Syrian refugee crisis: Fear and hope in the heartland

Miriam Amer heads the Council for American Islamic Relations in Iowa. She says the politics of fear is driving the Syrian refugee debate.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (CNN)As the national debate boils over whether to allow Syrian refugees into America, I've come to an unlikely place -- Cedar Rapids, Iowa-- to learn more about Syrians who are already here.

Syrians and Lebanese came to this city in the heartland in the late 1800s, settled and brought their families over. They became a vibrant part of the social fabric. They were doctors, lawyers, businessmen, engineers and teachers. Muslims and Christians. Their children were born here and raised as Iowans.
I am walking the streets to learn the opinions of people who are used to seeing an imam say prayers at the police department and finding hummus and falafel on restaurant tables. Cedar Rapids is home to the oldest mosque in America as well as a Syrian Orthodox church.
It's also a place where residents have felt the sting of anti-Arab sentiment in recent years after global terror incited by groups like al Qaeda and now, ISIS.
    Many here are upset that Americans -- including their governor -- want to shut the doors to newcomers from Syria. Maria Canas, 40, arrived here in 1999 from the suburbs of Damascus.
    "Not all Muslims are bad. Not all Christians are good," she says. "This is a small town and the people are caring. That's what refugees need -- a warm shelter. And we should give it to them."
    Canas has three children of her own. She understands the concern her fellow Iowans have about allowing potential terrorists onto American soil. She fears for the safety of family members here in Iowa -- and those in Syria. Her mother and brothers have lived through war for the past four years.
    Hearing her talk about family in both places, I'm reminded how complicated it all is. Watch for my story this weekend on CNN.com.

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