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Should Massachusetts welcome Syrian refugees?

Canada's Governor General David Johnston gestures to suggest 'rest' as a family of Syrian refugees tell him they had been traveling for two days before they arrived at the Welcome Centre at Toronto's Pearson Airport on Dec. 18.Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
Diane Portnoyhandout


Diane Portnoy

Founder and CEO, The Immigrant Learning Center, Malden

As Americans, we cannot let terrorists succeed in altering our way of life or steering us away from the values that make our country exceptional. We have a long history of welcoming and giving shelter to those in crisis, and it has made us stronger. If we let a forged Syrian passport found on an attacker in Paris make us turn our back on our values, we are handing a victory to the terrorists.

No one seeking entry to this country is scrutinized more carefully than Syrian refugees. They wait up to two years while they are screened by the State Department, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security. Refugees are simply not our greatest security risk.


Since the founding of this country, some of the most ambitious and courageous people in the world have come here as refugees. Most, like the Syrians today, came with nothing except a desire to live and work without fear and build a safe life for their children. Throughout history they have enriched our culture and made tremendous contributions to our economy. Based upon this history, there is every reason to believe that Syrian refugees admitted to this country will benefit us as much or more than we help them.

As a refugee myself, I find the Syrian crisis particularly heartbreaking. The war in Syria has created one of the largest forced migrations since World War II, the war that displaced my family. My parents were Polish Jews who lost their entire families in the Holocaust. After the war, they made their way to the United States with me as a 3-year-old child under the protection of the Displaced Persons Act of 1948.

I grew up in a refugee community in Malden. I saw firsthand the best of America as a land of hope and opportunity. My parents and their friends successfully raised families, started small businesses, and became Americans. I also saw the worst of it as my parents were accosted by strangers slinging anti-Semitic slurs, suggesting Hitler should have finished the job.


The fear-fueled rhetoric encouraging us to turn our backs on Syrians and Muslims sounds the same in my ears. I pray that we as Americans will once again show the world we are better than that.


Todd Taylor

Todd Taylor

Chelsea resident, Republican State Committee member

Under normal circumstances, no one would be debating this question. Today, however, our country finds itself in a unique situation: We are under attack by various groups of radical Islamists who intend to use our open and free society in order to kill us.

Many have asked if the current Obama administration policy of admitting refugees with its standard vetting procedures meets the country's increased security needs. FBI Director James Comey testified recently before Congress about the difficulties of vetting Syrian refugees because of the limitations of available databases. Furthermore, with the recent revelation by the Department of Homeland Security warning that ISIS may be producing fake Syrian passports with real passport machines, it seems more certain that ever that ISIS is seeking to send its agents into the United States with innocent refugees.

Throughout his tenure, President Obama has desperately tried to downplay the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. Instead, the administration have largely chosen to demonize and mock those with serious concerns about the process for admitting refugees. In the judgment of the Obama administration and their supporters on the left, there are no increased security needs because they stubbornly refuse to admit that we are at war with radical Islam. It often seems as though the Obama administration, instead of attempting to address a tough problem, has chosen to simply pretend that it doesn't exist.


On the day before the Paris attacks were carried out, we were told by the president that ISIS was contained, and in the aftermath, the president called those brutal attacks a "setback." After being attacked here in Boston, in Chattanooga, and now in San Bernardino, the American people can't have much faith left in a government that lacks the ability or the will to effectively keep us safe.

So what are we to do? Americans are a compassionate people and we want to help those who are in need. At this dangerous time, we should help to settle Syrian refugees elsewhere in the Middle East at our own expense so we can provide them with a safe haven, without jeopardizing our own citizens at home. In the meantime, the Obama administration needs to start taking the threat of Islamic terrorism more seriously so we can defeat this enemy and return to our normal refugee policies.

Globe correspondent John Laidler solicited opinions for this exchange. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.