Underlying the Left's struggles is a realignment of politics away from the economic conflicts of the 20th century toward the cultural battles of the 21st.
The Obama administration has made the right decision to raise the cap on the number of refugees so as to take in more Syrians seeking to escape the genocidal conflict in their country. It is not only an appropriate humanitarian action, but it will be good for the United States in the long run, just as our reception of Cuban refugees brought us an enormously successful, entrepreneurial group of Americans.
Immigration policy is a tricky matter to get right for classical liberals, particularly today. While some libertarians support open borders, that policy would be unwise. If tens of millions of people arrived who were unschooled in our democratic traditions and relatively uneducated, they might undermine the very conditions for liberty that make our nation so attractive to immigrants. They would surely cause a huge backlash. And unfortunately today, our welfare state can encourage immigration by those would not be productive citizens. A classical liberal constitution would permit us to entertain a more open immigration policy.
But these concerns do not at all undermine the case for taking in more Syrians. Even if we took in a few hundred thousand Syrians, they will not change our political culture. Indeed, given the relatively small numbers, they are likely to change the culture less than did immigration from Latin America or previous waves of immigration. Moreover, these immigrants have reasons to come that are not economic: there is no reason to think they are here to seek welfare benefits. And like Cuban refugees, the Syrian refuges are by no means largely without human capital. Middle-class people with substantial skills have had every reason to flee.
While the Obama administration can lift the cap, Congress will need to provide more money to get these refugees settled. Every attempt should be made to get these immigrants into jobs as soon as possible and enroll them in English language programs, if they do not already know our native tongue. Assimilation rather multiculturalism should be the watchword, and Congress should make that clear in requirements that it attaches to increased funding.
Some worry that this cohort of Syrian immigrants may contain terrorists. Certainly, all immigrants should be vetted. But we do not face a substantial risk of terrorism from these refugees. Sadly, those who want to engage in violent Jihad have plenty of opportunities in Syria today without coming to the United States. The vast majority of refugees, who have seen their homes destroyed and their relatives killed on all sides, have been inoculated against tyranny and terrorism for generations. We should remember that those who escaped from communist regimes in the last century assailed those evil empires from our shores and indeed opposed the indigenous anti-anti-communists of the left. I predict that the many refugees who become Syrians of American descent will form a similar bulwark—this time against terrorism.