During his visit to the Philippines Wednesday, President Barack Obama called out some anti-refugee politicians who have recently said the U.S. should reject Syrian refugees after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Obama called some of the suggestions "offensive" and pointed out that the U.S. screens refugees for 18 to 24 months before they can enter the country. His response was serious and firm: He noted that making decisions from a place of fear does not result in good decision making.
Obama's comments came after 31 governors said they would refuse Syrian refugees who might have been relocated to their states as part of the U.S.' plan to take in 10,000 refugees in the next year, according to CNN. Of the 31 states that have made statements refusing refugees, all but one have Republican governors. Most of the governors have cited threats to safety and security, saying that they are going to put the safety of their own residents before any obligation the U.S. has to helping refugees fleeing their war-torn home countries.
Their fears were almost entirely fueled by a Syrian passport that was found at the Stade de France, one of the sites of the Paris terror attacks. Investigators originally believed that one of the attackers may have posed as a Syrian refugee to gain entry to the European Union through Greece in October, but evidence later proved that the passport was either fake or stolen, according to the The New York Times.
The authority to relocate Syrian refugees ultimately belongs to the federal government and not with the states, according to CNN. But Obama also pointed out just why U.S. lawmakers should not let their fear drive them to unreasonable decision making, according to CNN:
We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. ... When candidates say, 'We will not admit 3-year-old orphans,' that's political posturing. When individuals say that we should have a religious test, and that only Christians — proven Christians — should be admitted, that's offensive and contrary to American values. I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that's been coming out of here during the course of this debate. ISIL seeks to exploit the idea that there is a war between Islam and the West. And when you start seeing individuals in positions of responsibility suggesting that Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land, that feeds the ISIL narrative. It's counterproductive and it needs to stop.
The president also said that these governors are some of the same people who said we should be tougher on ISIS and Russian President Vladimir Putin, but now they seem to be backing down and giving ISIS exactly what it wants — a reason for Syrians and other refugees to join ISIS rather than flee their home countries. He said U.S. lawmakers aren't being as tough as they have previously claimed to be, according to CNN:
Apparently they are scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America. At first, they were too scared of the press being too tough on them in the debates. Now they are scared of 3-year-old orphans. That doesn't seem so tough to me.
The White House has already started answering the governors' fear-driven rejection of refugees by pointing to the U.S.' strict and lengthy application and review process — conducted by Department of Homeland Security and counterterrorism agencies — that refugees must go through to be relocated in the country, according to CNN. In addition to strict application process, other governors, like Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, have stood up and appealed to basic notions of humanity.
It is unfortunate that anyone would use the tragic events in Paris to send a message that we do not understand the plight of these refugees, ignoring the fact that the people we are talking about are fleeing the perpetrators of terror.