9

California Endowment grants will help refugees

The California Endowment will make emergency relief grants available to several organizations helping Syrian refugees arriving in the Golden State, it announced Tuesday.

CalEndowWith more than $3 billion in assets, the foundation is one of the nation’s largest private healthcare foundations, created in 1996 when Blue Cross of California acquired the for-profit subsidiary WellPoint Health Networks.

“This is a moment to stand up for our values as Americans,” Dr. Robert Ross, the California Endowment’s president and CEO, said in a news release. “Inclusion and compassion are at the core of The Endowment’s mission to create healthier communities across our great state. We are committed to do our part and support Governor Brown’s decision to welcome refugees to California.”

More than half the nation’s governors, mostly Republicans, have spoken out against accepting refugees from the civil war that has wracked Syria for years. But Gov. Jerry Brown said last week he’ll work closely with President Barack Obama to ensure any Syrian refugees coming to California are “fully vetted in a sophisticated and utterly reliable way.”

The endowment will make small, one-time-only emergency grants available to several community-based organizations support Syrian refugees, designed to increase those organizations’ capacity in select California communities where refugees will be arriving.

14

Five California mayors urge welcome of refugees

The mayors of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, West Hollywood and West Sacramento are among 62 mayors from 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico who wrote to Congress on Friday urging it not to prevent screened Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ letter to the House and Senate notes the conference adopted a resolution in June 2014 that “recognizes this nation’s leadership in protecting refugees and celebrates the contributions refugees make to their communities.”

That policy describes the U.S. refugee resettlement program, administered by the Departments of State and Health and Human Services, “as a unique and robust public-private partnership of the federal government, state and local governments, non-profit agencies, and individuals” which subjects people to “the most rigorous screening and security vetting of any category of traveler to the United States,” the letter said.

“Our nation has always been a beacon of hope for those seeking peace and protection from persecution,” the letter said. “We urge you to take no action that will jeopardize this rich and proud heritage.”

Among the signers were Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath, and West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon.

Besides those from California, mayors from Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puero Rico, South Caroline, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington signed the letter.

Though not a signer of this letter, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf – in whose city at least 16 Syrian refugees have re-settled since 2011 – said Monday that “now is a time for us, as Americans, as Oaklanders to turn toward each other – not on each other. We should not let fear and anger lull us into accepting the false choice between safety and compassion. We can keep our communities safe at the same time that we show compassion for those in need.”

2

American nativism is nothing new.

The post-Paris hysteria toward Syrian refugees in particular and Muslims in general spurred me to seek examples of how various groups coming to America have been cast in the past.

The results are depressing, to say the least – America has a long, storied history of barring, fearing, imprisoning or killing the outsider. The only solace I find is that ultimately, each of the groups mentioned below – German, Irish, Catholic, Italian, Chinese, Jewish and Japanese – have in time become inextricable, welcomed parts of the American fabric.

How history will look back on us?

“Few of their children in the country learn English … The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages … Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.”
— Benjamin Franklin, 1753, regarding German immigrants to the Pennsylvania colony

“If the potentates of Europe have no design upon our liberties, what means the paying of the passage and emptying out upon our shores such floods of pauper emigrants — the contents of the poor house and the sweepings of the streets? — multiplying tumults and violence, filling our prisons, and crowding our poor-houses, and quadrupling our taxation, and sending annually accumulating thousands to the poll to lay their inexperienced hand upon the helm of our power?”
— the Rev. Lyman Beecher, 1834

“Away with Austrian and Popish precedent… This war is a war of principles; it is on the open field of free discussion; and the victory is to be won by the exercise of moral energy, by the force of religious and political truth. But still it is a war, and all true patriots must awake to the cry of danger. They must up and gird themselves for battle. It is no false alarm. Our liberties are in danger. The Philistines are upon us. Their bonds are prepared, and they intend, if they can, to fasten them upon our limbs. We must shake off our lethargy, and like the giant awaking from his sleep, snap these shackles asunder. We are attacked in vulnerable points by foreign enemies to all liberty.”
— Samuel F.B. Morse, in “Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States,” 1835

