Legitimate fears must not diminish refugee outreach

Supporters place a sign welcoming Syrian refugees at the entrance to the office of the Arizona governor during a rally there this week.
Supporters place a sign welcoming Syrian refugees at the entrance to the office of the Arizona governor during a rally there this week. The Associated Press

The concern that terrorists might infiltrate our national or state borders posing as refugees is not all fiction and paranoia.

Nearly 500 were killed or injured in Paris and elsewhere in France last week, and it’s possible some of the perpetrators posed as Syrian refugees. We know the Islamic State will use any means to find soft targets in the West, which means the United States, Idaho and even Boise are hardly immune.

We are thankful that law enforcement apprehended Boise’s Fazliddin Kurbanov, a refugee from Uzbekistan, before he had a chance to commit an act against people in the Treasure Valley or elsewhere. Arrested in 2013, Kurbanov was convicted this year on three federal charges: conspiracy, possession of an unregistered destructive device and providing support to terrorists.

This week Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and the entire Idaho congressional delegation called for a pause in the federal process of resettling refugees until authorities can assure states that Syrian refugees have been properly vetted.

We don’t want to see this reasonable request morph into an unreasonable cry by anyone to block the flow of refugees to Idaho or any other state, because that flow carries the heartbeat of this nation. Refugees and many other parts produce the sum of who we are. Though we might need tweaks in the process, more local input and more scrutiny, we should be able to accomplish that without denying entry to an entire class of people.

We have an embarrassing history of singling out certain ethnic groups, religions and even members of our military at times — the shaming of Vietnam War veterans comes to mind — only to recognize later that our fear trumped our values.

We ought to be concerned about terror threats, but we must narrow the target of our concern to the people who would do us harm: the Islamic State and their ilk, not the helpless men, women and children who are fleeing them.

Many of us have ancestors who came as the Syrians do now and the Afghans, Bosnians, Chinese, Somalis and Vietnamese did in previous decades. They all came to escape war-torn countries or dangerous situations. It is not fair to discount their potential to become freedom-loving Americans because of where they came from. How would we like it if the rest of the world took the position — based on the awful actions of a violent few — that everybody in Idaho was a white supremacist?

America is on its own Road to Damascus. Will we wake up along the path to realize we no longer have to persecute? Our faith paths have coexisted for centuries and can continue to do so. Our bonds as freedom fighters who abhor the evils of extremists can be our starting point.

We have a choice: Reason with our fear and lead with our compassion, or look the other way.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

Coming Sunday in Opinion

In Sunday’s Opinion section we are making arrangements to publish several opinion pieces from Idaho authors who will be weighing in on the Syrian refugee and immigration debate.