Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
2015-12-01 15:48:35 -
World News

As a nation of immigrants, one would think that American politicians and Americans in general would welcome refugees fleeing Daesh, al-Qaeda and the ongoing civil wars in Syria and Iraq. But I’m sad to say that is not the case. While they do not represent the views of a majority of Americans, a number of politicians – including some Democrats – have recently voiced their opposition to resettling any more Syrian refugees in the United States. Instead of being voices of reason, they have instead chosen to become political fearmongers.


The inscription on the Statue of Liberty, from Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus, reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” But is this still true? 


At the presidential candidate level of American politics, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley have aligned themselves with President Obama in support of admitting more Syrian refugees, while Bernie Sanders has only said he supports accepting them. But all of the Republican candidates have apparently decided to turn their backs on the American tradition of welcoming the world’s tired and poor. They have instead chosen to pander to the selfish and anti-immigrant base instincts of the GOP’s far-right conservatives. The worst among them was Louisana Governor Bobby Jindal, who issued an executive order telling state agencies to implement “all lawful means to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees”.


The irony here is that Jindal is the son of immigrants from India who came to America just six months before he was born. Thankfully he’s no longer a contender in this presidential race. However, because he is a sitting governor, he has the state-level authority to make it more difficult for Syrian refugees to resettle in the state of Louisiana. As such, Jindal decided to follow the lead of Republican Governor Mike Pence who had earlier suspended his state’s participation in the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana.


Since Bobby Jindal was the only sitting governor running for president, he was also the only candidate who actually had the authority to order employees of a state government to stop assisting the federal government in refugee resettlement. But Governors Jindal and Pence alike have also exceeded their authority by ordering state agencies to stop helping Syrian refugees. Most legal scholars agree they do not have the authority to refuse assistance to refugees precisely because they are also accepting federal refugee assistance funds.


The Republican candidates’ level of opposition to Syrian refugees appears to fall into one of three categories. The first would be those calling for a “pause” in admitting some 10,000 Syrian refugees next year, but no one will say how long this pause will last. (Six weeks? Six months? Six years?) The second group are those who only want to admit “Christian” refugees, as if Daesh terrorists – if they were really sneaking in with refugees – would never pose as Christians. In the third category are those candidates who want to stop accepting any and all Syrian refugees.


Republican frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson are squarely in the third category, with the former claiming specifically that allowing Syrian refugees into the United States is a way for terrorists to sneak into the country. Governors Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee and George Pataki, Senators Rick Santorum and Rand Paul, and the only female Republican candidate, Carly Fiorina, are also in the ‘No’ camp.


Senator Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada and is the son of a Cuban immigrant who did not become an American citizen until 2005, initiated the ‘Christians only’ club, later joined there by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush whose wife, Columba, is an immigrant from Mexico who became a US citizen in 1979. Meanwhile, Governor John Kasich, Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Lindsey Graham are all in the ‘pause’ group.


I should also note that opposition to admitting more Syrian refugees into the United States is by no means a universal sentiment among Republican Party conservatives. A number of evangelical Christian leaders have recently stood up and voiced their support for admitting refugees even if there may be some wolves in sheep’s clothing. The president of World Vision, Richard Stearns, said: “We want to protect ourselves from those who might hurt us. But Jesus asks us to love our neighbours regardless if there may be enemies among them.”


Since so many Republican candidates have decided they no longer want Syrian refugees, it’s worth remembering what Senator Lindsey Graham said earlier this year: “Turning away families fleeing violence is to take the Statue of Liberty and tear it down because we don’t mean it anymore.”



Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.

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