VIOLENCE RIPPLES. When those terrorists murdered 129 people in Paris last week, they knew full well that the violence wasn’t going to end when they were inevitably captured or killed. It was going to kick off other acts of violence. Bigots blaming Muslims as a whole for the attacks were going to push women in hijabs onto subway tracks. Governments were going to bomb Syria. Future terrorists were going to learn from their attacks and copy them in the future.
It was kind of the point of the attack. It certainly wasn’t an attack aimed at provoking peace: it was trying to goad further acts of violence, to start an even larger war.
The ripples of violence can take subtler forms as well. In the U.S., for example, Governors and Presidential candidates have spoken out about how they don’t want to accept any Syrian refugees into their states, or how, at the very least, we should only let in the Syrian Christians, and none of those pesky Muslims.
I just signed an Executive Order instructing state agencies to take all available steps to stop the relocation of Syrian refugees to LA.
— Gov. Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) November 16, 2015
Jeb Bush: U.S. assistance for refugees should focus on Christians https://t.co/fIL4rs7MmJ
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 16, 2015
At a "rally for religious liberty," Ted Cruz says we should take only Christian refugees from Syria: https://t.co/z6mrmcS8FQ Sigh.
— Paul Waldman (@paulwaldman1) November 15, 2015
This — turning families fleeing a horrific civil war back into the war zone — we should be totally clear, is another act of violence. It is what the terrorists wanted. And if we were to actually go through with it, it would be a catastrophe. Here’s why.
This isn’t a real threat.
What’s most surprising about the whole uproar against accepting refugees in the United States is that it has no real basis in fact: the biggest claim that Governors have had against accepting refugees has been that a Syrian passport was found on the body of one of the Paris attackers. The problem with this claim? The passport was fake. As the Daily Beast put it, “In a sense, Republican governors of 14 states took ISIS at their word, accepting the counterfeit Syrian passport as the reason to deny 10,000 thousands [sic] of Syrian refugees from settling in the United States.”
As the Migration Policy Institute has found, refugees planning terrorist acts is extremely rare: of the 784,000 refugees admitted to the United States post-9/11, only 3 have been charged with plotting terrorist acts.
In fact, according to MPI, of all people entering the United States, refugees have the most intensive screening process. They have to go through background checks and screening interviews overseas, and the program favors the more vulnerable people, like widows, children, and the elderly.
The refugees are fleeing the same people who attacked Paris.
This makes sense, when you consider why the refugees are refugees in the first place: They’re fleeing their meat grinder of a country, where they are caught between their odious, genocidal government, the radical lunatics of ISIS, and Russian air strikes.
That ISIS is now worming its way into Europe is even more of a nightmare for the Syrian refugees, who have braved perilous ocean crossings, violent European bigots, and exploitative human traffickers in order to get away from the Islamic State. That they are fleeing their situation should serve as some indicator that they aren’t totally down with the ISIS way of life.
This isn’t constitutional.
What might be the most frustrating about the whole business of state governors rejecting Syrian refugees (you know, besides the complete lack of human compassion and empathy) is that governors have no constitutional authority to do so.
The Supreme Court has already ruled on this issue, and the matter of accepting refugees into the country is the exclusive domain of the Federal Government, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. On top of this, they point out, states have no say over where the refugees may go when they arrive in the country. They are free to move from state to state, so long as they obey federal regulations. And on top of all of this, it’s a violation of the 14th Amendment to deny immigrants or refugees entry to the country based on their religion or country of origin.
So what does this mean? It means that at best, the governors refusing immigrants entry to their state simply don’t know that they aren’t allowed to do that, and as such are incompetent. At worst, they know fully well what they are doing, and are cynically playing with the lives of others for their own political gain.
This has already happened in the past.
Fortunately, we have history to learn from. The United States has long accepted refugees into the country, and while the scale of the Syrian crisis is enormous, it is not unprecedented.
The precedent? The Jewish exodus from Nazi Europe.
A recently resurfaced 1938 article from the Harvard Crimson cites a poll that found that 68.8% of college youths believed the United States should not welcome Central European Jews into the country as refugees. At one point, U.S. officials turned back a ship with 937 Jewish refugees aboard. Half of those passengers did not survive the Holocaust.
As Amy Grenier, co-founder of The Migrationist blog, put it on Facebook:
“If you ever wondered what you would have done at key times in history – during the Civil Rights movement, during the Holocaust. Well. Stop wondering. Because however you’re reacting to the civil rights and humanitarian crises right now is pretty god damned telling.”
Accepting refugees is the entire point of the United States.
In the United States, it’s always somewhat baffling to hear people railing against the arrival of new immigrants, when the vast majority of the country’s population is not of indigenous descent, and have likely arrived in the country in the past 5 or 6 generations.
What’s more baffling is the pushback against the arrival of refugees. America’s mythology has been constructed around the idea that the first settlers, the Pilgrims, came to America because they were fleeing religious persecution. The idea of America is that anyone came come here and make something of themselves. This idea is inscribed in our most famous symbol, the Statue of Liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Accepting the oppressed into a land of freedom is America at its best. Pushing back against that — no matter how scared you are of what those oppressed people bring with them — is fundamentally un-American.
These are people.
When Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey was asked if he would make an exception and allow orphaned 5-year-old refugees into the country, he said no. “The fact is that we need appropriate vetting,” he said, “and I don’t think orphans under five are being, you know, should be admitted into the United States at this point. But you know, they have no family here. How are we going to care for these folks?”
Why is this difficult? Why is caring for other human beings an impossible task that we just don’t feel up to? We have the space. We have the money. Hell, my wife and I live in New Jersey. Send some refugees here to scenic Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore and they can crash in our apartment for a bit while they get on their feet. It may slightly inconvenience us for a little while, but it would also be one of the best things we’d ever do. Why wouldn’t we jump at the opportunity to be better people?
In his classic sci-fi novel Dune, Frank Herbert suggests that all religions can be reduced to a single, unifying commandment: “Thou shalt not disfigure the human soul.” The heartlessness that some Americans are showing towards people in need is not only a catastrophe for the people we’re turning away, but it’s a catastrophe for us, too. It displays a selfishness, a heartlessness, and a stupidity that can only be described as a disfigurement of the human soul. We have the opportunity to be great, here. Better: we have the opportunity to be good. And we should not let misplaced fear or petty bigotry get in the way of that opportunity.