -- must also look at our own borders. Petition that immigration enforcement not impede the path of those seeking protection in the U.S., and demand the end of family detention and the detention of all asylum seekers.