I sat in the resort town of Izmir, Turkey, in a clean and dimly lit living room filled with eight children sporting sweet smiles and bare feet. They played and joked like children anywhere, except they were undernourished and underdressed for the biting winter chill that was pushing me to zip up my lined winter parka.

No socks, their mothers said, because they couldn’t afford them. Not enough meals, because the three men in the family struggling to find work in a strange country where they don’t speak the language couldn’t buy enough to feed everyone. Not enough blankets, because they cost money. No school, because the education authorities would accept only one of the children in the family.

This meant one little girl, the lucky recipient of one ticket to education, got to don a backpack and head to school each day. The rest of the kids had to stay at home, playing with one another and tugging at their mothers.

I was there with the NGO Mercy Corps, meeting Syrian refugees the charity hopes to help in the future. Already, a Syrian husband and wife living in this Turkish neighborhood have given nearly every dollar they have to feed, clothe and house their escaping countrymen, who arrive with few clothes and little money.

Asked about her hopes for the future, Alaa said she wanted two things, and in this she echoed all the Syrian mothers I met. One was to return to Syria. The other was to put her kids, including her daughter, in school in the meantime.

The couple served as our guide on this day. The family I had just met, I was told, had fled barrel bombs dropping from the sky onto their homes and their children. They never wanted to leave Syria and had stuck with their country as its plight grew from awful to desperate. But when the bombs fell on their kids and Alaa, an 18-year-old mother, miscarried seven months into her pregnancy, they knew they had no option but to flee.

Asked about her hopes for the future, Alaa said she wanted two things, and in this she echoed all the Syrian mothers I met. One was to return to Syria. The other was to put her kids, including her daughter, in school in the meantime.

Neither one of these looks likely to happen any time soon. And that is the world’s loss, because as the United States grows more fearful of what Syrian refugees might bring to its borders, the gap between what is said about them from podiums in the U.S. and the on-the-ground realities facing those fleeing the fighting in Syria is wide and growing.

On podiums and in statements, people speak of menacing refugees who want to wage war against the United States. But we hear precious little of the mothers trying to give their children a shot at a future that does not include bombs and grenades and gunfights … moms working to keep their girls from being married off at 14 or 15 because they can’t pay for them and they fear they can’t keep them safe.

Alaa herself says she is committed to giving her daughter the education she never had the chance to enjoy. If her husband can’t come up with the money, she says, only half-joking, she will make him use his cigarette money for his daughter’s school fees.

In the aftermath of the Paris massacre and the San Bernardino killings, fears about the dangers within America’s borders are real and understandable. The United States has agreed to take in 10,000 refugees – not even a fraction of a fraction of the more than 4 million displaced by the conflict, but also not nothing.

A lack of verifiable background checks from within Syria, given the country’s failed state status, leaves Americans unsettled about just who is coming in. It generates questions about just how thorough and accurate the vetting process really is.

But this process takes 18 months at a minimum and often years longer, with multiple checks in place, and those Syrians hoping to reach America are fleeing the very same forces the U.S. is fighting.

What most seek now is a chance to keep their children safe until they can return home, and to educate their children the best they can. These are values America knows, recognizes and shares. 

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield" (Harper, April 2015) and "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana," a New York Times best seller published in March 2011 by HarperCollins, about a young entrepreneur who supported her community under the Taliban. Gayle is a contributor to The Atlantic’s DefenseOne site, writing regularly on national security and foreign policy issues.  Follow her on Twitter @gaylelemmon.