Apr 092008
Authors: Seth Anthony

Comparisons — correct and incorrect — are often drawn between the ill-fated U.S. action decades ago in Southeast Asia and the present conflict in the Middle East.

But what’s usually overlooked in these often-negative comparisons is a stunning American success from the Vietnam Era — one that the United States is being slow to emulate in the present conflict.

Just like in Vietnam, thousands upon thousands of Iraqis face danger every day.

Many are targets specifically because they assisted American forces.

Countless Iraqis have already fled their home country, either out of fear or in search of a better life.

The same happened in Vietnam thirty years ago, and many of those refugees ultimately ended up in America, still the land of opportunity.

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the United States assisted tens of thousands of Vietnamese in quickly relocating and resettling in the United States. Congress passed at least two major pieces of legislation to manage and accommodate this immigration.

Over the course of two decades, the United States accepted over half a million Vietnamese political refugees and asylum seekers and over the years, the Vietnamese community has successfully integrated itself within our diverse nation.

Contrast this with America’s present attitude towards Iraqi refugees: In all of 2007, only about 3,000 Iraqis immigrated to the United States.

This number is paltry — it’s a small fraction even of those Iraqis who put their lives in danger by cooperating with U.S. forces.

Whatever your view of the present situation in Iraq, almost all Americans agree that we have some responsibility for the welfare of the Iraqi people.

We cannot simply turn a blind eye.

Congress needs to act to accommodate more than just a handful of Iraqi immigrants.

The numbers need not be even nearly as great as what the U.S. arranged during the Vietnam War — after all, Iraq has only a third the population of Vietnam.

But that’s an action that has to happen on the national level.

Closer to home, what can we do when we’re reminded, week after week in the news, of the desperate situation that continues in Iraq?

How can we help Iraqis who face danger every day?

The Iraqi Student Project, an international nonprofit, has come up with part of the answer — by helping young Iraqis, students like us, study at American universities.

Most of us were fortunate enough to be born in a nation with one of the most envied higher education systems in the world.

Students not just from Iraq, but from around the world, compete for the chance to attend school here.

But in Iraq the situation is particularly dire.

Universities have been a major target of terrorist and insurgent groups.

Hundreds of faculty and students have died in attacks; thousands more bravely attend class despite threats on their lives.

The Iraqi Student Project is an international non-profit dedicated to giving Iraqi students that chance. Working with governments and universities, they screen, recommend, and assist eligible Iraqi students for study at U.S. universities.

They coordinate financial and logistical support for students both before and after their arrival.

Over a dozen colleges have already signed on to work with Iraqi students.

Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently pledged to commit $1 a semester each to help support bringing Iraqi students.

At a university known for service to the world by being the birthplace of the Peace Corps, we can surely muster support for assisting Iraqi students to study with us.

We may not be able to resolve the horrible situation in Iraq by helping a few people at a time.

But by building stronger ties between Iraq and America, we’ll contribute to the stability and prosperity of both our nations. It’s long past time for us to act.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry Ph.D. student. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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