As the international refugee crisis continues to escalate, Utahns would be wise to remember the history of their own state, which was initially settled by pioneers who were fleeing from religious persecution and seeking refuge in a distant land far from the homes they’d left behind. We therefore applaud Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s courageous decision to honor that legacy by expressing a willingness to allow Syrian refugees to settle in Utah, despite the fact that he is the only Republican governor in the country to do so.
Herbert’s position is opposed by 31 other governors and every member of the Utah congressional delegation, but many private and religious organizations are not waiting on recalcitrant elected officials to find ways to alleviate suffering. Here in Utah, groups like the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services are finding ways to support refugees.
All these good-faith efforts are starkly at odds with the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives, which voted to support legislation that would all but bar Syrian refugees from entering the United States. The rationale for this rejection is national security, and many elected officials are using this crisis to raise the specter of international terrorism in the wake of the deadly Paris attacks. The conventional wisdom is that allowing refugees in America would be an invitation to ISIS to smuggle potential assassins into the midst of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, recently claimed that 77 percent of all refugees are young men of fighting age, with the clear implication that the United States would be importing ISIS’ army by letting them past our borders.
Such fiery rhetoric may make for great politics, but it leads to terrible policy.
In the first place, Cruz and others are wildly overstating the number of young men in the refugee population. Sixty-two percent of all the refugees are male, not 77 percent, and that number includes men and boys of all ages, most of whom fall outside of the “fighting age” bracket. State Department data says that 67 percent of all refugees are women and children under 12.
That’s not to minimize the potential for abuse of the system, but rather to put it in its proper perspective. In addition, Herbert would require refugees to pass a security check before being resettled in Utah, and he believes it is possible to create a rigorous system that would screen out dangerous militants that would still be a far cry removed from the draconian measures that recently passed the House. Catholic Community Services is advocating a similar approach.
Security needs to be a primary concern, but it is not the only concern. In the face of such massive human suffering, it is essential that countries, states and individuals make every effort to reach out to human beings in need. We applaud Gov. Herbert and other brave groups and individuals for stepping up to the plate on this, and we encourage others to follow their example.