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Charlie Baker's Wrong-Headed Reasoning About Syrian Refugees

Eileen McNamara: "If they are not the embodiment of the promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty, who exactly are the 'huddled masses yearning to breathe free' that Emma Lazarus described?" In this photo, a Syrian man kisses his daughter shortly after disembarking from a dinghy at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. (Santi Palacios/AP)
Eileen McNamara: "If they are not the embodiment of the promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty, who exactly are the 'huddled masses yearning to breathe free' that Emma Lazarus described?" In this photo, a Syrian man kisses his daughter shortly after disembarking from a dinghy at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. (Santi Palacios/AP)
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The suspected mastermind of the terrorist rampage in Paris is Belgian. Most of the eight attackers were French. So it only makes sense that Gov. Charlie Baker would want to close the borders of Massachusetts to Syrian refugees.

The fact that one of the terrorists is thought to have entered Europe through Greece on a Syrian passport last month with the flood of refugees from that war-torn nation should not be a pretext for denying asylum to vulnerable, displaced Syrians. If they are not the embodiment of the promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty, who exactly are the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” that Emma Lazarus described?

Advocating a blanket ban on accepting Syrian refugees is political posturing at its most venal...

Baker’s is an illogical and inhumane response to the attacks in Paris that left at least 129 people dead and 350 others injured. The Syrians pouring into Europe are trying to escape the very barbarism that engulfed Paris, violence that on Friday night was perpetrated in large measure by European nationals, not foreign terrorists.

“I would say no as of right now. No, I’m not interested in accepting refugees from Syria,” Baker said yesterday. “My view on this is the safety and security of the people of the Commonwealth of Mass. is my highest priority.”

No one would suggest that it shouldn’t be. Of course, precautions are necessary to detect those bent on mayhem who might hide among the throng of humanity fleeing Syria. The attacks in Paris underscore the need for the world, and not Europe alone, to adopt a coherent resettlement policy for those fleeing both the scourge of ISIS and the bombs of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

On Monday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, pictured in July 2015, said any conversation about accepting Syrian refugees "has to start with whatever process the federal government is going to put in place, to vet people through that process." (Jesse Costa/WBUR File Photo)
On Monday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, pictured in July 2015, said any conversation about accepting Syrian refugees "has to start with whatever process the federal government is going to put in place, to vet people through that process." (Jesse Costa/WBUR File Photo)

As Baker well knows, it the U.S. State Department, not individual states, which grant asylum to refugees after those applicants have been vetted and screened by the Department of Homeland Security. It is unlikely that he and the nearly two dozen other governors promising to close their borders to desperate Syrian families have the authority to make good on that threat.

Advocating a blanket ban on accepting Syrian refugees is political posturing at its most venal, especially since the United States has committed to taking a paltry 10,000 of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians in search of asylum this year. A New York Times analysis found that of the 4 million Syrians who have fled their country, only 1,854 have been admitted to the U.S. since 2012. By comparison, Germany had given refuge to 92,991 by last September, and more are coming each week.

Our overblown security fears do not trump their urgent humanitarian needs. Failing to meet those needs, trapping asylum seekers indefinitely in refugee camps will create exactly the conditions that fuel anger toward the West and incubate fresh recruits for the so-called Islamic State.

Our overblown security fears do not trump their urgent humanitarian needs.

His short-sighted decision aligns Baker with Republican governors from Alabama to Maine and from Texas to Wisconsin who have also vowed to bar the doors to Syrian refugees. Shamefully, Democratic New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan has cast her lot with those who would rather stoke panic than be part of the solution to a refugee crisis that threatens to overwhelm Europe. Not a promising beginning to her campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte next fall.

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont rightly accused those governors of “stomping” on American values. “It’s the spirit of all Vermonters,” he said, “to ensure that when you have folks who are drowning, who are dying in pursuit of freedom, that Vermont does its part.”

So should Massachusetts.

Related:

Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
A Pulitzer Prize-winning former columnist for The Boston Globe, Eileen McNamara is the author of "Eunice, The Kennedy Who Changed the World."

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