In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich joined the governors of 31 other states in publicly opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees because of security concerns.
The opinion is a change from his previous stance — Kasich had originally backed the White House’s plan to allow up to 10,000 refugees from the war-stricken country to seek shelter in the U.S., if they were thoroughly vetted.
In an open letter to President Barack Obama, the governor, who is also running as a Republican candidate for president, said that while he sympathizes with the plight of the Syrians, current deficiencies in the U.S. refugee program keep him from wanting to allow refugees into the Buckeye state.
“As governor, it is my duty to ensure the safety and security of the citizens of my state,” Kasich wrote. “Until the rigor and depth of background checks are improved and the results are more transparently shared with the states, I urge the federal government not to accept more Syrian refugees.”
However, Kasich’s new stance doesn’t have the support of all Ohioans, including university professor Pranav Jani. Jani, who is a member of the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, said he found Kasich’s comments to be heartless and demonizing toward people who are fleeing the same oppression and terror that Americans are against.
“If we believe in democracy, we have to take a stand: refugees are welcome here,” Jani said in an email.
Kenan Alzouhayli, a third-year in biochemistry and president of the Syrian Student Union, said security checks are important to ensure that people who do harm are not allowed into the country. He said he thinks Kasich’s concerns come from a desire for more security. He said leaving the refugees where they are now is also dangerous, as it exposes them to terrorism and extremism.
“Preventing the threat of the cancer now is easier than what may come later,” he said concerning extremism. “Most of the Syrian refugees are highly educated and have big dreams in their home country. They are doctors, engineers and lawyers who want to be productive here.”
Kasich describes the lack of proper oversight as a growing concern for the past several months, and said the current vetting process is not robust enough to identify those who want to do harm. He elaborated on his position on refugees at a speech Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. A U.S. no-fly zone over Syria in coordination with Jordan and Turkey would allow refugees to stay in the region instead of having to flee to Europe, Kasich said.
“We just need to have a system that lets us know who these people are,” Kasich said.
Jani, who also serves as the faculty advisor for the Syrian Student Union, said that Kasich’s concerns are not valid and that while a single refugee could potentially pose a threat, investigation of an individual’s actions and not blanketing an entire community is a more effective way to stop criminal activity. He added that refugees that come to the United States are thoroughly vetted by the FBI and only 10,000 Syrians, a fraction of those affected, would be able to come under the current plan.
Kasich left the door open for a potential better vetting process, but followed it up with the fact that the current system is not adequate. He added that there are no legal bounds for a state to prevent refugee resettlement. Such action is prohibited under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Instead, states could only express concern to the federal government about the program. Jani echoed this and said Kasich’s motivations are likely political. He said many of the governors who have announced their opposition are trying to appeal to racist and anti-immigrant sentiment that has been championed by candidates like Donald Trump.
Comments like Kasich’s expose anti-Muslim sentiments in the United States that have been present since 9/11, Jani said. He added that immigrants and minorities are used as scapegoats by some for America’s problems.
“According to studies last summer, white supremacists since 9/11 have accounted for more than double the civilian deaths on U.S. soil than jihadists,” Jani said. “Why is it that no policies are emerging for painting all whites as potential supremacists or fundamentalists?”
The issue of refugees in the United States is not a new one, Jani said. He cited Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, as well as Cubans and Haitians in the United States. He added that refugees add to American society, a sentiment he shared with Alzouhayli.
“Refugees and immigrants have built this country,” he said. “Somali, Jewish, Mexican, Burmese, Irish, Tibetan, Japanese, