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December 20, 2016

Veterans Talk Refugees and American ideals on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

By Joe Jenkins

This week’s episode of TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee takes a look at the divisive language around the Syrian refugee crisis—and the group pundits are pitting against refugees fleeing war: American veterans. They pontificate that America is choosing to aid refugees at the expense of its veterans. To investigate, Full Frontal correspondent Allana Harkin turned to none other than Human Rights First’s Veterans for American Ideals to set the record straight.

“Taking money from the refugee resettlement program would not give money to Veterans Affairs,” said VFAI leader Mac McEachin. “To make it seem like by refugees not coming in, suddenly veteran’s problems will be fixed, it’s very inaccurate,” added VFAI leader Jess Bell. So why then, are veterans and refugees being pitted against one another?

“People like to use veterans as political props, often for issues that are not representative of our values or what we care about,” explains VFAI’s Phil Klay. “It’s absolutely important to take care of veterans. It’s also pretty important to take care of refugees.”

To Harkin’s surprise, the VFAI leaders had a lot to say about refugees. “As veterans, we lived among the population and we saw the struggle they faced, we saw the violence they faced,” said VFAI leader Ibrahim Hashi, a Somali-American Marine combat veteran.

“This seems really basic… what’s the problem?” Harkin asks the veterans. Klay’s turned the conversation to the national ideals that every veteran makes a conscious commitment to uphold. “Ronald Reagan thought of America as the shining city on a hill. You don’t get to be the shining city on a hill by cowering in fear and putting your head in the sand when things are difficult.” Klay goes on, “If we want to be the kind of nation that people around the world will respect, we have to actually live those ideals. It’s not just something that’s only up to vets to try and push forward, I think that’s an obligation common to citizenship.”

Animated hearts with American flags floated around Harkin’s head.

The Full Frontal also featured some of the refugees that VFAI would like to see welcomed in America. Harkin travelled to Seattle to meet with refugees as they volunteered to serve homeless veterans in their new community.

“We’re here because we want to give back as much as Americans have given us,” says one volunteer. Hasna, a Syrian-American physician, told Harkin: “[Refugees] are here to work, and help with the community, because they are not used to tak[ing] things for free. They used to work hard for it.”

Harkin also spoke to an Army veteran, Charles, at the event. “Turning people away is not the answer,” says the vet. “People just want to work. People want to come in, just like the people before them came in, and get a fresh, new, safe start.”

“You’re very welcoming,” Harkin beamed. “I am,” he replied. “With something I don’t own. I just share it. America.”

Be sure to watch the entire Full Frontal segment here.