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“The Same Wrongheaded Justifications”: Republicans Introduce A Bill To Monitor Refugees Who Settle In New York

Last week, Republican New York state senator Terrence Murphy introduced a bill that would make it legal to register and monitor refugees entering the state. The move was opposed by refugee advocacy groups, who called the proposed legislation “heinous” and said that it only stigmatized refugees further.

The bill, S6253-2015, has been a long time in the making and is cosponsored by a variety of Republican and independent senators. In a post on the New York Senate’s website last December, Murphy wrote, “The provisions of the bill allow New York to create its own mechanism to properly vet and monitor individuals seeking asylum within the state’s borders while continuing necessary humanitarian efforts.” His bill was a criticism of the federal government’s current screening process, which was characterized as having insufficient screening measures, despite the Obama administration’s step-by-step breakdown of how Syrian refugees are granted asylum in the U.S.

Murphy’s bill calls for the homeland security and emergency agencies to make plans with refugee agencies to monitor refugees for either a year or until they are given permanent residency by American immigration authorities. The bill proposed “requiring refugee resettlement agencies to submit quarterly reports to the bureau of refugee and immigrant assistance and requiring such agencies to monitor refugees for a certain period of time.” This is in addition to the two years of background checks performed by the federal government before refugees can even set foot in the country.

But exploring the bill reveals the same wrongheaded justifications used by other Republican governors and politicians who have vowed to keep Syrian refugees out of the country since the Paris attacks in November. The attackers were almost entirely European citizens who slipped back into Europe undetected. Of those who made it into the country posing as refugees, they took advantage of the European Union’s mismanaged handling of the refugee crisis. That in itself is a huge difference between the attacks in Paris and the likelihood of a Paris-style attack in the U.S.: it’s simply not as geographically close to hotbeds of extremism.

Furthermore, if terrorists were dressing up as refugees and entering the U.S. to commit attacks, it would’ve happened already. This country has accepted 2 million refugees since 1990 and yet not a single terrorist attack has been attributed to any of them. Anti-immigrant groups, on the other hand, have carried out numerous terrorist attacks over the same period. The same applies in Europe, which took in over a million refugees last year and has suffered a single attack which involved refugees, though the vast majority of conspirators in Paris were European.

The New York Immigration Coalition responded critically to the proposed legislation. “In places like Rochester and Buffalo where larger refugee populations have been settled, we have seen these communities help grow the economies of these localities,” read the group’s statement. “The ‘special registration’ called upon by this bill does not “protect” anyone, but puts up more red tape and ostracizes refugees.”

The New York bill is not the only one under consideration by state legislatures. In South Carolina, a similar bill is being proposed, along with civil liabilities for sponsors of refugees from Syria, Sudan and Iran who end up committing a terrorist act. “If it is not illegal, it is at least un-American,” said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director at Council on American-Islamic Relations, to the AP. That law may face a legal challenge, though, because it discriminates against people of a specific national origin.

Meanwhile, New York’s own refugee registration law is being reviewed by the Senate Finance Committee, where if approved, it will go to the state legislature for a vote. State Democrats, whose leaders have already pledged support for Syrian refugees entering the state, are most likely to oppose it.

 

By: Saif Alnuweiri, The National Memo, March 21, 2016

March 22, 2016 Posted by | Immigrants, Syrian Refugees, Terrorists | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Plight Of Syrian Refugees Recalls Tale Of 2,000 Years Ago”: Bar The Gates, Exclude The Stranger, Ignore The Vulnerable

There is irony aplenty in this season, which is celebrated throughout Christendom because of the tale of a babe born in a troubled precinct in the Middle East a little more than 2,000 years ago. You know the story: A couple of modest means finds no accommodations, even as the woman is on the brink of giving birth. After the child is born, they are forced to flee the depredations of a murderous king.

As history rolls on, we find the Middle East once again in upheaval, roiled by murderous tyrants who have spurred families to seek sanctuary. Given the time of year, you’d think the plight of those families would be the preoccupation of the news cycle; you’d think accommodating them would be the pre-eminent call of preachers and politicians alike. After all, the ancient tale has been said to inspire reflection, charity and generosity.

But those sentiments seem in scant supply in these United States. Instead, we are awash in suspicion, waylaid by fear and anxiety, beset by bigotry. Many of the nation’s political leaders have insisted that we bar the gates, exclude the stranger, ignore the vulnerable.