“When the hordes of other lands are permitted to come here, as is the case daily; when ignorance, poverty, crime is allowed to land upon our shores and be transformed, hardly without ceremony, and with no time to learn the nature of our institutions, into what is called the ‘American’ citizens—when these things are done, it is time that good men lifted their arms and sounded their voices against the abomination. … Because it is every day weakening the strength, and destroying the character of the country. America can only be America by keeping it American. Its halls of legislation must reflect American sentiment, uttered by American tongues. There is no avoiding this position. Americans must fill our offices, great and small.”
–The Know Nothing and American Crusader (a Boston newspaper), 1854, speaking mainly of Irish, German and Catholic immigrants

“Nor can there be any doubt that the mob’s victims were desperate ruffians and murderers. These sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins, who have transported to this country the lawless passions, the cut-throat practices, and the oath-bound societies of their native country, are to us a pest without mitigations. Our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they. Our own murderers are men of feeling and nobility compared to them.”
–New York Times editorial, 1891, on the lynching of 11 Italian-Americans lynched after nine were acquitted of the murder of New Orelans’ police chief; two others hadn’t been charged at all in the case

“Standing behind them are Christian employers of this land, who would rather import heathen willing to work for barely enough to sustain life than retain a brother Christian at a wage sufficient to live as becomes a Christian. We do not want Opium or the Chinese who grow it.”
— Terence Powderly, Irish-American labor leader, 1892

“We are being made a dumping ground. We are receiving the dependents, the human wreckage of the war; not the strength and virility that once came to hew our forests and till our soil. And worst of all, they are coming in such numbers at a time when we are unable adequately to take care of them… It simply amounts to unrestricted and indiscriminate dumping into this country of people of every character and description…If there were in existence a ship that could hold three million human beings, then three million Jews of Poland would board to escape to America.”
— report of the Congressional Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, chaired by Albert Johnson, R-Wash., 1920 (after pogroms in Russia and Poland provoked a wave of immigration)

“The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become ‘Americanized,’ the racial strains are undiluted. To conclude otherwise is to expect that children born of white parents on Japanese soil sever all racial affinity and become loyal Japanese subjects, ready to fight and, if necessary, to die for Japan in a war against the nation of their parents. That Japan is allied with Germany and Italy in this struggle is not ground for assuming that any Japanese, barred from assimilation by convention as he is, though born and raised in the United States, will not turn against this nation when the final test of loyalty comes. It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today. There are indications that these were organized and ready for concerted action at a favorable opportunity. The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.”
— U.S. Army Gen. John DeWitt, 1942

0

Two NorCal Dems vote for Syrian refugee bill

The House approved the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act affecting the process by which the United States accepts refugees fleeing from Syria on a veto-proof 289-137 vote Thursday – and two Northern California Democrats were among those voting for it.

All refugees undergo an 18-to-24-month screening process involving various federal intelligence, law enforcement and diplomatic agencies before being allowed to come to America; Syrian refugees are subject to extra intelligence checks, said Obama administration officials this week.

But H.R. 4038 effectively would suspend admissions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees for now by obliging the heads of the FBI and Homeland Security Department and the director of national intelligence to certify to Congress that each refugee “is not a threat to the security of the United States.”

The entire Bay Area delegation opposed it, but among those voting for it were Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove.

From Garamendi:

John Garamendi“This bill strengthens the already stringent requirements for international refugees entering America. But strengthening the refugee program is a minor part of the reassessment we must make in the wake of the Paris attacks. For those wishing to come to America to do harm, the refugee program is the least likely way to get in and the most likely way to get caught. Of the millions of displaced Syrians, only around 2,200 have been admitted to the United States as refugees, and for a good reason: applicants are vetted through biometric and biographic checks for at least 18 months by every major American national security and law enforcement agency before they even set foot on American soil. Anyone whose identity and story cannot be precisely confirmed is not admitted to our country. Once they gain admission to the United States, their status is periodically reviewed by state and federal law enforcement.

