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Trying to ban innocent refugees from Michigan is disgraceful, economically harmful, and cowardly

Nov 17, 2015

Soon after the terrorist attacks on September 11, there was a story in the Boston Globe saying that some of the hijackers had entered this country from Canada.

Instantly, there were calls for a crackdown on security along what we had been proud to say was the world’s longest unguarded border. 

Suddenly, it was no longer practical for people who worked in Detroit to pop over the river for a quick lunch or dinner in one of Windsor’s superb restaurants. Fourteen years later, things still haven’t returned to normal.

There was, however, only one problem with that story. It was totally false.

For years, politicians, including Hillary Clinton on at least one occasion, would mention that some of the 9-11 terrorists had come over from Canada. There was, however, only one problem with that story. It was totally false. None of the hijackers had.

Any time you have an enormous news event, some early reports are bound to be wrong.

It took years before people stopped saying the hijackers had come over from Canada, and this false story was economically damaging to both nations.

Now, we’re doing it again with less excuse.

Governor Snyder led the stampede yesterday by calling for a ban on resettling Syrian refugees in Michigan, and by day’s end, something like half the nation’s governors had followed.

Governors have absolutely no authority to issue decrees about national immigration policy, but it sure looks good on TV.

Driving around yesterday, I heard broadcast news reports in which reporters interviewed people like Odell in the gas station, and they said things like “yessiree, better safe than sorry.” Ban them Syrian fanatics!

Reality is sometimes unpopular, but let me give you a strong and needed dose.

When we talk about closing the door to a few Syrians, we are talking about people who have been in refugee camps for years, most of whom are women and children, and some are gifted knowledge workers who could greatly benefit places like Detroit.

Here’s something else that may help you get a grip. The attacks in Paris were horrible. Eight despicable maniacs slaughtered more than 130 innocent people, plus themselves.

But as yet, there is absolutely no proof that any were Syrian.

In fact, according to a high official of the European Union, all of the dead terrorists identified, so far, were citizens of EU countries. Federica Mogherini, the security policy vice president, said “the profile of the terrorists, so far identified, tell us this is an internal threat.”

That Syrian passport found near the body of one of terrorists may be fake. An Egyptian passport also found is genuine – but belongs to a badly injured victim.

Now, nobody is saying that the killers weren’t tied to some fanatic Muslim group, but to tar everyone with connections to that part of the world with the same brush is exactly the same as refusing to admit any Christians because of David Koresh.

Trying to ban innocent refugees from our state is disgraceful, economically harmful, and cowardly.

Growing up, we were taught that one of our nation’s most shameful racist actions had been herding Japanese-Americans into concentration camps during World War II. Not a one ever proved disloyal. We came to be ashamed of that.

What’s depressing is that thanks to xenophobia, we seem determined to disgrace ourselves again.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.