Updated: May 2, 2020
The following was published in the Times-News on Sept. 13, 2015
I have been pondering for the best response to the concerns of many citizens pending the approaching arrival of refugees from the Syrian War. We all recognize that terrorism is alive and well throughout the world and is a threat to our peace and way of life. Radical Islam and ISIS have openly declared war on Israel and America. This does not provide much assurance that the terrorist tactics of ISIS will be confined to the Middle East.
I am disgusted by the actions of all sides of the conflict in Syria and Iraq, most notably the beheadings, by ISIS, of civilians, reporters, military prisoners and Christians. This war zone contains many factions and a minority population of Christians. Many Christians are fleeing the war zones and being aided by Muslims who recognize the atrocities. The refugees in these camps include Muslims, Christians and anyone trying to move their family away from the brutality of war. They are fleeing to camps that, while safe, provide deplorable conditions in which the refugees must live many years prior to consideration for relocation. Our history includes examples of Americans confronting injustice, persecution and discrimination. We can look at the Underground Railroad before and during our own Civil War. Citizens on both sides of the Civil War aided escaped slaves to reach safety and freedom in the North. Both those operating the Underground Railroad and the slaves would be severely punished if they were caught.
Adam Schrager, in his book “The Principled Politician,” addresses the fears and government actions taken in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The states were asked to cooperate with the Executive Order No. 9066, setting in motion the evacuation of Japanese American Citizens and Aliens from the West Coast. Following the actions of the Japanese Imperial Nation on Pearl Harbor and the entire Pacific, a majority of Americans had both an enhanced hatred for Japan and fear of anyone of Japanese descent. The migration and forced evacuation to “Japanese Internment Camps” throughout the inland Western U.S. was met with open resistance, fear and hatred. Fear of sabotage, job competition and basic prejudice ran rampant. Most citizens in the inland West openly proclaimed they were opposed to any resettlement of Japanese Aliens or Japanese American Citizens in their communities. While their families were held in detention, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, with soldiers predominately of Japanese ancestry, was considered the most decorated unit of its size in U.S. military history. The fear of a “5th Column” never materialized. Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr, who supported the federal government relocation of Japanese aliens, strongly opposed the constitutional violations on Japanese-American citizens. He was critical of the execution of the relocation program, but deferred to their ultimate authority in the matter. He stood on principle.
In the early 20th century, the U.S. government began to limit immigration and established quotas. We have been operating under variations of these federal rules for nearly a century. These limits and control of refugees has been and remains under the purview of the federal government, which was delegated this power through the Constitution. It is the responsibility of the federal government to establish the rules and policies relating to the modern immigration laws. The “vetting” process is rigorous and takes substantially more time for refugees than foreigners requesting permission to enter the U.S. as tourists, students, employment or business. The fear of Islamic terrorists getting into the country is understandable and real. The fear that innocent people are being persecuted, abused and murdered through horrific means is also real. Do we ignore the plight of innocent refuges? Do we exclude the many out of fear that the vetting process can be improved? It appears that the program needs attention with a thorough review by Congress and the international community. However, the role of the local refuge center is not the problem, nor the involvement by the College of Southern Idaho. There are millions of refugees throughout the world, and as a member of the world community, the U.S. has an important role. The rest of the world needs to step up and take a proportional role. We have been and are a generous country, but there are many other countries that should be accepting more refugees. The U.S. should not be expected to accept 50 percent of those refugees coming out of the refugee camps. Vetting will always be a challenge, as most of the refugees will have little documentation and the countries of origin are generally in turmoil or uncooperative. This is not a reason to exclude refugees, but it does highlight the challenge in search of improved solutions. In reality, a very small portion of the world refugees are being resettled, which is a tragic commentary on the problem and resettlement will not solve the problem. The world watches as genocides continue and the only response from the United Nations is temporary refugee camps.
Our founding fathers were predominately Christians of many denominations, with a vivid memory of religious persecution of the 16th and 17th centuries. Yet they recognized the importance of the freedom of religion with the adoption of the First Amendment. They had the opportunity to establish this nation as Christian, but they did not. In the history of our country we have seen discrimination against immigrants because they were Irish, Catholic, Jewish, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Mexican or East Indians. It was because of their religion, ethnic background or color of their skin. We are the melting pot of the world because of our heritage, Constitution and vision of our founding fathers.
I believe the Refugee Center is needed and doing an admirable job. The problem is not CSI or the Refugee Center. The problem: What is the world to do with the millions of refugees who have been displaced by civil war and genocidal behavior? I will continue to send the message to the local Islamic Center to take a strong stand against the atrocities of the radical Islamist. The comments will also be shared with our Congressional delegation and governor. In the meantime, we need to stop the vitriolic language and attacks on the people and organizations that have taken on the role of helping the refugees resettle in the Magic Valley.
With confidence in my personal faith, I will find a way to appreciate the plight and needs of refugees. Judeo-Christian history has had a strong, if not intimate, influence on our laws and Constitution. If it were not for a major refugee exodus from Egypt where might we be today? Is this why the Lord admonished us to care for the “aliens, the fatherless and widows living among you?” Deuteronomy 16:11.