In the wake of the devastating terrorist attacks in Paris, more than half of all state governors — including Arizona’s very own Doug Ducey — have now closed their doors to Syrian refugees, citing concerns that terrorists will masquerade as refugees in order to gain access to the U.S.
Let’s break down exactly what’s wrong with these decisions — and to be clear, there are a lot of issues.
First of all, and perhaps foremost, none of the governors even have a legal standpoint to bar refugees. It’s an issue for the federal government, not the states. The Supreme Court case Hines v. Davidowitz declared, “The supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation, is made clear by the Constitution.”
Moreover, the person with explicit statutory authorization to accept or deny refugee populations is, by the Refugee Act of 1980, the president, who may admit refugees who face “persecution … on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”
Even the most recent major Supreme Court case on immigration, featuring — you guessed it — our home state Arizona, in Arizona v. United States, describes the executive branch’s broad authority to make discretionary calls regarding immigration issues.
As the court explained, the executive may wish for foreign nationals to remain on U.S. soil for a variety of reasons, in particular if their home nation “[is] mired in civil war, complicit in political persecution or enduring conditions that create a real risk that the alien or his family will be harmed upon return.”
Anyone who has been following the attacks in Syria should recognize the applicability of that statement. Apparently, though, that doesn’t include a whopping 26 state governors who seem incapable of acknowledging the very real threat that the Syrian refugees are fleeing.
While the lack of legal basis for the governors’ decisions is indeed a problem, it’s that lack of empathy that is perhaps the most concerning part of this issue.
Refugees are refugees for a reason. As the name implies, they are seeking refuge, often from a state that is as war-torn as Syria. Since the war began, more than 11 million people—almost twice the population of Arizona—have been killed or forced to flee their homes.
Their neighborhoods are being bombed. Their families are being slaughtered. Children are growing up knowing nothing but fear. In fact, more than half of all Syrian refugees are under the age of 18.
Ducey and the governors acting with him are not defending their states from would-be terrorists. They are not rebelling against an unjust system to prove their strong leadership. They are instead proving to the nation that they are xenophobic, racist cowards who cannot accept, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that refugees do not pose a threat, but are running from one.
Resettling in the U.S. as a refugee is not an easy process. In fact, it’s the most difficult path to achieving residency here, and refugees undergo the most security checks of any traveler. The process can take months or even years; it involves a pre-screening, interview and security clearance and fingerprinting through the Department of Homeland Security, followed by further processing through the State Department and Department of Health and Human Services.
Since 9/11, 745,000 refugees have been resettled in the U.S. Not one of them has been arrested on domestic terrorism charges.
It’s not that Ducey is not aware of these measures. In fact, state governors participated in a 90-minute conference call with top immigration officials—from the White House, the DHS, the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center and the State Department—who explained the screening process in exquisite detail. Apparently this was not enough, as Ducey issued a statement calling for more information.
As a nation, we need to end the pointless fear-mongering and recognize refugees as human beings, not numbers—humans who are broken, scared and fleeing everything that is familiar. This starts with government officials above all, and until we recognize that, we’re only perpetuating the problem.
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