Refugees are our moral duty

Reupping this item from last year as the president closes our doors to refugees. He choose to do so on Holocaust Remembrance Day.


I know I’m supposed to be raving about China policy right now. But I spent yesterday stuck instead on the Ohio State attack, claims that the attacker should not have been in the country, and the argument that we should not accept refugees from dangerous parts of the world or that we should shut down immigration entirely.

The attacker was indeed a Somali refugee and inspired by ISIS propaganda — likely inspired in precisely the same way Timothy McVeigh was inspired to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City by white supremacist literature or John Hinckley was inspired to shoot Reagan by “The Catcher in the Rye.” Aspiring mass murderers and lone-wolf assassins tend to be mentally ill.

His actions had nothing to do with his refugee status. He was a legal resident, and he came to America as a child, fleeing a failed state. Refugees are screened more rigorously than any other immigrant. The process routinely takes two years and includes continual investigations of any possible terrorist ties. He didn’t sneak in; he wasn’t some sleeper agent.

The only way to have kept the Ohio State attacker out of the country would have been to deny him refugee status based on the fact that he was Muslim. That mocks our nation’s commitment to religious freedom and pluralism. I have no interest in defending a guy who attacked students with a butcher knife, but I’m perfectly comfortable stepping to the plate for a 15-year-old seeking safety in America.

Since 9/11, almost 800,000 refugees have come to the United States. Three have been charged with terrorism. They were arrested trying to get money out of the United States to support fighting half a world away. There is no evidence that they were radicalized before coming to the United States.

If we only accept refugees from safe places and if two years of vetting isn’t sufficient and if we turn away children with no evidence that they are a threat, then we’ve decided that refugees can never be or become sufficiently “American” to suit us.

We can’t know them no matter how we try. We can’t trust them because they come from the wrong place. They’re never too young to escape the stain of the hardships they faced. That’s not security policy. That’s bigotry, and that’s turning our backs on those who need our help the most.

The history of America as a nation is dominated by how we behave as immigrants and how people in power treat immigrants. We arrived and killed a native population. We brought the black population here in chains. We built the modern concept of democracy, expanded its protections over centuries, and then better people than me defended it.

It is both noble and disgraceful. But all of it — absolutely all of it — is built on the concept of moving (or being forcibly moved), taking control of what life handed you, and being given the opportunity (eventually, in generational terms) to feel safe and succeed.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fled Herod in Egypt. The pilgrims were on the run from religious persecution. Madeleine Albright took refuge from the communists, and Albert Einstein took refuge from the Nazis.

We are the wealthiest nation in the world, and a significant chunk of that wealth comes on the backs of exploited people the world over. Refugees are our moral duty. We can embrace them, support them, and still protect our country from those who want to harm it.