Refugees, Religion, and the Right

November 25, 2015

The Syrian refugee crisis has devolved from a question of how we can protect the persecuted to whether refugees should be allowed to resettle in America at all. Calls for religious tests and complete holds on refugee applications are ubiquitous.

Let’s examine what is happening in Washington.

House of Representatives

The House recently had a hearing on the refugee crisis. Republican committee members grilled administration officials and civil society leaders on whether the nation’s refugee processing system adequately secured the nation from ISIS infiltrators. The suspicion on the right was punctuated with Rep. Steve King (R-IA04) asking Have you ever seen a suicidal terrorist that was not a Muslim?”. Luckily, Rep King, who stated just last month he’d never seen a Muslim integrate into society, was refuted in a spirited response by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL04), who reminded the crowd that the same discrimination had been pointed toward other minorities in the past while urging us not to make that same mistake.

In the end, the Republicans’ opposition prevailed, with the House voting 289-137 to halt refugees from entering and imposing tighter security measures. The Republicans rode on the public’s heightened fear after the Paris attacks.

US Senate

The fate of the bill in the Senate is not so clear. Some Republicans, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), are confident that they can get enough Democrats to ride the momentum of the House’s anti-refugee stance. However, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has all but guaranteed it will not pass the Senate. In addition, Democrats are hopeful that since the vote will be in December, that will give them more chance to kill the bill as the media coverage should be less focused on the issue by then.

 White House

The White House has vigorously defended the security checks that are currently in place for incoming refugees. President Obama has ridiculed those who are “scared of widows and orphans.”  With aggressive comments like this, the Administration is not only making it clear that it has no plan on backing down on this issue, but it is framing the right as unreasonable in this national debate.

The Office of Public Engagement has also gone on the offensive, interacting with interfaith, humanitarian, and immigration groups, and unveiling a campaign page to help debunk myths about refugee resettlement. On the policy front, President Obama has promised to veto the legislation should it pass the Senate.


The Syrian refugee crisis has been dominating the news along with (and as a result of) the Paris attacks. However, the issue has brought to light many other issues that are now being covered. Presidential candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee have all made negative comments about Muslims, which stemmed from the refugee crisis.

Though there has been open and harsh rhetoric on Muslims, we have seen a positive response from politicians and other public figures. The refugee topic has given birth to a healthy debate in the media on the treatment of those who come to our shores, Islamophobia, and the role of Muslims in America. Glenn Greenwald even critiqued CNN’s coverage of the Paris attack, accusing the network of being allowed to “demonize Muslims”. This type of rigorous debate is healthy and needed.

 Going Forward

It is easy for us to pay lip service to America as the beacon of freedom. To be such an example to the rest of the world, yet not allow the world’s tired and poor to reach that freedom, makes our values mere slogans as opposed to truth. The home of the brave must not be scared to hold on to its principles, most especially during the times it is easiest to let them go.



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