Let's Fix This Country

The Syrians Are Coming! And Americans Quake With Fear

The home of the brave no more

We are fond of reciting the words inscribed at the Statue of Liberty that say, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free", and we regularly brag that we are a nation of immigrants. But the attitudes of so many today betray us as hypocrites.

The nightmare war in Syria has taken the lives of almost a half-million people.
Assad's and Putin's forces drop barrel bombs on the populace, turning the cities to rubble easily mistaken for Berlin in 1945. Some 6 million people have been displaced. Of those, 4.8 million have fled the country according to the United Nations, creating the largest flood of refugees since the end of World War II.

Yet here in the home of the brave, our politicians — mostly Republican it needs to be said — cringe in fear of terrorism and propose as a solution to the refugee crisis that America batten the hatches and block all Syrians from entering. No less than leader of the House, Speaker Paul Ryan, has said in the face of urgency:

"When we know that ISIL is already telling us that they are trying to infiltrate the refugee population, don’t you think that common sense dictates we should take a pause and get this right?"

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell goes further. Why admit refugees? "What we need is a strategy obviously to give the refugees an opportunity to stay in their own country". Is he unaware of what's happened to that country?

Immigration is the prerogative of the President, not Congress, and Obama chose a different path. Ignoring the trembling in Congress, he has been bringing Syrians into the country nonetheless and at the end of August he reached his goal of admitting 10,000 during 2016, added to 2,800 already here. But compared to this wide land of almost 320 million people, that's just 1% of what tiny Lebanon has taken in. More are coming, but few. The State Department says it is processing another 21,000 applications for relocation across the United States.

states wrongs

“In the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris, effective immediately, I am directing all state agencies to suspend the resettlement of additional Syrian refugees in the state of Indiana pending assurances from the federal government that proper security measures have been achieved."

That was Governor Mike Pence less than a year ago, demonstrating his understanding of the teachings of Jesus, more recently proclaiming, "I'm a Christian, a Conservative and a Republican, in that order". More than 25 governors — all Republican save one — issued the same proclamations. "I write to inform you that the State of Texas will not accept any refugees from Syria", said Governor Greg Abbott. Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa said the same.

This was in disregard of law on many counts, the simplest being that a state cannot bar entry to anyone admitted under federal immigration law, nor movement from state to state once in country. Their actions were "…unconstitutional, period”, said the American Civil Liberties Union in filing suit. Pence turned away a Syrian family, and when apprised that he had no authority to do so, retaliated by banning all state agencies from assisting the refugees. "As governor I will continue to put the safety and security of Hoosiers first”.

During the primary season, the Republican candidates were of the same mind, with religious intolerance thrown in. Jeb Bush thought we should only admit Christian Syrians. "We do not have religious tests for our compassion", Obama reminded them. John Kasich said he
would write to President Obama asking him to stop resettling Syrians in his Ohio and thinks there should be a new government agency to broadcast Judeo-Christian values around the world. Ted Cruz, a Bible toting Christian, expressed astonishment that only 3% of the Syrians who have so far gained entry to the U.S. are Christians. He called it "absolute lunacy" to resettle Syrians in this country. "Who in their right mind would want to bring over tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, when we cannot determine…who is and who isn't a terrorist?", he asked. Marco Rubio concurred. He would be "open" to accepting refugees "if there was a way to ensure they were not being infiltrated by terrorists", an unreachable requirement.

These are people who themselves are victims of terrorism, fleeing their cities, where death surrounds them, shedding their livelihoods and their possessions, walking hundreds of miles out of their country, risking drowning in the Mediterranean, herded into camps, hoping for help.

And then there is Donald Trump, who calls the Syrian refugees “the great Trojan horse of all time…a better, bigger, more horrible version than the legendary Trojan Horse ever was”. He has said that tens-of-thousands of Syrians — mostly young men — are entering the U.S. and we don’t know who they are, because we have no system to vet them". He would institute "what I call EXTREME VETTING", he tweeted and repeats it at campaign rallies. Trump is unabashed at spreading extreme disinformation and illustrates his extreme ignorance of the process in place that does in fact screen Syrians for admittance to the United States.

extreme vetting

In fact, those gaining entrance into the United States are evenly split between men and women and 50% are children under age 14, giving the lie to Trump's "mostly young men". The vetting, which Trump thinks does not happen at all, typically takes 18 to 24 months. All refugees are first interviewed repeatedly by the United Nations to learn the details of their lives, and from that process emerge only 1% who are then recommended to the United States for additional vetting. For that 1% the next step is a State Department resettlement center in Amman, Jordan, "for a background check led by specially trained Department of Homeland Security interrogators", reported a recent piece on CBS's "60 Minutes".

"Mostly we focus on victims of torture, survivors of violence, women-headed households, a lot of severe medical cases. [There are] so many interviews, so many intelligence screenings, so many checks along the way. They are questioned at least three times by interviewers looking for gaps or inconsistencies in their stories".

Additionally, their use of social media is searched. The data collected is passed through U.S. intelligence databases looking for any red flags.

Nevertheless, our politicians seem incapable of reasoning that, given the length of time a refugee applicant must wait before gaining entry to the U.S., the refugee path is the least sensible way to infiltrate our country. A terrorist could instead simply fly in on a tourist or student visa and go right to work. “That somehow [refugees] pose a more significant threat than all the tourists who pour into the United States every single day just doesn’t jibe with reality,” Obama has said.

Trump, of course, invents freely. He has said Syrian refugees enter this country carrying cell phones with ISIS flags on them and phone plans prepaid by ISIS.

we're the problem

The far greater risk than families trying to make a new life here is found already within our borders. The Government Accountability Office and The Washington Post’s Wonkblog reported that more than 2,000 on the watch list of terrorism suspects were able to buy guns in these United States between 2004 and 2014. Democrats who have repeatedly tried to close that loophole have been defeated by the NRA and its captive Republicans who view desperate Syrian refugees as the ones to be feared and denied admittance until we "get this right".

meanwhile, north of here

Canadians, in contrast, were greatly affected by the daily video reports of drowning as Syrians tried desperately to reach Europe. Their government allows them to form groups to adopt a refugee family. The group meets them at airports, provides them with food and rent, sees to teaching them English or French, and finds them work. The Canadian government says that citizens numbering in the thousands have volunteered for this welcoming program.

And why not? Former ambassador to Syria Ryan Crocker knows "how highly Syrians value hard work and education". In a Wall Street Journal op-ed he wrote that, "They're precisely the people I'd want living next door to me and attending my children's schools".

Not Donald Trump. "I'm putting people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they're going back", he said, contending that Islamic State militants could be hiding among them. And, of course, he wants "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States". He found legitimacy for that proposal in the internment of Japanese during World War II, seemingly ignorant of that being a shameful moment in our history. He has considered creating a government database to track all Muslims in the U.S. Can anyone think of a better way to radicalize those already in the country?

No Syrian has been involved in any of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. With most admitted only recently, that's no guarantee. But for Mr. Trump and those cowering in Congress, fear that there may be a needle in the haystack is justification for adding to the misery of the over 12,000 already here and blocking the thousands yet to come. Immediately after 9/11 we rounded up uncounted thousands of Muslims just because they were Muslim, jettisoned the Geneva Convention protocols against torture, passed a law that permitted secret FBI searches that forbid us even from speaking of them, began a clandestine program of collecting communications data on all Americans, and now the Republican Party and its candidate for president argue that we should slam the gates to lock out victims of a genocidal war. The question is: What have we become?

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