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Don’t slam the door shut on refugees

I had an old habit of buying a copy of The New York Times the day after national and global events I felt were substantial. For a newspaper buff, “The Gray Lady” was, and is, the gold standard and a copy was my way of recording historical happenings in the world.

The habit faded and, as I remembered this past Sunday, I tossed most of those old issues of The Times into the trash during my two moves. At the time, I could not justify allocating space in my car for the stack of newspapers.

That old habit resurfaced Saturday morning when I picked up a copy of The Times. Most of the front page was coverage of the atrocities in Paris. It seemed worth the $2.50.



“Paris terrorist attacks kill over 100; France declares state of emergency,” the headline read.

Much has been said since a group of terrorists turned France’s capital into a war zone, killing 129, according to The Times and others.



Monday morning at a news conference, journalists pressed President Barack Obama on his administration’s approach to combating the Islamic State, the group that claimed responsibility for the attacks, commonly referred to as ISIS. In summation, the President said while efforts will be intensified, he does not believe a substantial shift in policy, including sending ground troops to Iraq or Syria, is needed.

That same day, with Obama holding to his intention to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, a growing list of governors, citing the attacks in Paris, stated their refusal to accept refugees from the country. Numerous media outlets have reported that at least one of the suspects in the attacks was found near a passport indicating entrance to Europe by identifying as a Syrian refugee.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was not one of the governors.

“A few short days ago we witnessed another senseless act of terrorism. Our hearts go out to the families, friends and loved ones of those lost and injured in Paris, and in other acts of terror around the world,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “Our first priority remains the safety of our residents. We will work with the federal government and Homeland Security to ensure the national verification processes for refugees are as stringent as possible. We can protect our security and provide a place where the world’s most vulnerable can rebuild their lives.”

Legal experts cited in nearly every story on the subject have said that the task of accepting foreign refugees is in the hands of the federal government, not the states. The states can, however, make it more difficult for the federal government, some of those same experts said.

Responses to senseless tragedies carried out by terrorists can be formulaic. Some will call for increased military efforts to combat and destroy what can only be described as pure evil. Others will echo caution about entering into another costly engagement that has no clear pathway to victory.

Various emotions manifest in these responses, including fear, which appears to be what is driving the response from some of these governors, as well as some of the commentary from readers on reports of Hickenlooper’s decision.

A Facebook thread on a story posted by the The Gazette contained such comments with phrases like “our safety” and “anti-American.” Others supported the decision.

Fear is understandable in the wake of acts of terrorism. However, such an emotion, one commonly devoid of rational thought, should not dictate our actions as a country.

Questioning the administration’s intention to accept 10,000 refugees by 2017 is not only valid but necessary. When the President first made this announcement in September, the U.S. had accepted approximately 1,600 Syrian refugees since the start of the Syrian civil war. And with the screening process taking on average 18-24 months, according to numerous reports at the time of the administration’s announcement, it is hard to comprehend how the number can be drastically increased in a way that best ensures American’s safety.

A re-evaluation of the President’s refugee plan is a rational request; a complete stoppage in accepting all Syrian refugees is not.

The U.S. accepts refugees — those forced to flee their home country — from around the world, and to completely deny access to citizens facing slaughter from multiple fronts would be an atrocity. To those who say we should not be responsible for helping or that we should simply stay out, I would ask where were those isolationist desires during every previous intervention in the region? It’s hard to imagine that our policy in the region over the past three decades has done anything to bring stability. For those who don’t remember, over the past 30 years we have: armed the Afghan Mujahideen in their fight against the Russians in the ‘80s; provided support to Iraq in its war with Iran in the ‘80s; led ground and air attacks against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War of the early ‘90s; and went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq following Sept. 11, 2001 — just to name a few actions.

If we as a country want to wash our hands of the refugee issue — an indisputable humanitarian crisis — then we should pull out of the region entirely.

Others argue that unless there is a screening method that guarantees not a single refugee will inflict harm, or attempt to harm Americans, we should not accept them. This is asinine, as there is nothing that the government does that carries such certainty.

Why don’t we demand the government have absolute certainty that it will not kill or injure innocent civilians before launching an attack from an unmanned aircraft?

If you Google search “refugees and terrorists” you can find something to reaffirm stances on both sides of this issue.

An October story in the Economist stated: “Of the 745,000 refugees resettled since September 11th, only two Iraqis in Kentucky have been arrested on terrorist charges, for aiding al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

On a different note and more recently, this past Monday, conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart wrote a post on the President’s continued commitment to resettle at least 10,000 refugees, and in the post he cited a series of “unfortunate examples” of security risks posed by refugees. Included in those were the Tsarnaev family — the two brothers responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing — who entered the U.S. in 2002 as refugees.

Both of these could be picked apart and analyzed, but, and I don’t always say this, I agree with one of Breitbart’s concluding sentences.

“The point is not that safe immigration is impossible, but rather that it is difficult, and takes time,” he wrote.

We must make sure we have the processes and resources in place before increasing the number of refugees we accept, but we cannot take our time in doing so. It is time for us to act like the greatest country that we always claim to be.

Ryan Hoffman is editor of The Citizen Telegram. He can be reached at 970-685-2103 or rhoffman@citizentelegram.com.


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