Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback acted without compassion or even a solid grasp of refugee issues Monday when he issued an executive order directing state agencies not to assist in resettling Syrian refugees in the state.
Though refugee resettlement is a federal responsibility, the assistance of state workers would be needed to sign up new arrivals for food stamps and other forms of temporary aid. The governor’s order to prevent that is heartless and foolish.
In Missouri, thankfully, Gov. Jay Nixon declined to join Brownback and other governors in the rising tide of hysteria set into motion by Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris. Nixon, a Democrat, issued a statement simply reaffirming the need for tough screening procedures of all refugees.
On the national stage, Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz played to people’s fears. They shamefully proposed giving preference to Christian refugees, ignoring the ideal of America as a haven for people of all faiths and nationalities.
Such xenophobic reactions are an ignorant and unwarranted response to the news that a suicide bomber involved in the Paris attacks may have posed as a Syrian refugee.
The U.S. already is extremely cautious about admitting Syrian refugees. It has accepted only about 2,000 since the country’s bloody civil war began in 2011.
Applicants must first meet the tough standards required by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They then undergo an intense security screening by multiple U.S. agencies. No applicant who has ever associated with or provided material support to a group deemed suspicious by U.S. authorities gets accepted.
The U.S. government has responded to the crisis of Syrian and Iraqi refugees swamping European and Middle Eastern nations by pledging to commit more resources to screen applicants. But the rigor will remain the same.
It’s important to remember that the perpetrators of the Paris attacks hadn’t been granted refugee status by any nation. If a passport found near a body was a suspect’s, it indicates only that he slipped into the trail of migrants fleeing Syria, hoping to find sanctuary elsewhere.
Americans also can take comfort in knowing that of the millions of refugees accepted into the U.S. since Congress signed the Refugee Act of 1980, not a single one has committed a known act of terrorism. The screening process works.
A much greater risk to U.S. security is the prospect of thousands of persons languishing for years in refugee camps, without hope or opportunity. That’s an extremist’s recruiting dream. Strong leaders look beyond the fears of the moment to the long-term consequences of caving in to those fears.
The Paris attacks were reprehensible and frightening. But traumatized people seeking a place of safety outside of war-torn Syria should not be held responsible for the atrocities.