In the wake of the November 13 Paris attacks, Republicans rushed with their conservative media allies to call for a halt to the admission of Syrian refugees into America, claiming that they would pose a significant threat to the United States. Major editorial boards slammed Republicans for “def[ying] what the nation stands for” and pushing divisive rhetoric that could “provide propaganda benefits to the Islamic State.”
Citing Security Concerns, Republicans Demand Syrian Refugees Be Banned From America
CNN: 26 Republican Governors Say Syrian Refugees Not Welcome. In a November 16 article for CNN, Ashley Fantz and Ben Brumfield reported that "[m]ore than half the nation's governors -- 27 states -- say they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states," noting that "[a]mong these 27 states, all but one have Republican governors." Many governors claimed the refugees pose a security risk:
More than half the nation's governors -- 27 states -- say they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states, although the final say on this contentious immigration issue will fall to the federal government.
States protesting the admission of refugees range from Alabama and Georgia, to Texas and Arizona, to Michigan and Illinois, to Maine and New Hampshire. Among these 27 states, all but one have Republican governors.
Some leaders say they either oppose taking in any Syrian refugees being relocated as part of a national program or asked that they be particularly scrutinized as potential security threats.
Only 1,500 Syrian refugees have been accepted into the United States since 2011, but the Obama administration announced in September that 10,000 Syrians will be allowed entry next year.
In a letter to President Barack Obama, Abbott said “American humanitarian compassion could be exploited to expose Americans to similar deadly danger,” referring to Friday's deadly attacks in Paris.
In a statement from Georgia's governor, Republican Nathan Deal, he said Georgia will not accept Syrian refugees “until the federal government and Congress conducts a thorough review of current screening procedures and background checks.”
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley also rejected the possibility of allowing Syrian refugees into his state and connected refugees with potential terror threats.
“After full consideration of this weekend's attacks of terror on innocent citizens in Paris, I will oppose any attempt to relocate Syrian refugees to Alabama through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” Bentley said Sunday in a statement.
“As your governor, I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm's way.” [CNN, 11/16/15]
Republican Presidential Candidates Try To Keep Syrian Refugees Out. A November 16 CNN article reported that GOP presidential candidates are opposing the admission of Syrian refugees into the United States, citing “the security concerns posed by the potential influx of people from the war-torn country” :
Republicans, however, are stressing the security concerns posed by the potential influx of people from the war-torn country. They have called on congressional leaders to block the Obama administration from proceeding with plans to resettle thousands of refugees, with some asking House Speaker Paul Ryan to lead the effort.
In a letter to Ryan, Ben Carson -- the retired neurosurgeon and a Republican front-runner -- called for Congress to block funding for any programs “that seek to resettle refugees and/or migrants from Syria into the United States, effective immediately.”
“Until we can sort out the bad guys we must not be foolish,” Carson said in a news conference in Nevada.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee similarly heaped pressure on Ryan, saying in a statement: “Speaker Ryan needs to make it clear that if the President won't stand to protect America from wholesale open borders, then Republicans will.”
“If Ryan will not lead and reject the importation of those fleeing the Middle East without assurances that we can separate refugees from terrorists, then Speaker Ryan needs to step down today and let someone else lead,” Huckabee said.
In addition, Govs. John Kasich and Bobby Jindal of Ohio and Louisiana, respectively, said they would work to keep refugees out of their states.
And Sen. Rand Paul, another 2016 contender, introduced legislation that would block the United States from issuing visas to refugees from countries with a high risk of terrorism in an effort to “stop terrorists from walking in our front door.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made a similar case in South Carolina, saying that “anyone with an ounce of common sense would say 'no, we shouldn't be bringing in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.'”
“Instead,” Cruz said, “we should be resettling them humanely in Middle Eastern countries that are majority Muslim. We can help them deal with their refugee status, but the first obligation of the President needs to be as commander in chief to protect the safety of the United States of America.”
