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Turning backs on refugees is turning backs on our values

Date: 11/25/2015

I was heartened to see Gov. Charlie Baker having a second thought about his initial reaction about the possibility of Syrian refugees coming to Massachusetts.

Baker should be supported in being able to change based on additional information and thought.

As you might know, Baker has expressed a stance against Syrian refugees in the state on Nov. 16 and added to his statement on Nov. 17 when he said, “I have questions. I would just like some of them answered. And I don’t think that’s unreasonable and I don’t think it lacks compassion. It is not a knee-jerk reaction.”

Baker had received a letter from a number of clergy in the state, which read in part: “We speak with one voice, as church leaders in Massachusetts. We believe in a Commonwealth where all people can live safely, especially those fleeing war and persecution. We pledge our voices and our churches’ active support to resettle Syrian refugees in Massachusetts.

“We understand your priority is the safety of Massachusetts residents. Our safety is at greater risk if we let Daesh [ISIS] compromise our values by acting out of fear instead of compassion. We believe the act of shunning the Syrians would strengthen Daesh. Please reconsider your decision to stop welcoming Syrian parents and children into our state. These are innocent, suffering people. Refugees do not bring terror they are fleeing from it.

“As Christians we try to live our lives in accordance with Jesus’ great commandment – to love our neighbors as ourselves. We want safe homes, the freedom to worship, stable governments and opportunities to thrive. Our Syrian neighbors desire the same. Our faith also teaches us to welcome the stranger. Syrians seeking refuge, as well as the Somalians, Bhutanese, Iraqis, Central Americans and others, are neighbors worthy of our welcome and in need of our care. Our nation is founded on this welcome. We must make sure that we do not allow fear to overwhelm us, crowd out our compassion, or fundamentally change our character. We refuse to live as a Commonwealth scared of those unlike us ...

“In every generation, Massachusetts leaders have welcomed refugees and those fleeing violence from all corners of the globe: European Jews, and Bosnians, and Sudanese, and Iraqis ... Eskinder Negash, senior vice president for the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants tells us that ‘refugees are probably the most vetted people to come to this country.’”

Here is what Daesh has done to this country: they have successfully terrorized us. They are winning so far. If their intent is to divide us, frighten us and want us to isolate ourselves as best we can, they are succeeding.

With every Facebook post or meme about Muslims Americans, they make their case to the non-extremist population that there is a war against them. We are making their case for them.

There are real concerns, though, about whether or not we have the capacity to take care of more refugees. Just look at what has happened to Somali refugees in our area who have been placed in inadequate housing and whose children face an up-hill climb in school.

We need to be sure we can give them what they need to succeed here.

As I drove into the office I caught John O’Brien ranting about this general subject on Rock 102. He noted that having a terrorist entering the country through the exhaustive vetting of the current refugee program makes little sense when terrorists with European passport posing as tourists or as students on educational visas can enter America with ease.

He asked if we want to eliminate foreign students or tourists – a good point.

We should be showing the world we are willing to take a chance to help those who need the help the most.

Yes, I know many people believe we should take care of our own disadvantaged, especially veterans, first. I agree. I just don’t believe that doing the right thing for several different populations is mutually exclusive.

Before you post that meme though about homeless vets, ask yourself what has been done to assist them, oh, let’s say a year ago. When has there been the political will to do something for them? Only when it can be used rhetorically to make a point about another issue.

Let’s use this holiday season to re-assess what we are saying and doing.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.