When little Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach last week, the world finally began to take notice of what is shaping up to be the worst humanitarian crisis in Europe in 70 years. And it’s about time. This dead 3-year-old boy is nothing less than a symbol of the West’s impotence in the face of the massacres taking place in Syria and Iraq and its abdication of any human decency in addressing the human tide washing up on its shores today.

Europe should find a way to accommodate and resettle many of these refugees. And the United States – a nation founded by immigrants fleeing oppression and persecution – should offer many more of them the means to immigrate here legally.

President Obama announced Thursday that the United States would welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees, which begins to lift what promised to have been a stain on his legacy. But this is not a partisan issue, nor should it be.

The United States helped light the fuse that has forced these millions of men, women and children to flee their homes in Syria and Iraq – and until Thursday, we had largely walked away from the consequences of our actions.

Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, whose parents were political refugees fleeing an oppressive regime, should join the president in welcoming refugees fleeing massacres and oppression in the Middle East.

The United States helped light the fuse that has forced these millions of men, women and children to flee their homes in Syria and Iraq – and until Thursday, we had largely walked away from the consequences of our actions.
And let us not discount the racism involved in the current debate. There is a not-so-subtle undercurrent about maintaining a “Judeo-Christian” identity, both here and in Europe. We turn on the television and see millions of Muslims pressing to come to the West, and thoughts immediately turn to 9/11, to terrorists walking among us, to a tsunami of “others” who will overwhelm our Western identity.

That this debate is often stoked by those of German, Italian, Irish, even Jewish descent – the very people who were, themselves, considered “others” and unwelcome here over the last two centuries – is an irony lost on those who shout the loudest about protecting some imaginary national identity. The only real national identity the United States has is that of a nation that has consistently, if sometimes grudgingly, embraced its ethnic and religious diversity. This time should be no different.

I was not much older than Aylan Kurdi when I became a political refugee. But unlike the Syrians and Iraqis fleeing their homes today, I was lucky enough to hit the genetic lottery, to be born in a country that was embroiled in a Cold War with the United States and whose refugees were therefore welcome to immigrate here. There was nothing to distinguish us from the families now fleeing the Assad regime or ISIS, other than the fact that our narrative fit much more neatly into the policies of the United States at the time.

Like many of the refugees fleeing the Levant today, the first safe harbor my family found in the West was Austria. For any refugee, whether one is fleeing Syria today or the Soviet Union in 1980, there is a Before and After. The Before is the life that you know, that you have always known, that is safe even in an unsafe place because of its familiarity. The After is the uncertain life of a refugee, a life of shuttling from place to place, from country to country, with no guarantee of a safe harbor and no security net.

My family came to the United States from the Soviet Union, which posed more of a threat to the American public then than Al Qaeda or ISIS does today. Like the Arabs who want to immigrate here today, we were sometimes met with suspicion, our loyalty questioned, our motives suspect, simply because of where we were born.
I remember the moment I arrived in the West as clearly as probably every child fleeing Syria today does: the look of uncertainty in my parents’ faces when we landed in Vienna; the shock of realizing that they had no more idea of what to do than I had. I imagine that this was the same feeling of imbalance and astonishment that Aylan Kurdi and his brother experienced before their deaths. This nation did right by my family. It should do right by families like theirs.

Julie Roginsky has extensive experience in government, politics and public relations on both the federal and state levels. She is the president of Comprehensive Communications Group, a public relations and crisis communications firm that counts Fortune 500 corporations, elected officials and non-profit organizations among its clients. Follow her on Twitter @JulieRoginsky.