America’s long tradition of fearing refugees

Jamelle Bouie writes: On Monday, at the same time that Republican lawmakers and leaders urged the country to close its doors to Syrian refugees, President Obama called for compassion. People, he said during a press conference in Turkey after the G20 summit, should “remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves.”

“That’s what they’re fleeing,” he continued. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

Obama’s remarks on the refugees are in stark contrast to what’s driving the national conversation. “Refugees from Syria are now pouring into our great country. Who knows who they are—some could be ISIS. Is our president insane?” asked real estate mogul Donald Trump, who leads the Republican race for president. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said basically the same, using more colorful phrasing. “If you bought a 5-pound bag of peanuts and you knew that in the 5-pound bag of peanuts there were about 10 peanuts that were deadly poisonous, would you feed them to your kids? The answer is no.”

For many liberals at least, it’s tempting to embrace the former as “American values” and dismiss the latter as all-too-typical pandering to our fears and public opinion. When 52 percent of Americans believe Syrian refugees will make the country less safe, it’s easy to demagogue against their entry. But this is self-deception, albeit a well-meaning one. If our history shows anything, it’s this: The United States is a nation that fears immigrants and refugees as much as it’s a nation of immigrants and refugees. [Continue reading…]

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