I have dedicated my 23-year military career to upholding the values of this country, and there is no value essentially more American than compassion for those who find themselves refugees. Refugees are victims – victims of ISIS, al-Qaida, and brutal leaders like Bashir al-Assad. We must not allow bureaucratic constraints or politically motivated fear to prevent us from acting on our moral duty to help the men, women and children who have endured unimaginable hardships.
Currently, the North Carolina House is considering a bill that goes against this core American ideal, and it would effectively make our state off-limits to refugees.
The bill, the “Refugee Resettlement Act,” is cosponsored by House Majority Leader Mike Hager, Reps. Chris Whitmire, John Torbett and George Cleveland. It would prohibit local governments from requesting refugees unless they document they are capable of resettling them and require they hold a public hearing on the issue. The bill would also allow jurisdictions to request a moratorium on resettling refugees by documenting their lack of capacity and the potential harm refugees may pose to local residents.
Once a moratorium is approved, getting it lifted would be a prohibitively arduous process, requiring localities to hold a public hearing, adopt a resolution and receive approval from the head of the State’s Refugee Assistance Program before moving forward. Many North Carolina communities sympathize with the refugees’ plight and would like to welcome them into their communities, but they face a daunting, politically charged process.
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Any ongoing refugee resettlement would grind to a halt in North Carolina as a result of this bill, simply because of a misplaced fear and political rhetoric. America is already home to many refugees and their children, including doctors, police officers and teachers – people who have contributed greatly to the country that has given them the protection they needed when they were the most desperate.
By welcoming refugees into our communities, we do not weaken our national security, we in fact strengthen it. In welcoming refugees from Syria and other countries of the Middle East, we undermine ISIS’ propaganda narrative that the West is hostile toward Muslims. Instead, we demonstrate the United States provides the freedom, the hope and the compassion that ISIS lacks in its brutal campaign of terror against its fellow Muslims.
In order to justify closing the door on these refugees, some state and national leaders claim that terrorists are pouring into our country within the refugee resettlement system, but these refugees are the most thoroughly vetted individuals entering the United States. The vetting process involves myriad government security and intelligence agencies using biographical and biometric information in order to conduct background checks on applicants and confirm their identities. An esteemed, bipartisan group of national security leaders – including former CIA directors, former National Security advisers, former directors of Homeland Security, former chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretaries of Defense – are so confident in the strength of security screening and the importance of helping refugees that they have teamed up to call for an expanded resettlement program.
During my time in uniform, I was fighting not only to protect American citizens and our homeland but also to preserve and protect its ideals – ideals that this bill runs contrary to on every level.
The United States of America has a longstanding tradition of being open to and inclusive of those wishing to come to our country, especially those who are most vulnerable and most in need. North Carolina should reject this bill and hold to its duty to ensure that the United States continues to be seen as a land of new opportunity and a hoped for and cherished new homeland for those who have lost so much. We must remain, as citizens of this great country, Semper Fidelis.
Scott Speelman of New Bern is a retired Marine officer involved with Veterans for American Ideals, a nonpartisan group founded by Human Rights First. The opinions expressed are his own.