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If the U.S. forgets refugees, history will remember

By Sam Hunter, For The Miami Student

Images sometimes carry a power words cannot, especially images of atrocity. Haunting pictures of gaunt Jewish corpses in Auschwitz, Native Americans ravaged by smallpox, or the scarred back of an African-American slave ensure that we don't forget the complicated and violent past of humanity.

While some tragedies were committed directly by the United States in our quest for global power, many others were tacitly sanctioned when we pretended to be unaware of massacres halfway around the world. How many people have died because of inaction by the world's democracies in the face of evil?

Last week, a photograph from Greece gave a face to the human rights disaster taking place in the Mediterranean.

Millions have now seen the body of Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian boy, facedown on a beach after drowning while trying to reach Europe. His 5-year-old brother and mother also died after their raft overturned in the tumultuous waters. The family was planning to join extended family in Canada but now only the father survives. He has since returned to Syria to bury his family.

Aylan was not the first child to perish trying to reach the shores of democracy. The International Organization for Migration says that over 2,300 people have died this year attempting to reach Europe by sea. As horrific violence rages in Syria, unchecked by weak attempts at intervention by the United States and Europe, millions have tried to flee for better lives.

They're trying to find safety in select countries, mostly in Western Europe. Germany has pledged to take in 800,000 immigrants this year despite the European Union's inability to form a cohesive strategy. Many other nations are also willingly accepting tens of thousands of refugees, including France, Italy and Austria.

The noble actions of these countries stand out in stark contrast to the shameful inaction of the United States. As Republicans whine about "anchor babies," Syrian babies die every day. As President Obama refuses to admit his strategy to fight ISIS is an abject failure, more and more people feel compelled to risk their lives in search of peace.

As one of the greatest human disasters of our generation unfolds across the world, Americans look the other way.

We need to be different. The United States must act to save every life within our ability. We need to shelter every refugee who can reach our borders, without exception. We also must take in our share of refugees who come ashore in Europe and care about safety, not national borders. To turn away the tired, huddled masses searching for freedom would not just be criminal but deeply inhumane.

We cannot save every life from violence around the world. But that doesn't mean we should harden our hearts and close our borders. Pretending this is a problem for Europe, Asia or Africa would be an easy choice that would be remembered throughout history as deeply immoral.

We should not be remembered as a people who ignore our conscience when it's financially or politically expedient. Instead, the history books should record when America bravely stepped up and sheltered hundreds of thousands of innocents who had nowhere else to turn.

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Decades ago, we closed our doors to Jews fleeing genocide. This time, let's be different and act to change the course of history. If we don't, thousands more will die and we won't be able to look away any longer.