Syrian Refugees Are Like Tornado Survivors

Written by Alan Spector. Posted in Immigration, Opinion, Politics

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Published on February 01, 2017 with No Comments

By Alan Spector

February 1, 2017

A friend, with whom I frequently disagree politically but who has a big heart, shared a saying on Facebook that reads, “Not takin’ Syrian refugees and closin’ our borders isn’t ‘mean’ or ‘heartless.”  I lock my doors to my house every night.  I don’t lock them because I hate the people outside my house.  I lock them because I love the people inside my house.”

My first reaction was that this made sense, until I realized it is an analogy that addresses the wrong doors.  The order to close out Syrian refugees is not about locking the doors to our homes.  It’s about locking the doors to our Red Cross shelters, places of worship, homeless shelters, and the homes of those willing to take in others in need.

Think about it like this.  Yes, we live in our home and lock the doors.  But we also live in a broader community.  In our community, St. Louis, we unfortunately have what seems like more than our fair share of tornadoes.  But isn’t every community at some risk of a natural disaster?

Consider this scenario.  You have locked your doors—you’re in for the night—you’re safe in your home with your loved ones.  The tornado sirens go off, and you tune into the local news to learn a funnel cloud that has been sighted and is heading your way.  You know the drill—everybody down in the basement, away from the windows.  The weather radio tells you the tornado has touched down nearby but is now past.  The warning is over, and just like all of the past warnings, you’re OK.  With your home doors still locked for safety, you slog upstairs, grab a quick snack from your overstocked pantry, and nestle into bed for a good night’s sleep.

Meanwhile in a subdivision only three miles from you, 100 homes, whose doors had also been locked for safety, are destroyed.  Six people are dead, including two children—photographs of their broken bodies are immediately shared across social media.  One hundred families are without shelter, beds, or food.  They are traumatized, desperate, confused, lost.  They come out of the rubble and wander their neighborhood trying to figure out what to do.  Through no fault of their own, their lives are shattered.

But wait.  We live in St. Louis.  Community action kicks in.  The Red Cross opens shelters.  Faith based organizations do the same.  Homeless shelters declare that they are ready and willing to take in tornado survivors.  Individual families unlock their doors and offer to take in strangers.  The tornado victims—while their homes are destroyed, while some of their neighbors are dead or injured, while it will take all they can muster to somehow rebuild their lives—will have a warm, safe place to sleep, clothes to wear, and food to eat.  The children will be safe.  The families will be together and nestled in the caring arms of their community.

But wait.  Local government officials issue an order—Lock the Red Cross shelter doors.  Lock the churches and synagogues and mosques that were willing to take in survivors.  Lock the doors of the homeless shelters and arrest those families who have unlocked their doors to take in tornado survivors.

That is the analogy of locked doors we should be talking about.  It is a circumstance of nature that has a tornado hit that subdivision and not ours.  But we live in a community and want to help.  It is a circumstance of birth that we live in the United States and not in civil-war-torn Syria.  But we live in a world community and want to help.

So, should we lock the doors of our homes to be safe?  Yes, there are bad people out there.  But should we also lock the doors in our communities that are open to those in desperate need?  No.

The local authorities argue that the subdivision that was hit by the tornado has had a recent crime spree and may have some bad people living there.  They argue that there is a registered sex offender in that subdivision, and it is unsafe for the children to be in the same shelter with him.

Of the 100 homes and perhaps 400 people in need, there may be three that are questionable.  Valid concerns?  Yes.  But as a community, should we lock out the other 397?  Or should we immediately open the doors to everyone to relieve the suffering and find other ways to deal with the concerns?

Yes, we should lock the doors to our homes.  Yes, we should be vigilant about the bad people out there.  But we should not allow the tornado surviving families and their children to wander the streets of their destroyed neighborhood without shelter, a bed, clothing, or food, when our community has the wherewithal to provide all of that and individuals and organizations willing to do so.

Don’t lock those doors.

Alan Spector

Alan Spector is the author of five published books and working on books six and seven. His latest book, Body Not Recovered: A Vietnam War/Protest Movement Novel, takes place in large part in the Bay Area. You can learn more about Alan and his books at

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