In recent days, we have seen a wave of anti-refugee rhetoric and actions that jeopardizes the moral fabric of our nation, which has historically been a safe haven for those seeking a better and more secure life for their families. Some 31 governors, including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, have said they do not support, or would deny, refugees entering their states. The U.S. House of Representatives also recently passed a bill that would essentially refuse entry to Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
Denying refuge to families ravaged by war is a betrayal of our best and most humane values, and plays directly into the hands of those who perpetrated the attacks in Lebanon, Iraq and France last week. The extremist group, Daesh, can’t succeed unless it provokes blind, anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry in the West. These extremists have proclaimed in their own documents that they need to eliminate “the gray zone” of peaceful coexistence in order to drive a wedge between Muslim families and their neighbors.
Daesh, often referred to as the Islamic State, ISIL and ISIS, has killed far more Muslims than any other group it has targeted. Hysterical, unconstitutional calls to close all mosques or implement wholly unenforceable religious litmus tests for families fleeing bloodshed feeds into the message these extremists are trying to send: that the West is a hostile place for Muslims. The mayor of Roanoke, Va., has gone so far as to invoke the disgraceful internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as a way to justify the rejection of refugees, apparently unaware that the U.S. officially apologized and compensated families for that illegal detention.
Governors, including Snyder, who are denying safety to Syrian refugees are fully aware of the rigorous, 13-step vetting process for refugees that can take up to two years. They also know that of the more than 750,000 refugees settled in the United States since September 2001, not a single one has been convicted of any terrorism-related charges. There is simply no good reason for governors, who ultimately have no authority over federal borders, to “pause” a process that can already stretch over years.
Daesh has created a global crisis. The only way to put an end to its madness is through a united effort. It fears military defeat but also the contagious power of our values that include protection of the innocent regardless of religion, ethnicity, nationality, or color.
The recent statements and policies against refugees run counter to fundamental American values and disrespect the many refugee and immigrant communities that have long been embedded into the fabric of this country, who have contributed to the success of our nation in innumerable ways. We must hold fast to the values that make the American dream. Chief among those is offering safety to families fleeing for their lives.
Nadia Tonova is the director of the National Network for Arab American Communities.