Ken Hare In Depth: Refugee issue should not be seen as either-or

Ken Hare In Depth: Refugee issue should not be seen as either-or

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - When Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley declared that no Syrian refugees would be accepted in the state, opponents raised the questions of whether he has the legal authority to make that happen. Without bogging this column down with the legal niceties, I believe the answer is: Probably not.

But perhaps the question misses the point anyway. Simply by objecting so strenuously to Syrian refugees coming to Alabama, Bentley and other similarly minded governors may have made it unlikely that any of the 10,000 Syrian refugees that the president has said the nation will accept in 2016 will be relocated to their states.

That's because federal agencies that oversee refugee relocations want the refugees to succeed, and putting them in states where state and local authorities will not help them succeed -- and perhaps even work to ensure they don't succeed -- would be counterproductive.

Bentley's legal argument is that relocating refugees here would be a "natural disaster" and that as governor, he has full authority to respond to natural disasters. That seems to me as likely to be seen by courts as spurious at best, and perhaps even downright silly. If he could stretch the definition of natural disaster that far, he could stretch it to cover almost anything.

But even if Syrian refugees are not relocated to Alabama, it does not guarantee the state would be free of risk if a terrorist gained access to the United States by posing as a refugee. Once in the United States, such a would-be terrorist could easily travel from state to state.

However, all the debate over legal authority of objecting states really sidesteps the central issue: Should the United States extend the same welcome to 10,000 Syrian refugees from ISIS violence that it extends to as many as 80,000 other refugees from around the world each year?

The debate over that question has stirred passions on both sides of the debate, and the heat of those passions has sometimes melted away logic and even compassion.

On one side, agreeing with Bentley, are those who would flatly reject Syrian refugees, saying they cannot be properly vetted and that accepting any would be an invitation to disaster. On the other side are those who pooh-pooh security concerns and even accuse opponents of cowardice.
Such extremes in the debate, it would seem to me, are not helpful. It leads to such idiocy as some Americans threatening to move to Canada if Syrians come to their communities -- ignoring the fact that Canada plans to take even more Syrian refugees than the United States or the irony that they in effect would become refugees themselves.

On the other side of the coin, those who deny that there are any dangers from accepting refugees -- Syrians or otherwise -- border on the naive.
I believe that the debate does not have to be either-or. I wish that the passions would subside somewhat and logic would hold more sway in the discussion, so that both sides could find some common ground.

If that happened, perhaps the Obama administration could acknowledge the concerns of more than half of the governors and many in Congress and beef up the vetting process to decrease the possibility -- however small -- that terrorists could enter the United State by posing as refugees.

But once steps are taken to review and beef up security processes, I would hope that Syrian refugees could be added to the 80,000 or so refugees already accepted into the United States each year. It should be noted that many of those refugees already being accepted come from Middle East nations, including Afghanistan,  Iraq and Iran.

The United States is, to a very great degree, a nation of refugees. It would be foolish not to have reasonable limits on accepting refugees, and prudent to have stringent vetting processes. But it would be heartless to close our borders to Syrian refugees completely, and fly in the face of both religious values and the core values of our nation.

Ken Hare is a longtime newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for Feedback appreciated at

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