If you want them here so badly, why don’t you take in a refugee?
That was the inevitable response from some of congressman Seth Moulton’s critics this week, after he called out Governor Charlie Baker for saying he didn’t want Syrian refugees coming to Massachusetts until his concerns over security are assuaged.
Actually, Moulton has opened his home to a refugee.
In this and other ways, the representative from the Sixth District speaks from experience as he takes a blessedly unequivocal stand in favor of compassion and common sense on this issue.
Baker’s claim that Moulton’s arguments are “partisan talking points” is beneath him. It is also ludicrous.
On four tours in Iraq as a US Marine, Moulton saw the desperation that drives people to uproot their lives and endure grinding hardship in the hopes of a better future — or any future at all.
“This was an entire people who were oppressed,” he said Wednesday. “They didn’t know America, or the American way of life, but they knew what America stands for.”
But the governor is succumbing to that fear, which is almost as bad.
“When we change our values, ISIS wins,” Moulton said. Closing the door to Syrian refugees in the wake of last week’s attacks in Paris betrays those values, he said. Flinching now, he suggests, shows a lack of something Moulton plainly has — courage.
“In the midst of war, it’s easy to protect innocent civilians when no one is shooting at you,” the congressman said. “When people are shooting at you from a school or a mosque, it’s much harder. It is easy to stand for freedom and justice in the midst of peace. It’s harder when people are trying to kill you.”
His translator in Iraq was devoted to those values, Moulton said. “He exemplifies the American dream more than just about anybody I know.” He risked his life, and his family’s, to defend it. When civil war descended on his country, and insurgents targeted his family, it became impossible for the translator — here on a Fulbright scholarship — to return home, so he applied for asylum.
For a while, he lived with the Moulton family in Marblehead. Moulton says he is like a brother.
Even with a decorated Marine captain supporting his application, it took 16 months to complete the security checks and grant the translator asylum. “And he already had a record of service, of literally putting his life on the line for our country in combat,” Moulton said.
Refugees submit to more screening than any other category of traveler coming to the United States, Moulton said, and the State Department and the White House back him up. And it’s not like they’re piling onto boats and streaming over the borders en masse, as they have been in Europe. They don’t set foot in this country until they go through a vetting that takes 18 to 24 months.
A data guy like the governor should know that. And if he didn’t know it before his conference call with federal officials Tuesday night, Baker should know it now.
However, if you ask whether the governor feels more comfortable today with the idea of Syrian refugees coming to Massachusetts, his office churns out this noncommittal pablum: “The administration looks forward to a continuing dialogue with the federal government that addresses the bipartisan desires of state and federal lawmakers for a thorough and accurate refugee background check process, ensuring the safety and security of the Commonwealth.”
It’s true that the reluctance to accept Syrian refugees here — by the way, there are no state border checkpoints in this great land, so there’s really nothing anybody can do to stop them moving here — has been a bipartisan affair.
But that only makes Moulton’s stand all the more remarkable, and more imperative.