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Opinion: Blocking needy refugees based on religion is shameful

I suspect that virtually everyone reading this letter experienced the same visceral reaction as I did when learning of the events that took place in Paris on Friday the 13th of this month. It is especially disturbing that our species, homo sapiens, has somehow become a more perfect killing machine with the passage of time. Our “superior” intellect has not only enabled us to kill members of our own species in ever larger numbers and more efficiently, but also in ever more cruel and sadistic ways. ISIS has clearly brought our species to a whole new level of depravity. Even Hitler’s henchmen (at least for the most part) did not burn its victims alive.
But almost as equally disturbing is the reaction of some of our supposed “leaders” in the United States. Twenty-three governors have now issued executive orders prohibiting Syrian refugees from settling in their states. No matter that states do not have the legal authority to do this. Several candidates for president have suggested that we offer a safe haven for Syrian refugees who happen to be Christians but refuse to consider re-settlement for Syrian Muslims.
About 4 million Syrians are now refugees because of a brutal civil war, and President Obama has offered to accept 10,000 of these individuals here in the United States, a “whopping” 0.25 percent (i.e., one quarter of one per cent) of the total. This is equivalent to two days’ worth of immigrants at Ellis Island when immigration was at its peak, about 1907. Today, one third of Americans can trace their ancestry back to people who immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island. The idea that this country would exclude some immigrants on the basis of their religion is, at best, offensive and at worst, repugnant and totally inconsistent with who we are as a people.
I am, admittedly, an old man now but when I was young, we all really loved and admired the United States. We believed that we were the land of the free and the home of the brave, that all men were created equal (although more recently it has become apparent that some are more equal than others) and that the American dream was possible for virtually everyone. We grew up in a time when we were taught to always strive to “do the right thing.” We really didn’t think of ourselves as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.
Sure, if we accept refugees from the Middle East, we have to vet them very carefully. Is there the possibility that a member of ISIS could slip into the country along with all the good and desperate folks who are seeking a better life and freedom from oppression and a ruthless dictator? Yes, there is this possibility.
But considering that members of ISIS are already here on our soil, it seems morally and ethically antithetical to our values and our way of life to exclude desperate people because of their religious beliefs. The overwhelming majority of Muslims hate ISIS as much as we do and if we start heading down this slippery slope, I fear that it will spell the beginning of the end of our democracy and our very way of life.
We are Americans and we are so much better than this. God bless America.
William Fifield, Bridport

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