Following the crushing violence perpetrated by the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad against his own people, the country of Syria has descended into a bloody civil war, and civilian refugees are fleeing in droves. The U.S. plans to do its part to help some of these civilians by accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. Unfortunately, the recent Paris terrorist attacks have awakened the worst instincts in American politics, pitting overblown concerns for national security against basic human decency.
Over half of U.S. governors say they will deny passage of Syrian refugees into their states in an effort to keep out a perceived terrorist threat, but these cold proclamations are wrongheaded on a multitude of fronts.
For starters, state governors don’t have the legal authority to back up their statements. Under the Refugee Act of 1980, the federal government has final say on where refugees get placed in America. Those wishing to reject these refugees also fail to acknowledge the rigor with which they are vetted under the American system. Not only is their process of resettlement being overseen by the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services, but these refugees have been referred to America directly by the United Nations. Indeed, 2,234 Syrian refugees have already been admitted into the United States since 2010, and among them not a single one has been arrested on terrorism charges.
So if the concerns for national security are unfounded, what’s really driving this effort to keep out the refugees?
Perhaps we should recall the rampant anti-Semitism and xenophobia that kept thousands of German Jews out of the U.S. during the majority of World War II. The accepted dogma was that Jewish refugees should be turned back towards Nazi Germany to prevent German spies from entering our ranks. It wasn’t until after the atrocities of the Holocaust had been discovered that President Franklin D. Roosevelt finally moved to save European Jews. Are we to be on the wrong side of history yet again?
Some Republican primary candidates even have the gall to propose that we should only admit Christian refugees, also known as the classic “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses so long as they’re not Muslim because the First Amendment should only apply to Christians” argument. How can anyone running for the highest office in the land have such a lack of regard for the freedom of religion? Such blatant Islamophobia only gives ISIS and other extremist groups fodder to be used to recruit more and more radicals.
In some ways, the fight against terrorism is an ideological one, one where groups such as ISIS can recruit disgruntled individuals over the Internet and around the world. In fact the majority of the terrorists that struck Paris had been French nationals. If we turn away these Syrian refugees we miss an opportunity to disprove the narrative that ISIS could easily weave out of our hypocrisy, and we would demonstrate that we are a democratic nation that is accepting of all people regardless of race or religion.
America is best when we act on our compassion and not our fear, when we are the “home of the brave,” not the home of the fearful. We must not be guided by our lesser instincts, for doing so is immoral, illegal and will only come back to haunt us.