Refugee Lessons From Orson Welles

by | Nov 19, 2015 | Politics/Government

Orson Welles would be proud of America this week.  Welles scared America silly on October 30, 1938 with his radio broadcast of a fictional invasion from Mars that had people across the nation believing it was real.  The broadcast reported that a meteor had crashed into a farmer’s field in Grovers Mills, New Jersey.  Next, an announcer at the crash site began describing the scene: “Good heavens, something is wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake!  Now there’s another one…they look like tentacles…”

Plenty of Americans believed it and panicked.

It was a landmark day in Federal Communications Commission history.  The FCC investigated the CBS Radio broadcast and ultimately determined that no law had been broken.  Networks did agree to use more caution in the future.


The Syrian refugee program in America is no radio hoax though.

Since the Paris attacks last Friday, many governors have said they will not allow Syrian refugees to enter their states.  Governor Pence’s announcement took the form of a “suspension of the Syrian resettlement program.”  He went on to commit that the suspension will stay in place until assurances that “proper security measures are in place have been received from the federal government.”

I have not read anywhere else the reason for my rant today, so hang in there with me for a minute.

All across America, and especially in states where governors have stopped the refugee program in whatever manner, there are hordes of people celebrating.  And while it would be easy to engage in some sort of debate with them on the ideals in play and the reasons these people are simply wrong, there is something else to consider.  What happens when these temporary proclamations are lifted and the Syrian refugee programs resume?

What will all of these people who are nearly perfect in their ignorance of the situation do when the temporary safe haven from the Syrian invasion they have been granted is withdrawn?  I am betting they will be hopping mad.  Still wrong, but hopping mad.

An example of the size and scope of the program was reported today by CNN.  Since March of 2011, just under 2,200 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States.  From October 2011 through September 2015, the Family and Social Services Administration reports that 55 refugees from Syria arrived in Indiana.  That is not a typo. 55 people.  Not families.  People.

Since the suspension on Monday, there was a family redirected to Connecticut this week, and another family set to arrive in December that will also be placed in an alternative location.  That brings the total to two families who are being redirected.  I am sad for them and the way this has affected them.  But how is that for context?

The fact is that these announcements did not make anyone safer.  The issue has only been clouded.  Suspending the placement of refugees, or claiming the all out shut down of the program predictably has caused this confusion.  There have been esteemed statesmen talking about the cost savings of what Governor Pence announced on Monday.  What?  How expensive is it to provide asylum to just about zero Syrians both before and after the suspension?

Another fact is that the gaps in the already lengthy federal screening process could have been requested or demanded without shutting anything down.  There is no request for information or action by any of these governors that was ignored by the federal government before this week.  And the refugee agreements aren’t made by governors in the first place.  The suspension of the program in these states was not leverage over President Obama, so why treat it like it was?

Partisan politics.

Rep. Andre Carson got it right with his statement on the matter.  He said: “As a member of our Intelligence Committee, I believe that rather than looking for ways to keep refugees out, we should be discussing how we can strengthen our screening processes to better detect those who pose a risk to our country.”

And that is just about all that needed to be said or done.

I would not want to be any one of the governors explaining themselves later on this one for two reasons.  First, it will seem to many supporters that they were misled.  And second, because of the fear of the first point, it will tempt politicians to continue to spin away from the reality of the situation.  That second one leads to really bad outcomes.

Look America, this is who we are.  Even Indiana accepted refugees from at least forty five different countries in the last four years.  And though the attacks in Paris have understandably forced us to raise our guard, nothing has happened that could possibly justify us changing who we are.  We accept refugees.  Our founders were refugees.  I tell my children this all the time when they are struggling with conflict: no one has the power to change you into something you don’t want to be.  That is a choice that is yours, and yours alone.

To all of you who are applauding the mistakes that have been made by all of these governors during the week, take a deep breath and prepare yourselves.  Bad news is coming your way.  Sadly, too many of you have misunderstood the entire thing.

And to those of you who are convinced of anything different, tune in at midnight for my radio show.


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