Americans always have welcomed those fleeing danger and oppression abroad. Some of the earliest Americans crossed the Atlantic to escape religious persecution in Great Britain.
We should continue to offer sanctuary to those in need. Christians, especially, should be compassionate to those who face death for their beliefs. But in today’s world we must be cautious as well. After all, the first responsibility of the government in Washington is to those who already are here. We can enjoy our liberties only when our lives are secure.
True horror has befallen the Syrian people. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, millions have been driven from their homes. After years of warfare they see little hope for the future. Our hearts should go out to them.
Most of those looking for a new home are who they claim to be. But maybe not all of them. Assessing would-be refugees is a major challenge facing Western governments. Never before have we seen a human migration so big, from an area of open war, where such a large number of combatants mean liberal societies ill—and commit terrorism against their enemies.
America has assimilated other human waves. But with the Vietnamese boat people, refugees from the Khmer Rouge’s Kampuchean hell, and Cubans and Haitians closer to home, there were no terrorist groups which could use American generosity to plant agents and plan attacks. Even in most Muslim nations there are governments and records which can be consulted about would-be emigrants.
But in the case of Syria there is nothing. Hundreds of thousands, indeed, millions of displaced people. Pervasive combat. No functioning government throughout much of the country. Buildings, agencies, and documents destroyed, officials killed or dispersed. There is nothing to check anyone’s story. That’s not the fault of refugees seeking sanctuary, of course. However, Washington must place the safety of the American people first.
Lest that seem harsh it is important to remember that most of the “refugees” seen in Europe actually are migrants. In fact, a number of them are not Syrians at all, but residents of other nations—often troubled, but not destroyed—taking advantage of the momentary opportunity to enter Europe. Moreover, many of the Syrians were living outside of Syria, safe but without economic opportunity. They were on the road seeking better job chances and social benefits. Indeed, roughly 70 percent of the Europe-bound “refugees” were young men, mostly going in search of work.
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Ken Blackwell, a contributing editor at Townhall.com, is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and the American Civil Rights Union and is on the board of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. He is the co-author of the bestseller The Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency, on sale in bookstores everywhere..