The media and journalism coverage of the refugee crisis has led most people to believe that industrialized nations have some kind of moral obligation to intervene in the refugee crisis. Though coverage has shifted from issues of immigrants and refugees in recent years, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, people continue to flee war, famine, and other crises in their home countries each year.
Currently, the three countries with the highest number of refugees are Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan, but conditions of political and economic unrest create refugees all around the world (Source: "Forced to Flee"). There are many competing views about what should be done about the refugee crisis, but my response will focus mostly on moral imperatives and historical precedents for assisting refugees in the United States, followed by a discussion of different ways this assistance can be provided.
Many arguments against helping refugees come from economic considerations and misplaced fears about terrorism, while many arguments for helping refugees come from an ethical perspective. However, there are economic, ethical, and national security benefits to helping refugees. The ethical concerns are the most obvious. An ethicist with the University of Pennsylvania School of Public Policy points out that there is an important distinction between refugees and economic migrants; people in the latter category are usually seeking economic opportunity, whereas those in the former category are at immediate risk of death or serious, life-altering injury in their current situations (Source: "The Ethics of the Syrian Refugee Crisis").
Keep in mind that at their core, most ethical frameworks and major world religions put preservation of human life at the forefront. Thus, it would follow that if another human being's life is credibly threatened and you have the means to help, you have a moral obligation to intervene. Many Americans are appalled to learn that the vast majority of Americans (83%) opposed granting asylum to Jewish refugees during World War II (Source: "America and the Holocaust"). Of course, we know more now about the depth of the Nazi atrocities against Jewish people than we did then, but if we can avoid making the same mistakes now that we did then, that would probably be the morally preferable course of action.
Making the ethical case for helping refugees is not hard. However, in political discourse, ethics often become shrouded by concerns of economic growth and national security. That's where political empathy comes in. Political empathy means using your opponent's values to build a case for your argument. Many argue that refugees are a "burden on society" because they drain public programs like welfare, SNAP, etc. However, refugees often contribute more to the economy than they receive in public benefits through things like taxes, consumer spending, and business start-ups (Source: :Immigrants as Economic Contributors).
National security is also a concern for many people. Because many refugees come from regions where terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram are prevalent, they fear that refugees themselves are terrorists. Not only is this is not usually the case, but by getting young people out of these countries, the US could reduce their chance of being radicalized and limit future terrorist attacks.
So the question isn't so much whether the US should help refugees, but how that help should best be offered. One approach is military intervention in high-risk countries, either through deploying troops or providing arms to non-terrorist groups. Unfortunately, this tactic can often inflame anti-US sentiment and contribute to further radicalization of terrorists.
Additionally, military intervention can also contribute to civilian deaths because many drone strikes/bombings kill civilians along with their intended targets. Another approach is to provide economic aid. An example of this is Harry Truman's Marshall Plan during the Cold War. Truman provided billions in aid to communist countries through grants, loans, food, and medical supplies. The goal of this kind of aid is to tackle the root causes of unrest in these countries, improving conditions so that people do not have to flee. (Remember that most people would ultimately prefer to stay in their home countries where they can be connected to their language, culture, families, and religions).
Finally, the US can help refugees by resettling them within the country. However, refugee quotas have decreased considerably in recent years. In 2016, the US accepted 85,000 refugees, but in 2019, we only resettled 30,000, despite the overwhelming growth in the refugee population. The current travel ban (in place since 2018) also restricts citizens from many African and Middle Eastern countries from seeking asylum in the United States, forcing people from these areas to seek refuge elsewhere (Source: "Fact Sheet: U.S. Refugee Resettlement).
Ultimately, while the US cannot single-handedly resettle the entire refugee population or end unrest in high-risk countries, there are moral, economic, and national security benefits from doing our part. We need to work in conjunction with the global community to create more favorable living conditions in these countries and offer refuge to those at the most immediate risk of danger.