Keep out. That was the message from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday. It passed a bill that would suspend President Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees next year, and then tighten the screening process for them in the future.
This action comes on the heels of 31 governors asserting that they did not want Syrian refugees resettled in their states. GOP candidates for president have also weighed in on the issue, expressing their opposition to admitting more Syrians into the U.S.
This grandstanding over refugees represents a gross deviation from American ideals. And the legal case for federal authority over refugees is sound. Welcoming refugees is smart policy — and the right thing to do.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, explained the rationale behind the House bill: “The country is uneasy and unsettled. Our first priority is to protect the American people. We can be compassionate, but we can also be safe.” Yet rejecting Syrian refugees plays into the strategy of ISIS.
ISIS wants Muslims to believe that they will never be accepted by Western societies. When we welcome Middle Eastern refugees, it undermines ISIS’ message that the West hates Islam. Consider that these are people who have risked their lives escaping violence in their homeland.
Currently, Syrian refugees go through vetting that can take up to two years. They undergo multiple interviews and biometric screenings. Their family and travel histories are scrutinized, and they are screened by the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, State Department, National Counterterrorism Center and the FBI.
Unlike the Syrian migrants in Europe, who are processed as they arrive in EU countries, refugees to the U.S. must remain abroad until they are granted refugee status. The House bill — which Obama has pledged to veto — would require that the heads of our national security agencies personally sign off on the case of every single Syrian refugee. This would involve a tremendous waste of time and resources and likely create a bureaucratic backlog.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said last week, “We will be working to ensure that Syrian refugees are not going to be allowed into the state of Texas and … that Texans are protected from those refugees coming into the state.” However, Abbott and his fellow governors are misguided.
Whether they like it or not, the executive branch has broad and exclusive power over immigration matters — which includes admitting refugees. From Truax v. Raich (1915) to Arizona v. U.S. (2012), the Supreme Court has consistently affirmed federal authority over immigration policy. There is also statutory law that allows the President to decide whether an “emergency refugee situation” exists and to admit refugees as he sees fit.
So any possible state bans on Syrian refugees would be unconstitutional, and Obama is on solid legal footing for proceeding with his plan.
It is true that many people have concerns about our safety. Separate polls by NBC News and Bloomberg found that a majority of Americans are against allowing more Syrian refugees to resettle here.
The public is split along party lines on the issue, with Democrats largely supporting the President. That’s no surprise, given the GOP rhetoric we’ve been hearing about Syrian refugees. Donald Trump has questioned whether they are part of a “Trojan horse” plot, and Ben Carson has compared them to “rabid dogs.”
But Syrian refugees are not the problem. Several of the suspects in the Paris attacks were French; three lived in Belgium. It would be far simpler for a potential terrorist to come here on a tourist visa, rather than go through the lengthy process to obtain refugee status.
Speaking about Syrian refugees, Obama said that “slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values.” He’s right. The U.S. absorbed waves of refugees from Cuba in the 1950s and 1960s, and from Southeast Asia in the 1970s; each of these populations has since contributed immensely to our country.
And all of the Republican-led outrage over keeping us “safe” can be put into perspective when we recall that, after 20 schoolchildren were gunned down in Newtown, Connecticut, Republican lawmakers refused to take action on gun control or mental health legislation. Now that there has been an attack in Paris, they favor an immediate response that demonizes victims of war. This is as inhumane as it is un-American.
Obama must move forward with his plan to accept Syrian refugees. The U.S. cannot give in to fear and abandon our tradition of welcoming people from around the world.