In the days after the Paris attacks, fear took hold of many across the United States, and some politicians proposed shutting our doors to refugees, particularly those from Syria and Iraq. This knee jerk reaction resulted in the House of Representatives hastily passing a misguided bill, which, if signed into law, would effectively halt the U.S. refugee resettlement program in Syria and Iraq. However, since the House vote, a growing number of national leaders from a variety of fields—ranging from the military to faith—have spoken out in favor of welcoming refugees from Syria and Iraq. In a letter to Congress, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Janet Napolitano, Michael Chertoff, and David Petraeus, joined by a distinguished group of national security experts and military leaders, expressed their opposition to new refugee legislation. And, last week, an anti-refugee amendment introduced by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) failed miserably (10-89). Cooler heads are prevailing.
In their letter to Congress, the military and security experts explained how closing the door to refugees is an imprudent tactic in the war against terrorism:
“[R]esettlement initiatives help advance U.S. national security interests by supporting the stability of our allies and partners that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees.
“Refugees are victims, not perpetrators, of terrorism. Categorically refusing to take them only feeds the narrative of ISIS that there is a war between Islam and the West, that Muslims are not welcome in the United States and Europe, and that the ISIS caliphate is their true home. We must make clear that the United States rejects this worldview by continuing to offer refuge to the world’s most vulnerable people, regardless of their religion or nationality.”
The chair and vice chair of the 9-11 commission, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean and former representative Lee Hamilton, echoed this sentiment, stating,
“Welcoming — after thorough screening — those seeking safety from the devastation caused by our enemies is the surest way to demonstrate the superiority of our beliefs and prevent a new generation from being infected by the nihilistic creeds that fester amid desperation and misery.”
Religious leaders also are speaking out forcefully in support of Syrian refugees. Last week more than 600 national and local faith leaders called on Congress to remember our moral responsibility to protect the world’s most vulnerable and our country’s history of welcoming those in need:
“Proposals that would have the U.S. State Department disqualify refugees from protection based on their nationality or religion fly in the face of the very principles this nation was built upon, contradict the legacy of leadership our country has historically demonstrated, and dishonor our shared humanity.”
Over 1,200 U.S rabbis also signed on to a letter in support of welcoming refugees. The rabbis reminded Congress of the dark moment in our history when the United States refused to allow the St. Louis dock, turning away Jewish refugees, many of whom were later killed in concentration camps. Refusing those in need was “a tragic decision made in a political climate of deep fear, suspicion and antisemitism.” The rabbis caution against history repeating itself.
It seems that the chorus of calls to keep the doors open are being heard. This past weekend, it was reported that more than half of the House Democrats that voted for the Syrian and Iraqi refugee bill last month have indicated that their support for the bill is wavering. Many have signed on to a letter asking the House Speaker not to include this bill in the ominibus spending bill that will be voted on before Congress breaks for the holidays. Although discussions around what policy “riders”—i.e., provisions added to a bill that usually have little to do with the bill—will be included in the omnibus spending bill are ongoing and may continue into next week, it seems less likely that refugees will be addressed this year. This is welcome news.
Photo by Anthony Gale.