Rubio told ABC's “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” this weekend that the U.S. shouldn't accept any refugees from Syria. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Sunday on CNN's “State of the Union” that the United States should focus on assisting Christians in Syria. [CNN, 11/16/15]
Right-Wing Media Have Made Similar Statements Against Syrian Refugees
Fox's Kilmeade: The U.S. Government “Can't Run Background Checks” On Refugees, So “We Cannot Continue To Have This Open Borders Attitude.” On the November 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Sunday, host Brian Kilmeade asked correspondent Geraldo Rivera, "[w]hat's your take on these refugees," claiming, “they might be a bunch of saints or a bunch of ISIS members.” Kilmeade also denied that the United States vets refugees, saying that “we can't run background checks” (emphasis added):
BRIAN KILMEADE (HOST): What's your take on these refugees now, knowing that we can't run background checks, the government that is exporting them has collapsed, we have no idea who they were, they might be a bunch of saints, or a bunch of ISIS members. Being that it's America's security first or France's security first, depending on what country you're in, we cannot continue to have this open borders attitude when it comes to these refugees, don't you agree?
GERALDO RIVERA: I do, Brian, and the problem is that the pictures that you see that are so heart-rending of the refugees coming from Syria, generally speaking, they focus on the women and the children. The fact of the matter is, the majority of the refugees coming are young men of fighting age. Now, how do you vet them?
KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE (HOST): Seventy percent.
RIVERA: How do you know that their Syrian credentials are authentic? It is extremely difficult to do. It is almost inevitable. Eight hundred thousand this year alone, refugees flowing into Europe, passing through Turkey, going into the Balkan states and then coming up into Slovenia, Slovakia, Germany, Austria, and then here to France. The French president has closed the border, frankly, the controls now, particularly between here and Belgium -- ironically Belgium, apparently, has a really impoverished Islamic section where there has been a hotbed of radicalism. They found the car that you may have mentioned this morning, already had came from Belgium, it had three Kalashnikovs, it was the getaway vehicle, you know. So Europe has to sort out its own business, this whole idea of open borders within the European Union, I think, will be all reassessed. And the refugee crisis, the immigration crisis, that we are alluding to, our own relatively -- compared to this -- benign immigration situation is a reflection of the world being on the move. All of the third world people, the fourth world people want to be someplace else. Plus you've got war and conflict and terror groups who want to disrupt civilization, who are apocalyptic nihilists who just want to destroy things. It is the future, I'm afraid. The world is a different place than it's ever been. It started maybe on 9/11, but it continues now 14, 15 years later, and where it stops? I'm telling you, our children have inherited a world that is a world of unease and tension and danger and peril. And we have to sort it out, we have to balance equities, we have to be compassionate but we also have to be practical and we have to watch our own back as a nation. You know, I just hope that the dialogue and the discussion and the debate about it is reasoned and rational and not just, you know, expletives deleted. It's got to be something where both sides agree. [Fox News, Fox & Friends Sunday, 11/15/15]
Fox's Ralph Peters: There's A “Good Argument For Giving Refuge To” Christian Refugees, But “Don't Let Muslims In.” Appearing on the November 16 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., Fox News military analyst Ralph Peters advocated for the U.S. to ban Muslim refugees from coming into the country, claiming that is how we “avoid importing Islamist terrorists into our country” :
STUART VARNEY: The topic this morning on many people's minds is whether or not we should allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into this country before the end of the year, and another 100,000 next year. We can't -- we don't know who they are. Should we let them in?
RALPH PETERS: Yeah, but that's, again, we need a little more granularity. There are real refugees among the people fleeing Syria and they're Christians. You want to avoid importing Islamist terrorists into our country? Don't let Muslims in, let the Saudis take them. But I see a good argument for giving refuge to the Christians fleeing the Middle East, because we have stood by and done nothing while 2,000 years of Christian civilization has been systematically and gruesomely destroyed. [Fox Business Network, Varney & Co., 11/16/15]
Conservative Commentator Mark Steyn: There Will Be “No Screening Process” For Refugees Entering The U.S. Appearing on the November 16 edition of Fox & Friends, conservative commentator Mark Steyn claimed there is “going to be no screening process” for Syrian refugees in America:
STEVE DOOCY (HOST): [Obama] is on the side of refugees, though, because the White House made it clear over the weekend that the flow of refugees from that region, and some of them could be ISIS guys, going to continue.