“America must remain the refuge of people who flee from terror, war, hunger and persecution. We should welcome those refugees from Syria and Iraq who seek safety and meet our security requirements. While I strongly support tighter screening requirements for refugee applicants, Congress should focus on much more likely ways for attackers to gain entry to our country. Every single attacker in Paris with a confirmed identity was a citizen of either France or Belgium—countries whose citizens don’t even require a Visa to enter the United States because of our Visa waiver agreement with the European Union.

“We must be vigilant in every respect—refugees, students, and visitors, as well as homegrown terrorists. Remember that each of us has an important role to play. If we see something, we must say something to authorities.”

From Bera:

Ami_Bera_official_photo“It is critical that our first priority is to keep America safe – that is why I voted today for a bill to ensure that all Syrian refugees are thoroughly vetted. However, we can’t let the terrorists win and influence who we are as Americans. Our country has always been a place for those fleeing violence or oppression and we must stay true to those values. This additional screening step will ensure that we know those coming into the country are not a security threat.”

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, was among those who voted against the bill.

Sam Farr“The strength of our nation is found in our willingness to help those most in need. Turning our back on those fleeing terror and destruction would mean turning our back on the values that make this country great. America can stay true to those values without compromising our security.

“We already thoroughly vet anyone seeking refugee status. For most applications, it is a multi-year process that requires a stringent background check. If our security agencies cannot verify any detail of a refugee’s story, they are denied entrance. That is a higher level of security screening than we apply to immigrants and travelers visiting the United States.

“After the recent attacks in Paris, fear is an understandable emotion. However leadership requires us to not give into that fear. Syrian refugees fleeing their war torn country are not our enemy. They are grandparents, mothers, fathers and children who are only searching for safe haven for their family. As a humanitarian nation and the moral leader of the world, we have a responsibility to welcome them into our country.”

7

Mike Honda blasts calls to lock up Syrian refugees

Rep. Mike Honda, who spent part of his childhood in a World War II-era internment camp for Japanese-Americans, opened a six-pack of verbal whup-ass Wednesday all over state and local politicians who have suggested not only barring Syrian refugees from entering the country, but perhaps locking up those already here.

Roanoke Mayor David Bowers, a Democrat, issued a statement Wednesday hailing his city as “welcoming” and America as “the melting pot of the world,” but saying that “it is presently imprudent to assist in the relocation of Syrian refugees to our part of Virginia.”

“Thus, today, I’m requesting that all Roanoke Valley governments and non-governmental agencies suspend and delay any further Syrian refugee assistance until these serious hostilities and atrocities end, or at the very least until regarded as under control by U.S. authorities, and normalcy is restored,” Bowers wrote. “I’m reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis [sic] now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”

Meanwhile, Tennessee House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada told the Tennessean that said his state should “activate the Tennessee National Guard and stop them from coming in to the state by whatever means we can.”

“I’m not worried about what a bureaucrat in D.C. or an unelected judge thinks,” he said. “We need to gather (Syrian refugees) up and politely take them back to the ICE center and say, ‘They’re not coming to Tennessee, they’re yours.’ ”

And Rhode Island state Sen. Elaine Morgan, a Republican, sent an email Tuesday saying her state should reject Syrian refugees in part because “the Muslim religion and philosophy is to murder, rape, and decapitate anyone who is a non Muslim.”

“If we need to take these people in we should set up [a] refugee camp to keep them segregated from our populous,” she wrote. “I think the protection of our US citizens and the United States of America should be the most important issue here.”

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, issued a statement Wednesday noting he knows “firsthand how that dark moment in our nation’s history led to repercussions that have resonated over the years.

