Refugees deserve safe haven

Governor Scott Walker said he will not support the settling of Syrian refugees in Wisconsin, adhering to the sentiments of about half of the governors in the country, most of whom are Republican. His announcement Monday came less than a week after terrorist attacks in Paris killed 129 civilians and injured hundreds more. French officials said the attacks were carried out by three teams of coordinated assailants. One of the unidentified attackers was found dead near a Syrian passport which has been determined fake by French authorities. This correlation is being used to rationalize the staunch anti-refugee rhetoric that Walker and least 28 other governors stand behind. The nature of Walker’s statement can be attributed to his fear that Syrian refugees could potentially have connections to terror group ISIS, which some speculate is responsible for the attacks. The position that Walker and many other U.S. governors have taken against President Obama’s decision to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year is shortsighted and unjustified. “In consultation with our Adjutant General, who also serves as my Homeland Security Advisor, it is clear that the influx of Syrian refugees poses a threat,” Walker said. “With this in mind, I am calling upon the President to immediately suspend the program pending a full review of its security and acceptance procedures.” Walker’s unfounded notion that Syrian refugees will not be properly vetted simply mimics the stance of other Republican governors who claim to be protecting their citizens. The lack of critical analysis on the part of these governors appeals to a large portion of their supporters who often favor knee-jerk reactions over nuanced evaluations. By simplifying the problem, and essentially labeling millions of Syrian refugees as potential terrorists, Walker will only exacerbate the confusion and fear that many associate with the crisis. Republicans who oppose allowing in Syrian refugees frequently point to an Oct. 21 statement from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. “It is true that we are not going to know a whole lot about a lot of the Syrians that come forth in this process, just given the nature of the situation,” Johnson said. Even though Johnson insisted the U.S. would be cautious and observant in the admittance of refugees, some Republicans are citing this statement and others like it as substantial evidence to bar refugees from entering the country. Contrary to Walker’s assumptions, the process for admitting Syrian refugees is a thorough and arduous one. Applicants are screened by multiple federal agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, State Department, Department of Defense and The Department of Homeland Security. Several background checks are performed analyzing the refugees biometrics and past associations. Refugees are also subject to many interviews in which they must recount specific details of their persecution as well as their personal history. In its entirety, this process can take anywhere from 18 months to two years and since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, the U.S. has admitted only 2,200 refugees, the majority arriving within the last year. In comparison, during the peak of the Vietnam War, the U.S. took in about 200,000 refugees each year. UWO political science professor and Ukrainian refugee Michael Jasinski said he does not think incoming Syrian refugees pose a threat to U.S. citizens. “From what I’ve heard and from what I’ve experienced [U.S. immigration officials] ask you about every last aspect of your life,” Jasinski said. Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner recently referred to the practice as, “the most stringent security process for anyone entering the United States.” The U.S. and in turn Wisconsin should feel a certain humanitarian obligation to accept Syrians fleeing their war-torn country, which has become a quagmire of geopolitical conflict within recent years. When the civil war began, the forces within the conflict were for the most part discernible. The country was divided soon after President Bashar al-Assad ordered troops to fire upon a large group of Arab Spring protesters in 2011. A rebel force calling themselves the Free Syrian Army was formed from opponents of al-Assad including several defectors from his own army. ISIS is an extremist offshoot created by internal conflict within the FSA. Since then, several other factions and countries have gotten involved in the conflict, including the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Iran and several of the Gulf States. These foreign backers all have different goals and strategies, muddling the struggle and their relationships with each other. Because of shifting motives, alliances and battle lines, the conflict is incredibly difficult to understand making the situation Syrian citizens face even more impossible. More than seven million have been displaced since the civil war began, forcing them either to flee their homeland or risk joining one of the several militant factions ripping it apart. The possibility that one of the Paris attackers hailed from Syria does not serve as an adequate argument to condemn thousands of innocent refugees who continue to suffer the consequences of a war they want no part in. All of the attackers that have been identified so far have turned out to be European Union nationals, many from France itself, suggesting domestic threats may be more of a problem than foreign ones. Nonetheless Walker doubled down on his position Tuesday by sending a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. “Our state will not facilitate the coordination or provision of benefits or services for individuals whose presence could pose a potential risk to our people,” Walker wrote. By its own request to the The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.S. will primarily be offering settlement to women and children. Only two percent of the refugees are single males old enough for combat. While Walker or any other governor cannot legally keep refugees from entering his or her State, it’s possible to make life more difficult for the incoming Syrians by altering or defunding programs designed to aid them. “Obviously [Walker] doesn’t understand [the crisis],” Jasinski said. “He was a presidential candidate for a while. Nothing that he’s done on the campaign trail tells me that he knows much about international politics. It’s simply a political point as far as I’m concerned. This is a par for the course.” By toeing the party line, Walker will continue to instill his special brand of ignorance in Wisconsin communities. It is important not to mistake his reckless statements about refugees for a reasonable position. His decision to refuse safe haven to those suffering the most is irrational and frankly, un-American. “The New Colossus” a sonnet engraved in bronze at the base of the Statue of Liberty, France’s emblematic gift, serves as a reminder of the ideals that many seem to have forgotten. “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-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”