Anti-Refugee Stance Matches Bigoted 1939 Response To Jewish Refugees

by
Priyanka Prasad
States are responding in an unforgiving manner to what happened in Paris.

us states refusing syrian refugees

More than 27 U.S. governors (26 of those, Republicans) have declared that they oppose admitting any Syrian refugees into their states in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris.  

Legally, the federal government possesses ultimate authority concerning permitting more refugees into the U.S., and from the speech President Obama recently gave regarding the issue, it appears as though we will continue to admit the allotted 10,000 refugees, though with more extensive background checks. However, this hasn’t stopped state governors from voicing their discontent.

The concern over refugees has escalated in the aftermath of the Paris attacks—widespread fear has disseminated that the terrorists will disguise themselves as refugees and infiltrate Western countries, increasing the likelihood of an attack on our soil. This fear has been perpetuated through misinformation; a Syrian passport was purportedly found next to the body of one of the Paris attackers, but investigators are still confirming its authenticity.

This has not stopped GOP leadership from responding prematurely. In defense of their anti-refugee sentiments, governors of Louisiana, Florida, and Texas all decisively claimed that a Syrian refugee was a member of the attacks. 

While the government does have final say on the refugee admission, if states refuse to comply, it can make the situation quite difficult, according to American University law professor Stephen I. Vladeck. Vladeck asserts that without state-supported refugee resettlement funding and cooperation, refugees would suffer.

It is interesting and worthwhile to compare this current situation to public sentiment during the beginnings of World War II—61 percent of Americans wanted to deny admission for Jewish refugees in 1939. This number was even higher in a poll of college students: 68.8 percent opposed admission.

refugee chart, Jewish Refugees

refugee chart, Jewish refugees on the eve of World War II

Today, according to a Reuters poll taken over the weekend, while 52 percent of Americans think nations which accept refugees are less safe, only 41 percent said countries should stop accepting refugees because of the threat of terrorism.

It is important to remember the refugees are fleeing the same terrorism that the U.S. is attempting to eradicate. The tides have shifted to a more united and empathetic society, and our leadership should reflect this. 

Banner Image Credit: Twitter, @Esquire

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