Obama On Calls To End Refugee Help: We Don’t Have Religious Tests To Our Compassion"

Photo: Susan Walsh/AP Photo.
President Obama spoke out against calls from U.S. governors and politicians to stop resettling Syrian refugees in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday. "Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values," Obama said in a speech at a G20 meeting in Antalya, Turkey. "Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both."

The United States has an extremely stringent screening process for all refugees, and people fleeing violence in the Middle East endure the toughest scrutiny of all. Of the 10,000 Syrians that Obama promised to accept in the next fiscal year, only a small fraction have actually been accepted.

The number of governors who have called for resettlement efforts to stop, either in their states or as a whole, has steadily grown, from Michigan and Alabama this weekend to more than a dozen by mid-afternoon on Monday. Governors actually have no control over refugee resettlements, so public opposition of this sort is an empty political gesture.

A few state leaders have said publicly that they have no objections to becoming a home to more Syrians. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee scolded his colleagues for their lack of compassion in a statement. “Washington will continue to be a state that welcomes those seeking refuge from persecution, regardless of where they come from or the religion they practice," his statement said.

Inslee's statement also included a basic civics lesson: “It’s important to note that governors do not decide whether refugees come to their states. Those decisions are made by the federal government, and the U.S. State Department has a robust system in place to evaluate and place families who seek refugee status.

“That makes these anti-refugee comments by governors even more troublesome and of little value except to divide people and foment intolerance,” he concluded.

In his remarks, Obama didn't shy away from pointing out the absurdity of politicians such as Ted Cruz — whose family history and immigrant backgrounds have been a large part of his political narrative — now standing up against extending that same help to others.

"And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who's fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that's shameful," Obama said.

"That's not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion."
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