MARK STEYN: Yeah, when I -- when you guys let me into your country, my lawyer said they look at it for six minutes, which means they don't have time to read the application, never mind check it. These guys are getting less than six minutes. As we've just heard with this Saudi passport business, they're coming from a country where they don't even have viable records. Nobody knows if if these passports are genuine.
BRIAN KILMEADE (HOST): It's a robust screening process, Ben Rhodes said.
STEYN: Yeah, it's going to be no screening process. It's like these guys in Greece, they land, they walk into Europe, they can walk into Serbia, Macedonia, walk all the way to Germany, France, Belgium and do what they want there. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/16/15]
Fox's Bartiromo: There Are “Really Not Any Circumstances” To Vet Syrian Refugees Properly. Reporting on the Paris attacks during the November 16 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo fear mongered over letting in more Syrian refugees into the United States, claiming that “there's really not any circumstances where we can vet these people properly.” Co-host Brian Kilmeade agreed, saying the White House is “not the voice of logic” when they explain that there is a system for vetting refugees:
MARIA BARTIROMO: Does this attack change the conversation in terms of policy? In terms of the presidential election? I mean, now the whole idea of taking in refugees is beginning to become a lot more up for debate than it was earlier. I mean, we don't know if this is actually changing the president's plan who -- President Obama has said he wants to take in the refugees. The issue is is that there's really not any circumstances where we can vet these people properly. You don't have a Syrian government that can actually give you the right information about who the refugees really are and if they are who they say they are.
BRIAN KILMEADE (HOST): Well Maria, I'll tell you, you got it wrong because the White House says we have a very robust vetting procedure for these refugees. That is the voice of one. Not the voice of logic. So that is going to change the dynamic on the ground. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/16/15]
Major Editorials Slam Republicans For Vilifying Syrian Refugees
New York Times: “Confusing Refugees With Terrorists Is Morally Unacceptable” And “Could Provide Propaganda Benefits To The Islamic State.” On November 17, the New York Times editorial board wrote that although "[b]attening down the hatches is often an impulsive and politically expedient response to terrorism attacks," "[c]onfusing refugees with terrorists is morally unacceptable and, as a matter of strategy, misguided." The editorial board went on to explain that “the absurd argument that Muslims are inherently dangerous could provide propaganda benefits to the Islamic State” :
Battening down the hatches is often an impulsive and politically expedient response to terrorism attacks. Predictably, the harrowing scenes of carnage in Paris on Friday are fueling calls to shut down borders and halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Western nations.
Senator Marco Rubio, a leading Republican presidential candidate, said the United States should stop taking in Syrian refugees. Jeb Bush, another Republican candidate, suggested, idiotically, that it might be O.K. to admit only Christians. Several governors announced that their states would not accept Syrian refugees. Republicans on Capitol Hill are expected this week to push for legislation that would block President Obama's initiative to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees next year.
These responses are wrong. Confusing refugees with terrorists is morally unacceptable and, as a matter of strategy, misguided. Stemming the exodus of refugees from Syria must be an important part of any comprehensive plan to end the Syrian war. Building new barriers to keep them out with the absurd argument that Muslims are inherently dangerous could provide propaganda benefits to the Islamic State. The group, also known as ISIS, has drawn recruits around the globe by offering a cause and a home to Muslims who feel marginalized and scorned.
Surely America can offer a smarter and more generous response than Mr. Rubio's fearmongering. In a televised interview over the weekend,he warned, darkly, that “you can have 1,000 people come in and 999 of them are just poor people fleeing oppression and violence, but one of them is an ISIS fighter.” That's nonsense. America last year admitted 1,682 Syrian refugees -- an embarrassingly small number for the largest refugee crisis since World War II.
