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OP-ED | Syrian Refugee Policy Exposes Rare Rift In State’s DC Delegation

by | Nov 27, 2015 5:30am
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Posted to: Analysis, Congress, Foreign Policy, Opinion, White House

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While I’m inclined to disagree with them on a range of issues, I’m glad to see Connecticut’s congressional delegation, along with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, has come down on the right side of the Syrian refugees crisis.

The nation’s governors in particular are in a tough spot. First of all, it’s doubtful whether states have any authority to block refugees from crossing state lines. Most legal scholars insist that immigration and refugee status are strictly matters of federal law. And even if they’re sincere in their desire not to accept the refugees, how would the 31 governors who have taken that position, including Massachussetts Gov. Charlie Baker, actually enforce it? Station state troopers at Logan Airport and at the hundreds of points of entry from neighboring states?

So Malloy isn’t sticking his neck out legally by stating emphatically that the Syrians would be welcome in Connecticut.

Nevertheless, he is taking at least a small political risk. If, after he assents to taking the refugees, even one of them is involved in an a serious attack, Malloy will have big problems. Not only will there be casualties to deal with, but his political career could be finished after his term as governor is up in 2018.

But that likelihood is pretty remote since it appears the fear of Syrian refugee involvement in terrorism is largely unfounded. As the New York Times helpfully pointed out last week, the screening process is extensive, involves 12 steps and typically takes two years or more to complete. If you’re a terrorist bent on killing people and blowing things up, why would you go through such a time-consuming exercise? As conservatives are fond of saying about gun control, criminals won’t obey the law anyway.

And there is very little evidence that refugees have been involved in terrorism against the United States and Europe. All 19 of the 9/11 hijackers, for example, were in the U.S. on either student, tourist, or business visas. Some had overstayed their visas but none were refugees. After an initial report last week that one of the Paris attackers had posed as a Syrian refugee, it now appears that all the attackers who have been identified are European Union nationals.

As for Connecticut’s all-Democratic congressional delegation, they’re open to taking more Syrian refugees, though there was a rare split last week among the the state’s five members of the House of Representatives on a Republican-led bill that would tighten restrictions on accepting refugees, not only from Syria but from Iraq as well.

Reps. Jim Himes, 4th District, and Joe Courtney, 2nd District, joined 45 other Democrats in passing the measure, which likely will be blocked by the Senate Democrats anyway, while Elizabeth Esty, 5th District, Rosa DeLauro, 3rd District, and John Larson, 1st District, voted against the measure.

In voting for the legislation, Courtney reasoned that the bill was not exclusionary but merely an attempt to “augment the existing process for screening refugees from Iraq and Syria entering the United States.” That didn’t matter to some of his erstwhile supporters who took to social media to denounce him. For his part, Himes cast the legislation as an attempt to “increase coordination between U.S. security agencies that are involved in screening Syrian and Iraqi refugees.”

It should be noted that the congressional districts Courtney and Himes represent are among the the last three in the state to be occupied by Republicans. Only the two congressmen can tell you whether that was a factor in deciding which way they voted, though to be fair, Himes is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and presumably has access to classified material not available to the rest of Connecticut’s congressional delegation.

One can only hope that cooler heads prevail in what is essentially a political battle over accepting refugees from Syria and Iraq. We are a nation of immigrants with a history of embracing the downtrodden and those seeking asylum. We have a right to be fearful of terrorism when admitting refugees but we should not give in to those fears, especially when the evidence shows our concerns are largely unfounded.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of

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