Given that one terrorist may have arrived in France with a crush of migrants fleeing the war-torn Middle East, the attacks that claimed 129 lives in Paris intensified opposition to allowing Syrian refugees into the United States.
More than half of U.S. governors said they would refuse to accept Syrian refugees into their states after the ISIS-backed Paris attacks. Republican presidential candidates joined the chorus, citing safety concerns.
But President Barack Obama called for a balance of caution and compassion. He also denounced remarks from Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that the U.S. should only help Christian refugees as shameful and un-Amercan.
— The Hill (@thehill) November 16, 2015
“Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” he told reporters Monday. “Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) November 16, 2015
Immigration experts say states may have no legal right to reject refugees. Regardless, Gov. Jerry Brown as well as several Bay Area lawmakers agreed with the president that the U.S. should open its arms to people escaping the same violence that shook Paris.
“I intend to work closely with the president so that he can both uphold American’s traditional role as a place of asylum, but also ensure that anyone seeking refuge in America is fully vetted in a sophisticated and utterly reliable way,” Brown said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “You can be sure that we will do everything in our power to protect the people of our state."
The State Department already agreed to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year. Last year, of the 70,000 refugees admitted into the U.S., about 1,700 came from Syria. Fifty settled in Sacramento, another 50 in San Diego and 17 in Oakland, according to the State Department.
Months before the Paris attacks, the White House asked Silicon Valley coders to develop technologies to address the refugee crisis, which has displaced 12 million Syrians. Kickstarter, Twitter, Airbnb and Instacart responded with tools to raise money and find shelter for the millions of people escaping civil war in the largest migration to sweep Europe since WWII.
But the need continues to far outweigh the global response. Several Bay Area leaders have urged the nation to do more for refugees escaping a common enemy.
“As we learn more about the complexity and the extent of the attacks on Paris, this tragedy continues to send shockwaves through the world community,” Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) wrote on Facebook Tuesday. “I am hopeful that we will not allow our anger and outrage towards these terrorists and their cowardly attacks on civilians to turn us away from compassion and generosity. We need to find ways to help the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who are entering through our thorough screening and resettlement process now to find safe haven in the United States. As a world leader, we need to help these people escape from the brutal ISIL regime—they are fleeing the very perpetrators of these senseless acts of violence.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein agreed that the U.S. can protect its borders while helping those in need.
Read my statement on Syrian refugees. We can help those in need while still safeguarding our national security. https://t.co/fbRorsCHTJ
— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) November 16, 2015
Unlike many of her high-profile Republican colleagues, California’s GOP vice chair Harmeet Dhillon echoed the call for charity.
“Most refugees are people fleeing horrific violence, persecution and repression,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Many life in fear of their lives; a few are refugees of conscience. Most western nations have allowed a place for refugees who can prove their case.”
As an attorney, she said, she has refugees from India, Eritrea and Tibet.
“One of the reasons many are concerned is that we do not trust this government, which let an ambassador be murdered on U.S. soil, to protect us from Trojan horses and fake refugees,” she continued. “That is a reality. Let’s be careful, and smart and vigilant—but not lose our humanity, and not turn on our fellow human beings with hateful rhetoric by judging them guilty just because of where they came from seeking peace and safety.”
Santa Clara County has helped place some of the tens of thousands of migrant Latin American children who showed up unaccompanied at the U.S.-Mexico border last year. Local nonprofits joined county counsel in that effort. It remains to be seen whether county officials will make a similar effort for Syrian refugees.
The International Rescue Committee helped resettle refugees from all over the world in the U.S. To date, the nonprofit, which runs an office out of the South Bay, has settled dozens of Syrian families throughout Northern California, including in Turlock, Oakland, Sacramento and San Jose.