Every once in a while, you read something that brings you up short. A couple of days ago I was reviewing some polling data put out by Gallup, the well-respected national pollster.
I came across a chart showing that Americans by a 26% to 67% margin opposed accepting refugees. I assumed that it referred to refugees from Syria. I read on and then my eyes came back to the chart. It was actually a Gallup poll from 1939. And, the question was whether the United States should accept refugee children from Germany.
Yep. In 1939, American by a more than a two-to-one margin opposed letting into the U.S. children who were fleeing Hitler’s regime. Ugh.
That chart has given me pause as the debate heats up on whether the United States should allow Syrians fleeing the Islamic State in Syria and the repressive Syrian Assad government to be granted admission to the United States.
The conflict in Syria has driven more than 9 million Syrians (out of the pre-war population of 23 million) from their homes. Nearly 4 million have fled the country.
In the last year, 1,869 Syrians have come to the U.S. The vast majority have been women, children and the elderly. The Obama administration is proposing that about another 10,000 be admitted.
The U.S. House last week passed legislation by an overwhelming vote of 289-137 to require certification that admitted Syrian refugees are not security risks. The bill also requires that each refugee be individually scrutinized. The future of this legislation is uncertain. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid was quoted in press reports last Friday: “I don’t think we’ll be dealing with it over here. … Don’t worry, it won’t get passed.”
At least 27 governors have drawn a line in the sand saying they will not cooperate with the federal government’s effort to relocate Syrian refugees to the United States.
Gov. Butch Otter last week was one such governor, releasing the following statement:
“While I understand that immigration and refugee resettlement are authorized under federal law, I am duty-bound to do whatever I can to protect the people of Idaho from harm. Instead of Congress rubber-stamping this program each year, we ask that you and Congress work with states and governors to thoroughly review this process and how states are affected.”
The driving force is a Syrian passport left at the site of one of the brutal attacks in Paris that killed 129 and left hundreds injured.
The passport purported to show that at least one of the terrorists had originated in Syria and entered the European Union through Greece.
But, there is some indication that the passport is a forgery. The Associated Press ran a story last week theorizing that the passport was deliberately left in Paris to generate animosity against Syrian refugees. Germany’s Interior Minister claims that the passport “was a trail that was intentionally laid.”
What motive would there be to focus French (and world attention) on Syrian refugees? The answer may be as simple as the fact that the refugees are fleeing both the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State itself. The images of these refugees coming ashore in Europe have generated world attention on the Syrian situation. Perhaps creating animosity towards the refugees might be part of an effort to boost the esteem of the Islamic State and the Syrian government at the expense of their most prominent critics, the refugees. The possible manipulation is important to keep in mind.
Idaho is not isolated from the debate over the Syrian refugees.
The College of Southern Idaho’s Refugee Center in Twin Falls has handled the relocation of about 5,000 refugees from around the globe to the Magic Valley since 1984. According to a story by Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public TV’s Idaho Reports, Idaho has accepted 35 Syrian refuges in the last six months of which 20 are children.
Idaho’s congressional delegation has publicly supported Gov. Otter’s call for increased scrutiny of efforts to let such refugees into the United States.
Northern Idaho State Rep. Heather Scott last week sent out a newsletter calling for a special legislative session to address the “refugee crisis”. She claims the Obama Administration “in conjunction with the United Nations, is deliberately flooding America with Islamic refugees while paying lip service to states’ resources and national security.”
The concern about security is legitimate. Refugees today are vetted through an 18-24 month process designed to weed out potential security risks.
But, the system is not perfect.
Just this year Fazliddin Kurbanov, a refugee from Uzbekistan who lived in Boise, was convicted on three federal charges related to his efforts to launch a terrorist attack.
But, are the Paris attacks justification for focusing on Syrian refugees? Maybe not.
The leader of the attacks was Abdelhamid Abaaoud. He was born in Brussels (Belguim) and launched his career as a drug dealer. He slipped into Syria in 2014 and began, according to the New York Times, filming “ghoulish” propaganda videos for the Islamic State. There is, as of this writing, no indication that Abaaoud ever represented that he was a Syrian refugee. Instead, reports indicate he used his official Belgian passport to freely move around Europe.
This illustrates a key problem with respect to terrorists. Often, they are home grown, not infiltrators from abroad. At this point, the evidence seems to indicate that the Paris attacks were driven by European citizens, not Syrian refugees.
The United States should be careful in admitting anyone to the United States, whether as a visitor or potential permanent resident. But, we cannot overlook those already here who might have sympathy with radical and dangerous ideologies.
But, we need to avoid unfairly labeling immigrants, such as the Syrian refugees, as threats without direct proof of wrongdoing.
I would hate if we, like Americans in 1939, turned a blind eye to the actual victims rather than keeping an eye on the true wrongdoers – the Islamic State and the Assad regime.