In 1939, four months before World War II began, the MS St. Louis, a German ship carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees fleeing persecution by the Hitler regime, was turned away in Florida. At the time, U.S. immigration law set firm caps on the number of people who could enter from specific European countries. No humanitarian exceptions were made for these refugees. The ship’s passengers were forced to return to Europe, where 254 of them are estimated to have died in the Holocaust.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho, like its U.S. Department of Justice colleagues and federal law enforcement partners throughout the nation, is committed to fighting terrorism and rooting out those who would engage in violent acts inspired by extremist ideology, including Islamic State. The challenge we face is daunting and it is worldwide, and we must strive to effectively keep acts of violent extremism from our shores. We know that this challenge is constant and demands our very best work. However, the threat, and our fight against it, is with radicalization and violent extremism, wherever that may be found, not with the refugee community. Trying to link the two isn’t the solution to the problem.
Working through our FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), we in Idaho demonstrated our ability to do get the job done and to do the job right in the recent successful investigation and prosecution of Uzbek national Fazliddin Kurbanov. Kurbanov was thoroughly investigated and arrested before he could complete a terrorist act. Our investigative tools, many requiring judicial oversight and approval, worked well. With our state and local partners’ commitment to work with the JTTF, and with the cooperation of the Idaho State Department of Homeland Security, our ability to protect Idahoans is strong. We are resolute in our commitment to continue to investigate and prosecute those who seek to harm this country, and to do it before any harm can be done.
Kurbanov came to the United States, along with other family members, as a refugee. Evidence presented at his trial showed that his criminal activity, his attempts and his communication with a known terrorist organization overseas began only after he had been in the United States for some time. Kurbanov’s actions were his own, not those of the greater refugee community. Both his entry into this country and his prosecution for criminal acts that occurred after he arrived are consistent with the principles of due process and rule of law for which this country is known.
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An equally important principle on which our system of justice is based is that we investigate, detain and prosecute people based on what they do, and not based on how they look, how they worship, the clothes they wear or their country of origin. Our history shows, through the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans in World War II, that when we ignore this principle, we get it wrong.
Our Constitution and our laws also guarantee freedom from discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin. These are principles and values that I learned at public schools in Pocatello more than 30 years ago and that I know my own children and their friends are learning, along with classmates from refugee families, at schools here in the Treasure Valley.
To the refugees who are here and for any the U.S. government resettles here in the months and years to come, and to Idaho’s Muslims, my office and our law enforcement partners will strive to protect you from intimidation, from threats and from acts of violence directed at you based on your race, religion or national origin.
We will continue efforts to make those in the refugee community and the Muslim communities, like others in Idaho, our partners in public safety, so that if they see a threat, they will share the information with us so it can be addressed. National security and protection of civil rights and civil liberties for all are not mutually exclusive. I am confident that, this time, we can achieve both of those objectives without turning away from our shores those facing starvation, persecution, torture or death in their own countries. But we will all have to work at it, and we will have to work at it together and constantly.
Wendy Olson is United States attorney for Idaho.