In the wake of last weekend’s ISIS attacks in Paris, the focus has quickly shifted from the horror of the carnage itself to the fallout around the rest of the world, and more specifically right here in the states. President Obama recently announced a plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country; it’s a relatively small number, but at least offers some solace and shelter for a large contingent of displaced Syrians who are not just caught in the crossfire of ISIS’ war, but are often the intended targets themselves.
Naturally, a vocal gaggle of Republicans — including your two GOP frontrunners for president — have come out against the proposal, arguing that we could unwittingly let prospective terrorists across our borders. I’ll let them speak for themselves:
“American humanitarian compassion could be exploited to expose Americans to similar deadly danger. As such, opening our door to [the refugees] irresponsibly exposes our fellow Americans to unacceptable peril.” — Texas Governor Greg Abbott
“Indiana has a long history of opening our arms and homes to refugees from around the world, but as governor my first responsibility is to ensure the safety of all Hoosiers.” — Indiana Governor Mike Pence
“I will do everything humanly possible to stop the Obama administration from putting Syrian refugees in Mississippi.” — Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant
“I do think there is a special, important need to make sure that Christians from Syria.” — Jeb Bush
Never mind that none of this makes a lick of actual sense. Barring refugees of a domestic war just because they’re the same nationality and general religious persuasion as the war criminals is like denying admittance at the emergency room to shark attack victims because there’s a chance they might also be sharks.
But the point is a moot one anyway, as states don’t have the authority to bar international refugees from entering their borders. Per Greg Chen of the American Immigration Lawmakers Association: “It would be positively un-American for a state to set up roadblocks or screening procedures at airports to block refugees from a certain country from entering. The civil rights era stopped that kind of discrimination 50 years ago.”
In rhetorical fairness, this comes on the heels of the news that one of the Paris attackers was admitted into the country posing as a refugee. But going so whole-hog, presuming to block all refugees from a given country given that there might be a bad guy among them, is exactly what ISIS wants. From a strategic standpoint, it generates exactly the kind of knee-jerk, anti-Muslim backlash that fuels the organization’s radical agenda in the first place and helps recruit others to their cause.
From a more ethical, principled standpoint, such a reaction means that we as a nation readily bend to fear as a weapon; we show the enemy that fear, in America, fosters the kind of paranoia and closed-mindedness that makes us turn our backs, not just on fellow world citizens, but on the very principles that — we so love to crow about — define us.
We have to stand firm: politically, rhetorically, and in every possible way. But in cases like this, standing firm does not mean taking position at the border, arms crossed, gun belts draped across our chests. It means accepting the poor, the downtrodden, and anyone who needs a little help in such difficult, dangerous times. It is our role to try and provide a little hope to the hopeless.