“I am outraged by reports of elected officials calling for Syrian Americans to be rounded up and interned,” he said. “We simply cannot let the extremist perpetrators of these hateful acts of violence drive us into such a misguided action. For it is when we allow these criminals to lead us down a dark path, away from our principles and ideals, that we as a country suffer.”

“The Japanese and Japanese Americans interned after the bombing of Pearl Harbor was an outrage, as was turning away Jews at our borders who were fleeing German persecution. We cannot allow this to happen again and reverse the progress we have made in the last several decades,” Honda said. “We look back, as a nation, and we know this was wrong. We look back and know, as defined by the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, that the internment was a result of ‘race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.’ We look back and know that an entire ethnicity was said to be, and ultimately considered, the enemy. We know that internment happened because few in Washington were brave enough to say ‘no.’”

Now it’s time to say no to the likes of Bowers, Casada and Morgan, he said, “who would make such ill-advised and backwards-thinking recommendations. They are perpetuating the messages of hate and fear that fly in the fact of what America stands for in the world.”

“As we learn more about the complexity and the extent of the attacks on Paris, this tragedy continues to send shockwaves through the world community,” Honda said. “I am hopeful we will not allow our anger and outrage towards these terrorists and their cowardly attacks on civilians to turn us away from compassion and generosity. We need to find ways to help the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who are entering through our thorough screening and resettlement process now to find safe haven in the United States. As a world leader, we need to help these people escape from the brutal ISIL regime – they are fleeing the very perpetrators of these senseless acts of violence.”

6

Lifting our lamp beside the golden door

Here’s why America must welcome Syrian refugees with open arms: Because it’s who we are and how we win.

As I strolled, ate, drank and danced my way through New Orleans while on vacation last week, I thought often of people far less fortunate – both in that beautiful but still-troubled city scarred by storm and neglect, and on the other side of the world fleeing a war of great cruelty and horror.

I thought of Hungary, where refugees have been herded into pens at gunpoint – a particularly European deja vu that should make the world shudder.

I thought of Germany, where residents flocked to Munich’s train station to donate food and water and to applaud weary travelers as they disembarked – a scene allowing some small hope that we’re not doomed as a species.

I thought of our nation, where the Obama administration recently announced we’ll take 10,000 refugees next year – a promise that set the professional critic class and the anti-Muslim bigots howling, even though it’s the tiniest fraction of those who’ve been displaced.

The refugees now swamping Europe had no choice but to run away with little more than their babes in arms and the clothes on their backs, leaving homes pocked with bullet holes if not reduced to rubble. They come not with some devious intention of undermining us, or some haughty intention of converting us, but with the simple intention of continuing to draw breath. They come because they have nowhere else to go.

They’re Muslims, but they’re not our enemies. The “godly” agents of chaos they’re fleeing from are our enemies. And we can kill our enemies with kindness.

The refugees are desperate, and we are rich. For a relative pittance, we can welcome them with open arms and restore to them some degree of stability and hope. Even if it costs more than a pittance, it’s both a sacred gift and a sound investment. In giving this gift, we demonstrate that we are not the devils that the wild-eyed gun-toting mullahs say we are. We show that our way – compassion, mercy, friendship, tolerance – is the right way.

They will remember this kindness all their lives, they will teach it to their children. In that way, no matter what tongue they speak in praising God, they will become us.

If you’re Christian, this is the moment to be Christ-like by doing unto others. If you’re Jewish, this is what the Eternal did for you when you went forth from Egypt, and the very essence of tikkun ha-olam. If you’re an atheist, this is how you prove morality can exist without religion. If you’re human, this is what it means to be human.

Some say recent decades have been a clash of cultures, a war of ideas, as fundamentalist Islam wrote its complaint in blood around the world. Surely we’ve learned by now that you can’t shoot your way out of a war of ideas – you must have the better idea, and you must live it. Fortunately, we lucky Americans had that idea a long time ago.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

It’s time to live it.