Carolyn Kaster / AP
One of the most annoying things about today’s Republican Party is that they constantly disregard core American values in favor of inventing their own, often creating new ideology based on the exclusion and denigration of others. The Republican campaign season began with an assault on illegal immigrants; now, the Republicans have set their sights Syrian refugees, unleashing their latest broadsides on them. While Republicans currently fit into a strong nativist tradition in American history, this tradition has always contradicted the core founding principles of the United States of America and it is remarkable how even in 2015 those espousing such principles do not see how much their ideas contradict the core spirit of America. The contrasting tradition of bringing in wave after wave of immigrants, and integrating them as unique parts of America, helping us to grow and change in exciting and productive ways, is a much stronger tradition. Steve Jobs of Apple fame was a Syrian migrant’s orphan, and he is but one in a long list of famous American immigrants, from famed Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Andrew Carnegie and Albert Einstein.
It is amazing but also predictable how immediately after the Paris attacks, Republicans began to use that tragedy as prop for their anti-immigrant/refugee shenanigans. There are three main tracks of this phenomenon: Republican presidential candidates, Republican, governors, and Republicans in Congress, and each track deserves a discussion.
The Presidential Candidates
As for the presidential campaign, none of the candidates on the Republican side have come out in favor of taking in Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris attacks, with the exceptions of Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz; Bush wants to help refugees in general but to “focus” on Christian refugees, with the rationale that they in particular do not have a place to go in the Middle East (not entirely accurate but there are not many places they would be welcome there), but he would not exclude Muslims (this makes him, to his credit, the only recognizable—sorry Jim Gilmore—GOP candidate who allowing for the possibility right now of settling Muslims refugees from Syria, even if one can view his desire to concentrate on Christian refugees with apprehension); Cruz has indicated that only Christian Syrians should be allowed into the United States. The rest of the pack—Dr. Ben Carson, Govs. Chris Christie, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, and the recently exited Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Sens. Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Rick Santorum—much like with the debate on immigration, seems to be pulled in a certain direction by leading contender Donald Trump, with he and all of them saying a loud “NO!” to Syrian refugees. Most seem to be doing so on the grounds of questioning the Obama Administration’s ability to competently screen refugees, but some seem to be suggesting significant numbers of refugees would be terrorists wishing us harm. Trump let it be known he would send them back out of the country if elected, and Dr. Carson even compared Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs.” And, sadly, some of these candidates were for helping Syrian refugees before the attacks in Paris.
In contrast, Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Gov. Martin O’Malley both want to bring in even more (up to 65,000 next year) refugees than the 10,000 Obama is planning to accept in 2016, and Bernie Sanders is also for taking in refugees; just another of many clear contrasts between the Republican and Democratic candidates this political season.
Since 2012, not even 1,900 Syrian refugees have been settled in the United States. As for November 16th, twenty-five Republican governors had vowed to bar Syrian refugees from—or are against any entering—their states. This number has increased slightly since then as of November 19th, to include thirty-one governors of thirty-one states, thirty of which have Republican governors. Dr. Ben Carson even tweeted solidarity with the governors not taking in Syrian refugees by showing a map of all the states saying no to taking in Syrian refugees but by showing a map that was, hilariously, disturbingly, and unsurprisingly to many, filled with mistakes and geographical errors:
Thus, basically, America’s Republican governors are pretty much against settling refugees in their states.
Republicans in Congress
Congress also seems intent on working against Obama’s program to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year. While some Congressional Republicans are calling for harsher measures or are using inflammatory rhetoric (one Alabama Republican Congressman claimed Syrian refugees were coming to the U.S. for a “paid vacation” and to mooch off of American welfare programs), the Republican-led House recently passed bill with some Democratic support that calls for reforms to increase scrutiny of refugees and the security procedures designed to vet them. It does not explicitly call for a long pause or a stoppage of the refugee resettlement program. But its critics contend that the changes are so sweeping and cumbersome that the process of implementing these changes would de facto result in a cessation of the program for some time, and that this is the very intent behind the legislation. This is why the White House announced that Obama would veto this legislation if the Senate passed a version of it. As it stands, the refugee application process is the hardest way to get into the United States, and can take up to two years; this leads me to agree with those who think that perhaps the Republican-led effort to make this process even more difficult is, at least in part and in the minds of some of its proponents, an effort to de facto stop the admission of Syrian refugees altogether (this is not unlike what was regrettably done concerning Jewish refugees hoping to come to America in the WWII-era; Anne Frank and her family were denied entry as refugees by the U.S.). Though more benign than simply barring Syrian refugees, the House’s Republican-dominated plan elongating and intensifying an already thorough process would seem to have the same effect as an outright ban, at least in the short-term future.
Helping Syrian Refugees: as American as Apple Pie
Let’s be clear: denying most or all Syrian (Muslim) refugees passage into the United States would just be cruel, immoral, irrational, and bad policy. The current screening process is very thorough and it can take up to two years to get into the U.S. as a refugee, hardly a good timeline for committing terrorism, hence the 9/11 hijackers came in as tourists and students, not refugees. Refugees are not committing terrorism in the U.S. these days and are, if properly screened, a very minimal threat. I’m not going to write here that it is the burden the U.S. to take in the most Syrian refugees; others should be shouldering that burden (I’m talking to you, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the rich Gulf, and it was Europe, not the U.S., which drew the disastrous borders of the modern Middle East at the end of WWI that still cause so many problems today, with France becoming the occupying power in Syria from 1919-1946). But I not only support Obama’s modest proposals to take in Syrian refugees, I support Hillary Clinton’s proposal to take in a lot more refugees than Obama is proposing. Republican efforts to shut the door to the some of the world’s most vulnerable people fleeing a deadly, brutal, and long civil war is hardly America taking a brave stance to help those facing death and persecution; rather, it is cowardly and pathetic. In general, three out of four Syrian refugees are women and children, and only two percent of Syrian refugees settled thus far in the U.S. are single men of military fighting age. Despite Republican claims, the current and thorough system actually has a very good track record and the idea that the Obama Administration would sloppily allow large numbers of terrorists into the U.S. as refugees is unfounded.
George Takei—Captain Sulu of Star Trek fame—was unjustly interned as a little boy along well over 100,00 other Japanese-American immigrants and citizens during WWII, thus, when he cautioned his Facebook followers that Americans needed to avoid letting the tragedy of the Paris attacks wrongly turn into fear, paranoia, and mistreatment of refugees and immigrants, he was speaking from experience.
Helping people in need is supposed to define us when we Americans are at our best. The poem written in honor of and engraved inside the base of the Statue of Liberty (a gift from France) reads: “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” As Hillary Clinton exclaimed passionately to a crowd of supporters recently, “We can’t act as though we’re shutting the doors to people in need without undermining who we are as Americans and the values we have stood for!” Shutting the door to Syrian refugees, mostly women and children, as far too many Republicans want to do, simply plays into ISIS’s propaganda that the U.S. is anti-Muslim and that we are in a civilizational war to the death against the Islamic Ummah (global community). Integrating the refugees of Syria seeking a better life into the American fabric will only make us stronger and render ISIS propaganda as impotent as it is inaccurate, as Muslims fleeing ISIS oppression who settle into America and prosper as Muslims who are free to worship their religion the way they see fit, free from the terror of suicide bombings, forced sexual slavery, and beheadings, is a vision of hope that ISIS can never offer its followers and is among the best possible counters to ISIS’s destructive ideology. Yet once again, by talking tough with little thought for the real world consequences of their actions, Republicans are making us less safe, not safer, by empowering our enemies and their extremism.