Response to terror must be rational

To the Editor:

While, like most citizens of the civilized world, I am appalled by the recent terrorist events in Lebanon, Paris, Mali and Egypt, I felt compelled to write as I am also concerned by the response of many political leaders in our country who moved to quickly and automatically restrict any refugees from Syria from entering the United States.

I certainly believe that a rational response to these events is to examine and review the current policies relating to the vetting of refugees, and to improve those policies if gaps are found to exist, but it appears that many politicians (Republicans and Democrats alike) responded by looking for what would be the politically advantageous stance to take. Shame on our House of Representatives, especially the new Speaker of the House, who promised hearings and decisions based on fact rather than political advantage, who voted to essentially stop refugee resettlement by requiring signed statements for each refugee from government leaders that there would be no risk. Shame on governors who reacted before knowing current policies relating to refugees, and shame on the Republican presidential candidates who each tried to appear the toughest candidate. No facts, discussion, just politicians playing to the fears of people in the country. I know many Americans want to live in a ‘risk free world’ which is impossible, but to have politicians use that fear for advantage is disheartening.

The voices trying to provide information about the refugee vetting process were drowned out by all of the above. No one let people know that refugees coming to the U.S. come from refugee camps, are investigated by the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency), that the process can take 18-24-plus months, biometric data is taken on all refugees, the majority of refugees are women and children, refugees do not know what country they will end up in even if they are accepted and that the U.S. can refuse any refugee if they feel there is any question on their background evaluation or potential risk. I would think ISIS has other, easier ways to get terrorists into our country than devoting 2-plus years to maybe have someone accepted as a refugee. If ISIS wanted to use this program to infiltrate our country they would be taking the hardest route. Millions of people, students on visas and travelers from Europe enter our country, many without the need for visas or any type of serious security review yearly and by the way, almost all of the terrorists involved in the Paris bombing were from Europe, not refugees. I think rational politicians need to look at these areas of risk before they rant about the risk of refugees.

It appears that the anti-immigrant or Nativism movement is alive and well in our country. I thought the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s was long gone from our political arena, but it seems that it has been renewed by some politicians seeking easy answers to complex questions and to those who know how to use the politics of hate and scapegoating to advance their own agenda. This country has always been a beacon to the world for the less fortunate and those in need. It is a sad statement that we are willing to forget our own family’s histories and shut out those who are now in need. If we proceed with these restrictive policies, shame on all of us.

Richard B. Friedman, MD