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PopWrapped | Current Events

Last Week Tonight Discusses US Refugee Refusal

Ashley Perna | PopWrapped Author

Ashley Perna

Updated 11/24/2015 8:14am
Last Week Tonight Discusses US Refugee Refusal | Refugee
Media Courtesy of HBO

Last Week Tonight aired its last episode of 2015 last night, and used the first half of the show to discuss recent developments in the Paris attacks. After talking about France's attempts at regaining some normalcy within their society (which included a hilarious clip of a pop star failing to stage dive), host John Oliver moved on to the way American politicians have used those attacks to their advantage within the United States. 

They focused on the 31 US governors who have pledged to shut their borders to refugees after it was reported that one of the attackers may have used a fake Syrian passport to gain entry into France. As many others have pointed out, this type of position is "pretty meaningless": for starters, state governors lack the legislative authority to prevent refugees from settling in their states. Secondly, "Syrians just can walk between states like anyone else. The lines on maps are not crocodile filled motes."

The segment went on to discuss the inherent weaknesses of anti-refugee sentiments, from Republicans responding with ignorance and fear-mongering, to the almost nostalgic longing for FDR-style internment camps on the part of one Democratic mayor. The audience was immediately reminded of how even FDR's family would prefer we all forget the horrors of Japanese internment camps. Oliver also reminded everyone of another shameful, but incredibly familiar, move on FDR's part; refusing a boat of Jewish refugees fleeing Germany in 1939.

Yes - we sent a boat of Jews back to Europe in 1939; more than a quarter of them then died in the war. So this Thanksgiving, when your grandmother is complaining about your new piercing, saying your generation is terrible, simply reply, ‘Okay, Nana, but at least we didn’t send Jews back to Europe in 1939.’ Then break off a turkey leg, drop it like a microphone, and you’ve just won the dinner.

The show did concede that there have been struggles with every generation accepting refugees, but that there was really only one time when the fear of a large number of refugees actually causing harm to the local population have been justified, "and we'll all be sitting around a table celebrating it on Thursday".

Oliver then highlighted some of the more common, but incredibly ignorant, statements from politicians about the vetting process for refugees. While can be challenging to thoroughly investigate anyone fleeing a war zone, "it's not like we're letting just anyone in, we're the United States of America, not Arizona State [University]". Oliver walked through the screening process, which begins with an application to the UN's Refugee Agency.  The UN recommends less than one percent of applicants for resettlement to the United States.  Once a refugee is recommended for resettlement in the United States, he or she is then subjected to no less than 10 separate security and health screenings before even being allowed "near a plane". It can take up to two years and is "the most rigorous vetting anyone has to face before entering this country".

The show also conceded that there is, of course, some risk to accepting anyone into a country, but we as "reasonable adults" have decided to "accept tiny amounts of risk baked into our everyday lives". Oliver walked the audience through some of these acceptable risks, prompted by a comment made by Mike Huckabee comparing terrorist refugees to poisoned peanuts.

  • Most Americans drive cars, despite the fact that 30,000 will die in one each year

  • Most Americans still swim, despite the fact that 10 people die from drowning each day

  • Most Americans find it acceptable to coexist with cows, despite the fact that 20 people each year are killed by cows

  • In the last decade, peanuts themselves have killed more Americans that terrorist refugees

  • In the last decade, people named "Mike" have killed more Americans than terrorist refugees

Oliver closed the segment by pointing out the obvious:

Any rational person knows you cannot completely eliminate risk, you can only manage it, and we do that with peanuts and cars and swimming and hamburgers and men named Mike because we rightly think they're worth the risk, and I would argue for the tremendous good we can do and the low level of risk involved, refugees are worth it too.

He accepted that there may be those who disagree with his sentiment, but he pointed out that "as we devised new ways to close our doors this week, France, which had just suffered a terror attack and has far less ability to police its borders" will still welcome refugees. In fact, France will continue to honour its commitment to accept 30,000 refugees over the next two years.

You can watch the entire segment below.

https://youtu.be/GQnjEK4bV5Q
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