November 21, 2015


Our Betrayal of Syrian and Iraqi Refugees (GEORGE PACKER, 11/20/15, New Yorker)

This week, David Bowers, the Democratic mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, invoked the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War as justification for keeping out Iraqi and Syrian refugees. I wonder if the mayor (who later apologized to anyone he might have offended) would have paused for one second in his headlong rush to join the anti-refugee hysteria sweeping America if he'd known that, among the residents of his city, there's an Iraqi named Hayder. In 2003, Hayder was working as an interpreter for the 82nd Airborne Division, in Baghdad, when his convoy was ambushed by insurgents. Dragging an American sergeant out of the line of fire, Hayder was hit in both legs and nearly killed. He lost most of his right leg. Unable to work and in danger for his life, he fled Iraq with his wife and son to Jordan, where the family languished for years in deepening misery while getting nowhere in their efforts to get visas to the United States. Finally, in 2007, his case came to the attention of Kirk Johnson, an American refugee advocate, and the next year Hayder and his family were resettled in Roanoke. In 2013, he became a U.S. citizen.

Mayor Bowers hasn't tried to have the family interned, not yet anyway, though the logic of his statement could have led him there--for keeping Muslim refugees out doesn't solve the problem of the ones already here. (Donald Trump, tossing out answers that move beyond U.S. history to that of Nazi Germany, is talking about imposing mandatory registration on all Muslims in this country.) A bill that overwhelmingly passed the House on Thursday, by a vote of 289-137, with the support of fifty Democrats, would require the director of the F.B.I., the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the director of National Intelligence all to certify that each refugee applicant from Iraq or Syria poses no threat to the United States before being admitted. According to Betsy Fisher of the International Refugee Assistance Project, this group includes fifty-eight thousand Iraqis who have applied for resettlement through a program known as Direct Access, which was created by Congress for Iraqis who can show that they worked with the United States government or with American companies, non-profits, or media outlets. If it had the chance, the Islamic State would slaughter every one of them. The same goes for the many Yazidis applying for resettlement from Iraq--members of a religious minority who have been rounded up, enslaved, and murdered by ISIS. It's already very, very hard for people like them to get here. Iraqis and Syrians are probably the most heavily vetted refugees in the history of the world. If three top government officials are going to be required to put their names and reputations on every admission, the very, very hard will become just about impossible. The House is counting on political cowardice and bureaucratic indifference to advance the cause of irrationality and bigotry.

We've seen this kind of frenzied meanness during past crises, real or perceived. It hit the country in the form of the Palmer raids after the First World War, with the internment camps during the Second World War (Franklin Roosevelt's most shameful act), and in the McCarthyite politics of the nineteen-fifties. Such moments were made for Ted Cruz--this generation's Joe McCarthy. Not to be outdone by the House, on Thursday he introduced a bill in the Senate called the Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act. It would add refugees from Libya, Yemen, and Somalia to the Syrians and Iraqis on what is effectively a black list.

All the neocons who excoriate FDR for not taking in the SS St. Louis can now look in the mirror and see him.

Posted by at November 21, 2015 8:44 AM