It is the essence of the American dream: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
Those are not just words on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. They are the cornerstone of a nation of immigrants, people who came to this country, often fleeing unimaginable hardships in their own lands, in seeking a better life.
Every American family can trace their roots to people who came here from other lands, with little in their pockets except hope, with nothing in their stomach except a hunger for what would become the American dream. Now, in the cauldron of emotions spilling out of the horrific terrorist attacks that took 132 lives in Paris on Nov. 13, there are those who would tell some of those huddled masses to buzz off. They would turn the American dream into an unattainable nightmare.
An increasing number of elected officials and governors Monday were urging President Obama to spit in the face of the American ideal, and slam the door in the face of refugees fleeing carnage in their war-torn homeland of Syria. It plays on our ugliest fears, that among those huddled masses will be terrorists seeking to do us harm.
It is understandable, in the face of such cold, detached evil, in the form of the Daesh (AKA: Islamic State) zealots who unleashed their fury on innocent citizens in three different locations in Paris, to recoil, to close the door at our borders, and set the deadbolt. It is the natural reaction. It also strikes us as the wrong one, a betrayal of everything in our heritage that has made this nation the world's greatest melting pot, an amalgam of bloodlines forged into a single, powerful force – Americans.
As of Wednesday, 26 governors, all Republicans, said they would oppose efforts to relocate Syrian refugees in their states without more information on the vetting process used by the government to weed out potential terrorist threats. In Washington, House Speaker Paul Ryan Tuesday called for a "pause" in Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. in the wake of the Paris attacks, and assembled a task force to bring legislation to a vote as soon as this week. In this region, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan has not gone as far as saying the Granite State would not accept refugees, but she did ask for increased screening, as if the two-year process now in place is not onerous enough.
Is there legitimate concern about who is entering the country? Absolutely. Many politicians and security experts have asked about the ability of the nation's law enforcement agencies to carefully vet the 10,000 Syrian refugees the Obama Administration would like to accept over the next year.
Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Penn., who once served as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, spoke plainly on the pitfalls of trying to screen large numbers of refugees seeking to enter the country. He said the Paris attacks are proof of the size and cope of the task, and urged the administration to beef up screening efforts. "Up until now, the small number of Syrians allowed in the country has enabled us to take prudent measures to screen them," Meehan cautioned. "But the dramatic increase in refugee admission the administration seeks will preclude that. We simply have no ability to vet bast numbers of refugees from Syria at this time."
We urge President Obama to heed his words. But we stand by his decision not to simply slam the door in the face of those seeking what generations of immigrants have sought – a beacon known as America. Doing otherwise would deliver a victory to those who hate us for everything we stand for, including that statue that sits in the New York City harbor. It would mark a change in the way Americans think – and the way we are perceived – around the globe on the issue of refugees. It would arm those who believe we hold a deeply entrenched distrust of those who hail from the Middle East and Muslim countries.
The alarming quotes from many Republican governors plays to the ugliest of reactions in the wake of the barbarism in France, and manages to ignore the Refugee Act of 1980, which prevents governors from legally blocking refugees from settling in their communities. Rather than turning our backs on those fleeing the very terror that was inflicted upon Paris, we need to stand with those who witness that kind of everyday, routine bloodshed in their homelands. Keep the borders open.