While President Obama has called on the nation to take in more refugees from Syria — where the armies of President Bashar Assad and the self-proclaimed Islamic State represent dire threats to life and limb — 27 U.S. governors, more than half, would attempt to bar Syrian refugees from their states. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has famously said that he wouldn’t even take in orphans under the age of 5.

Indeed, the call to keep Syrian refugees out of the United States has captured a substantial number of voters; 56 percent oppose President Obama’s policy. And that refusal finds support across party lines: Eighty-one percent of Republicans, 59 percent of independents and 31 percent of Democrats, according to an NBC News survey.

The proximate cause of that hunker-down insularity is the threat of terrorist attacks, a danger brought home by the San Bernardino atrocity earlier this month, which left 14 people dead and 22 injured. But humans are notoriously bad at assessing risks. While 45 Americans have been killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11 (counting the Fort Hood shooting), far more have been killed since then in automobile accidents and non-terrorist-related gun violence.

Besides, as the brilliant novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson has written: “Contemporary America is full of fear. (But) fear is not a Christian habit of mind. … Those who forget God can be recognized in the fact that they make irrational responses to irrational fears. … There are always real dangers in the world, sufficient to their day. Fearfulness obscures the distinction between real threat on one hand and on the other the terrors that beset those who see threat everywhere.”

Terror is not everywhere, and its risks would not increase if we were to admit substantially more Syrian refugees. They are subjected to a vetting process that takes up to two years. Anyway, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the married couple who allegedly carried out the San Bernardino attack, had no ties to Syria that authorities have detected.

Meanwhile, millions of Syrians have been displaced by war. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Turkey has taken in 1.9 million, while Iraq, which is still beset by armed conflict, has taken in 250,000. More than 1 million Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, and more than 600,000 are in Jordan.

The far wealthier European nations are still wrangling over the numbers they will accept, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been steadfast in her welcoming tone; her country has taken in more than 98,000 Syrians and stands ready to accept as many as 500,000 refugees, including Syrians, per year for several years.

With that in mind, President Obama’s call for the United States to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year seems modest. And while providing sanctuary to some of the planet’s most vulnerable populations may not promote peace on Earth, it is certainly a small gesture of goodwill to all men.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, December 26, 2015

December 27, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Fearmongering, Jesus, Syrian Refugees | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hysteria About Refugees, But Blindness On Guns”: There’s An Unrelenting Average Of 92 Gun Deaths Every Day In America

For three weeks American politicians have been fulminating about the peril posed by Syrian refugees, even though in the last dozen years no refugee in America has killed a single person in a terror attack.

In the same three weeks as this hysteria about refugees, guns have claimed 2,000 lives in America. The terror attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs were the most dramatic, but there’s an unrelenting average of 92 gun deaths every day in America, including suicides, murders and accidents.

So if politicians want to tackle a threat, how about developing a serious policy to reduce gun deaths — yes, including counterterrorism measures, but not simply making scapegoats of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The caricatures of Syrian refugees as jihadis who “want to kill us,” as one reader named Josh tweeted me, are unrecognizable to anyone who spends time with these refugees. I think some of the harshness might melt if readers could stand with me on a beach here in Lesbos and meet the refugees as they arrive on overloaded rubber rafts after a perilous journey. The critics would see that Syrian refugees are people like us, only wet, cold, hungry and exhausted.

If you think me naïve, meet a 16-year-old Syrian boy here whom I’ll call Ahmed. He lived in a part of Syria controlled by the Islamic State and decided to flee to the West after, he says, he was flogged by ISIS bullies.

Ahmed had to leave his family behind, and he can’t contact them directly for fear of getting them in trouble. I’m not sharing his real name or hometown, to avoid harming his family, but his relatives who have also fled confirmed his account.

Schools have been suspended since ISIS moved into the area, so Ahmed found a job in a pharmacy. When he ran out of a medicine one day, he went to borrow some from another pharmacy — but that was run by a woman, allowed to serve female customers only. Ahmed was arrested.

“They wanted to chop my head off because I spoke to a woman,” Ahmed explained.

Eventually, he was released, but Ahmed has seen more beheadings then he can count. The executions take place every Friday in the town square, and all the people are summoned to watch the swordsman do his work. The bodies are left on public display, sometime in a crucifixion position.

