Op-ed: Why My State Won’t Close Its Doors to Syrian Refugees

November 21, 2015

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Op-ed in The New York Times: Why My State Won’t Close Its Doors to Syrian Refugees

Over the last week, a growing number of governors, representatives, senators and presidential candidates have demanded that America slam shut our borders to refugees who are fleeing unspeakable horrors at the hands of the Islamic State. On Thursday the House passed a bill containing impossibly onerous vetting procedures for new refugees from Syria.

The American character is being tested. Will we hew to our long tradition of being a beacon of hope for those chased from their homelands?

I have always believed that the United States is a place of refuge for those escaping persecution, starvation or other horrors that thankfully most in America will never experience.

First, we need to put the numbers in perspective. In the case of Syrian refugees, the United States has agreed to accept about 5 percent of those fleeing the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. They will be allowed in our country only after the federal government conducts a robust and rigorous screening process. The numbers arriving in any one state are small: From Oct. 1, 2014, to Sept. 30, 2015, 25 Syrian refugees settled in Washington State.

Nevertheless, many of my fellow governors have been quick and loud in proclaiming their states off limits to Syrian refugees — even though governors lack authority to close state borders to refugees. They spoke before knowing what the review process entailed, and in some cases punctuated their comments with divisive and misguided rhetoric that appeared to saddle all Syrians with the crimes of the Islamic State.

The House bill, which President Obama has said he will veto, would essentially halt the resettlement of refugees fleeing Syria. That’s a mistake driven by fear, not sound policy making. It doesn’t offer meaningful improvement to what is already a rigorous screening process, but would effectively close our borders to the victims of the Islamic State.

I have called for a different approach. I told Washingtonians that I wouldn’t join those who wanted to demonize people because of the country they flee or the religion they practice. I will uphold our reputation as a place that embraces compassion and equality and eschews fear-mongering.

Read the full op-ed here.

Media Contact 

Tara Lee
Governor Inslee’s Communications Office
360.902.4136