Resettling Syrian refugees will take years and entail significant costs. But the prosperous nations of the world must share the burden of doing so and resist the temptation to simply say, No, not here. [The New York Times, 11/17/15]
Washington Post: Republican Demands To Accept Only Christian Refugees “Would Damage The Country's Reputation And Betray The Notion That Americans Are Bound By Common Allegiance To Laws, Not Creeds.” A November 16 editorial from The Washington Post dismantled the “downright ugly” Republican responses to ISIS attacks in Paris and elsewhere. The editorial board explained that Republican concerns about lax refugee screenings are unfounded and concluded that the demand to accept only Christian refugees “would damage the country's reputation and betray the notion that Americans are bound by common allegiance to laws, not creeds” :
In the face of the horror in Paris -- not to mention Beirut and Baghdad -- an instinctual reaction is to attempt to close the United States to the world and, in effect, ignore the plight of people America might help. At best, this reaction is understandable but self-defeating. From the mouths of Republican presidential candidates, it has become downright ugly.
If a terrorist can take advantage of Europe's willingness to accept refugees, isn't the U.S. refugee program a serious security threat?
In fact, no. Europe is awash in Syrian refugees, its officials overwhelmed by the volume of people, nearly all of whom are simply seeking to survive. Germany alone may take 1 million people by the end of the year.
The United States, by contrast, is hardly more than a bit player in the refugee crisis, in part because it insists on an orderly and lengthy vetting process. The United Nations screens and then refers refugees to U.S. authorities, who work with Department of Homeland Security and intelligence officials to perform background checks and conduct interviews. Performing background checks on people coming from a failed state can be hard, but the program is set up to bring in the most vulnerable -- the sick, the maimed, women, children and the elderly. Every step in the screening process reduces the risk.
Accepting only Christians would damage the country's reputation and betray the notion that Americans are bound by common allegiance to laws, not creeds. These impacts would far outweigh the meager security benefits such an approach would provide.
The Paris attacks have shaken up the discussion on Syria. But the moral calculus regarding refugees who have been driven from their homes, beaten, tortured, gassed and raped hasn't changed. The humanitarian necessity is overwhelming. Half of all Syrians have been displaced, and more than a quarter-million people have died. There is no excuse to sit by. [The Washington Post, 11/16/15]
Los Angeles Times: “It Defies What The Nation Stands For To Deny A Safe Haven For The Persecuted Based On Their Faith, Nation Of Origin, Or Our Fear.” A November 17 editorial from the Los Angeles Times slammed Republican presidential candidates for wanting to admit only Christian Syrian refugees into the United States, writing that “it's preposterous that a serious contender for the presidency of the U.S. would bar war refugee status based on someone's religion.” The editorial board also called out GOP governors' “emotional and ill-conceived overraction” in demanding that Syrian refugees not be resettled in their states:
It was inevitable that the terrorism attacks in Paris last week would echo quickly through the U.S. presidential campaign. Given the stream of nativist rhetoric already out there, it was also inevitable that some politicians' responses would be highly objectionable, beginning with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's assertion that the United States should accept only Christian refugees from the Syrian conflict. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush sounded a similar note, calling for special efforts to protect Christians in the region; never mind that Islamic State jihadists target fellow Muslims with just as much viciousness.
It's preposterous that a serious contender for the presidency of the U.S. would bar war refugee status based on someone's religion. And the suggestion by GOP candidate Ben Carson that the U.S. bar all Syrian refugees for fear that a “sleeper” terrorist might slip in is an emotional, and ill-conceived, overreaction, as are pledges by several Republican governors to resist efforts to resettle refugees in their states.
That's not to suggest that the U.S. should accept any and all comers. What the Republican candidates ignore, though, is that there is already a system in place to vet the refugees. To gain entry to the U.S., a Syrian refugee first must pass rigorous screening by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which verifies personal backgrounds and details before recommending individuals for resettlement to the United States. Then the Department of Homeland Security does its own screening before a refugee is granted entry and protection.
It makes sense to be prudent and diligent when accepting refugees from a region of such threat and instability. But it defies what the nation stands for to deny a safe haven for the persecuted based on their faith, nation of origin, or our fear. [Los Angeles Times, 11/17/15]