“If someone didn’t fast during Ramadan, they put him in a cage in public to starve for up to three days,” Ahmed added. Ahmed himself was accused of skipping prayers and sentenced to 20 lashes. A Saudi man administered the flogging with a horsewhip.

After that, Ahmed’s family members gave their blessing to his flight because they feared that he might be forced into the ISIS army.

So what should I tell this 16-year-old boy who risked his life to flee extremism? That many Americans are now afraid of him? That the San Bernardino murders may only add to the suspicion of Syrian refugees? That in an election year, politicians pander and magnify voter fears?

Here in Lesbos, the fears seem way overdrawn. Some of the first aid workers Syrian refugees meet when they land on the beach are Israeli doctors, working for an Israeli medical organization called IsraAID. The refugees say they are surprised, but also kind of delighted.

“We were happy to see them,” said Tamara, a 20-year-old Syrian woman in jeans with makeup and uncovered hair. The presence of Jews, Muslims and Christians side by side fit with the tolerance and moderation that she craved.

The Republicans are throwing mud against the wall, hoping that enough of it will stick to take the focus off of the common denominator in…

Iris Adler, an Israeli doctor volunteering with IsraAID, said the refugees were often excited to receive assistance from Israelis. “We are still in close touch with many of them,” she said, including a mother whose baby she delivered on the beach after landing. Hostility to Israeli aid workers, she said, came not from refugees but, rather, from some European volunteers.

Historically, we Americans have repeatedly misperceived outsiders as threats. In 1938 and again in 1941, one desperate Jewish family in Europe tried to gain refugee status in the United States but failed, along with countless thousands of others. That was Anne Frank’s family.

So while it was the Nazis who murdered Anne, we Americans were in some sense complicit.

“We’re facing a great threat from Islamic extremists like ISIS, and we need to be smart about how we confront it,” said Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, who has focused on refugees. “By humiliating and rejecting those who are fleeing from ISIS, we create a sense of anger in much of the Middle East. The ultimate outcome of rejecting Syrian refugees is a propaganda victory for ISIS.”

If politicians want to tackle a threat to our safety, they might cast an eye not far off on desperate refugees but closer to home — on potential terrorists and also on guns. It’s absurd that the Senate refused to block people on the terror watch list from buying guns; suspected terrorists can’t easily board planes but can buy assault rifles? Presidential candidates and governors should stop fear-mongering about refugees: After all, 785,000 refugees have been admitted to the United States since 9/11 and not one has been convicted of killing a person in a terrorist act in America.

“We, too, are human, and we have a right to live,” an 18-year-old woman named Rahaf, who wants to be a lawyer, told me on a drizzly day in a camp here. “We’re not terrorists. We’re running away from war. I just want to have children who can grow up in peace.”

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 5, 2015

December 6, 2015 Posted by | Gun Deaths, Syrian Refugees, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Making Ridiculous Claims On Purpose”: Huckabee: Obama May Want People ‘To Memorize Koran Verses’

When it comes to right-wing rejection of Syrian refugees, Mike Huckabee was ahead of the curve. Back in September, when most policymakers were debating how many – not if – the United States would welcome fleeing families, Huckabee asked, “Are they really escaping tyranny, are they escaping poverty, or are they really just coming because we’ve got cable TV?”

After the terrorist violence in Paris, the former Arkansas governor’s posture took an even uglier turn. After Huckabee used the attacks as a rationale for scrapping the Iran nuclear deal – he didn’t seem to realize ISIS and Iran are bitter enemies – he went on to say refugees should “end up in the neighborhood where the limousine liberal lives” or perhaps the “dorm rooms” at the University of Missouri.

This week, however, Huckabee is shifting his focus, directing his ire away from the refugees and towards the president trying to show leadership on the issue. Politico reported:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee charged Monday that President Barack Obama’s “new domestic terrorism plan probably requires Americans to memorize Koran verses.”

That line – which has no basis in fact – came in a new op-ed the 2016 Republican presidential candidate penned for FoxNews.com.

“Why does the Obama administration express more outrage at conservatives than at radical Islamic terrorists? President Obama seems more interested in protecting the reputation of Islam than protecting the American people,” Huckabee wrote.

The Republican added that the refugees would be “unchecked” and “unscreened,” which is a brazen lie.

Note, the fact that this was written is no small detail. It’s easy to say stupid things on the fly, without giving the comments forethought, but when a national candidate writes ridiculous arguments in a published piece, it reinforces the deliberate nature of the absurdity.

In other words, Huckabee didn’t just blurt out nonsense in an interview, failing to think his argument through; he went to the trouble of thinking about it, writing it down, and making ridiculous claims on purpose.

We talked briefly about this yesterday, but I think the larger point isn’t that Huckabee has the capacity to be an offensive buffoon. We already knew that. The broader concern is that much of the political establishment likes to think of Huckabee as a charming, avuncular guy who’s easily to admire.

It’s past time for pundits to reassess those assumptions. Huckabee isn’t just some conservative political personality – he’s an anti-gay attack dog, someone who embraces racially charged conspiracy theories, and a snake-oil salesman with a record of over-the-top vitriol.

His Fox News op-ed is a reminder that the Beltway pundits who tell the public that Huckabee is a great guy apparently don’t know what they’re talking about.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 25, 2015

November 29, 2015 Posted by | Mike Huckabee, Racism, Syrian Refugees | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Week Of GOP Cowardice And Bigotry”: In Time Of Crisis, Too Many Politicians Feed Fear And Scapegoating”:

In the somber days since ISIS terrorists killed 130 people in coordinated attacks on Paris, elected leaders from around the world have been searching for solutions. But far too many American politicians have fallen back, instead, on that old standby in times of crisis: Stirring up fear and finding someone, anyone, to scapegoat, no matter how unconnected the scapegoated person is with the problem at hand.

Sadly, in Congress that took the form of a House vote to in essence stop the U.S. resettlement of refugees from Iraq and Syria by imposing nearly impossible bureaucratic requirements on what is already the toughest vetting system for anyone seeking entry into the U.S. This bill was scapegoating in its purest form, framing as terrorists people who are fleeing the very violence that this bill was supposedly trying to prevent.

The House vote — in which 47 Democrats joined nearly every Republican — was the culmination of a week of cowardice and bigotry sweeping the political landscape.

There was the Missouri state legislator who urged his governor to watch out for “all flavors” of Muslims and the mayor of Roanoke who invoked the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as a positive model for how to treat American Muslims.

And there were the 31 governors who declared that their states would turn away Syrian refugees who go through the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

Not wanting to miss out on the action, of course, Republican presidential candidates have been tripping over themselves to outdo one another. Donald Trump has speculated that refugees from Syria “could be one of the great Trojan horses.” Mike Huckabee, in what can’t even be described as a dog-whistle, has told Americans to “wake up and smell the falafel” when it comes to Syrian refugees. Chris Christie said he’d get tough on Syrian orphans. Ted Cruz has suggested that the U.S. only admit Christian refugees from Syria, although how he plans on testing people’s religious faith is unclear. Jeb Bush has hinted at the same thing, saying he would back refugees who can “prove” that they’re Christian, which shows what this is all about. If you have a system that’s strong enough to “prove” someone’s true religion, don’t you think it could also properly vet people for national security purposes? Jeb Bush was supposed to be the mature establishment candidate. So much for that.

These politicians are feeding what a new Public Religion Research Institute poll reports is an “increased xenophobic streak in the American public.” It’s no coincidence that threats against American Muslims have been reported across the country in the days since the Paris attacks.

It is of course reasonable to ask that refugees be vetted — they already are — but if security were the real issue, our current debate wouldn’t be about refugees at all. In fact, if someone were intent on sneaking into America to cause harm, exploiting the refugee resettlement program with its intensive and lengthy screening processes would be the hardest way to do it. No, what is behind the anti-refugee campaign of the Right is not reasonable concerns about security, but something much uglier.

The candidates who are now spewing cynical anti-refugee rhetoric are often the same ones who claim that their opponents don’t believe in “American exceptionalism,” and the movement so willing to embrace explicit anti-Muslim bigotry is the same one constantly telling us that religious freedom is under attack. They seem to have forgotten the vibrant pluralism and commitment to shared values that make us exceptional, and a beacon of freedom to the persecuted, in the first place. Looking back on the history of our country, our best days have been when we opened ourselves to people facing persecution, not the times we turned them away and demonized them. Let’s not let this become the American Way.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Blog, The Huffington Post, November 24, 2015

November 27, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Bigotry, House Republicans, Syrian Refugees | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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