As rampant Islamophobia has ramped up in the last few weeks, many people have taken to social media with the above or similar image. The thought goes that there is no reason to accept Syrian or Muslim refugees because we have many homeless veterans already (Occasionally, people also reference homeless children or the homeless in general.). So, if we are having difficulty caring for our veterans, how could we possibly justify taking care of Syrian or Muslim refugees?
There are numerous problems wrong with that statement, most notably in connection to the allocation of certain funds, the care that we give to the homeless, illogical reasoning, and moral bankruptcy. Let’s start with the first.
First off, veterans are mostly (though not exclusively) cared for by the Department of Veteran Affairs, commonly known as the VA. According to their web site, the VA “administers a variety of benefits and services that provide financial and other forms of assistance to Servicemembers [sic], Veterans, their dependents and survivors.” Services include compensation, education, training, home loans, life insurance, vocational rehabilitation/employment, and burial. The President’s 2016 budget for the VA is $168.8 billion with $95.3 billion mandatory and $70.2 billion discretionary funding. Mandatory spending is spending that cannot be changed without an act of Congress, so, baring a Congressional act, the VA will be receiving $95.3 billion this coming year. Good for them. Veterans need it.
However, the VA does not, unsurprisingly, care for refugees. Rather, refugees are cared for by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), which is a subsection of the Department of State. The Department of State (DOS) advises the President, leads the nation in foreign policy issues, negotiates treaties and agreements with “foreign entities,” and represents the US at the UN. As you can see, they are completely separate departments, so it doesn’t make sense to try to claim that one department should be doing another department’s job.
Furthermore, the PRM has a significantly smaller budget than the VA. Their annual budget is $1.2 billion, which is less than 1% of the VA’s (or the proposed one for 2016, anyway). Most of this is given to international organizations such as the International Red Cross, the UN Child’s Fund, and the World Food Program. So the PRM – and refugees by extension – are not in fact taking money away from homeless veterans. Honestly, if you wanted to complain about something, you should complain about the PRM’s budget going to international organizations instead of American ones – because you’re all about America for America, right?
Secondly, homeless veterans (and the homeless at large) have not been failed by refugees – they have been failed by the entire country, including state and local governments, the federal government, and, yes, the VA. According to this 2012 article by Al Jazeera, there are over 600,000 homeless people in the US every night, programs to reduce homeless are being phased out, roughly 40% of the homeless don’t have access to shelters, homelessness has increased in about half of all states, and state and local governments are passing laws making it more difficult for the homeless to access shelters, get jobs, stay in homes, and be fed. The criminalization of the poor and our refusal to provide safe, reliable, consistent medical care also affects how many homeless people there. As you can see, refugees and the PRM have nothing to do with these issues – but who we vote for, what causes we champion, and who/how much we give do.
Third, it is illogical to assume that helping one person means you’re hurting another. It is fully possible to help refugees while supporting veterans and diminishing homelessness. Refugees are actually also homeless and completely at the mercy of government agencies. As a champion of the homeless and homeless vets, you must feel some compassion for them, right?
Fourth, it is bullshit to bring up homeless veterans as a reason not to help homeless refugees (which is a redundant phrase, BTW). Doing so shows that you don’t actually give a shit about homeless veterans – you’re just trying to guilt people into abandoning their own moral compass. You are deliberately changing the subject so that you don’t have to think about the approximately 15 million people worldwide who are refugees (4 million of them Syrian). However, you are being incredibly disrespectful to homeless veterans and the homeless by using them as a convenient debate point. The homeless, regardless of their military service, are human beings worthy of dignity, respect, and actual help. So get off your high horse, donate to homeless shelters, give to charities, serve the homeless, and contact your local representatives to learn their plan for decreasing homelessness and serving veterans in your community. And, while you’re at it, let them know that you want to continue to allow refugees into your state. After all, they’re homeless, human, and in need of help too.
* Photo taken from http://www.orangejuiceblog.com/2015/11/the-homeless-veterans-and-war-refugees-meme-a-veteran-wants-you-to-read-his-reaction/, which is a great read too.