Opposite sides in America’s polarizing debate over accepting refugees from Syria offer two seemingly irreconcilable positions. The various governors, including New Jersey’s own, who want to block America from accepting refugees from the war-torn country invoke security, doubting America has the means to prevent ISIS-directed terrorists from sneaking in with the huddled masses. Many supporters of accepting the refugees point to the Jewish experience during the Holocaust, when America failed in its duty to save those fleeing Nazi persecution, to urge a swift solution to the humanitarian crisis.
In truth, the debate need not be this polarized, and in a less partisan atmosphere would not be. There is always a risk in accepting visitors or residents from abroad, whether they are tourists coming in on short-term visas or those staying for the long term under the federal refugee resettlement program. That risk has been exaggerated by opponents of the White House resettlement plan, which in fact already has a vigorous protocol for screening the new arrivals. The New York Times recently outlined the 20 steps in the two-year process for screening refugees; along the way, refugees must be vetted by security officials of the United Nations, State Department contractors, immigration officials, and Homeland Security, before a penultimate multi-agency security check.
That doesn’t mean the process can’t be improved or scrutinized for gaps. The Orthodox Union, among others, has risen above the polarizing debate to offer a statement that preserves America’s responsibilities to those in need in the face of the “determination of terrorists to exploit the refugee crisis.” It calls for action on behalf of the “families, women, and children who are running for their lives,” while calling on the administration and Congress to review the screening process for refugees, tourists, and students and strengthen them where appropriate. “While security concerns must be paramount, our focus as a nation should be on ‘getting to yes,’” the OU’s leaders write. “America has both the creativity and compassion to successfully address the competing considerations, and we urge our political leaders to work toward achieving this delicate balance.”
Certainly we can, and should, get to yes. If we pretend that the system is perfect, we are fooling ourselves, but if we surrender and say no system can be good enough, then we are sacrificing our values to our fears.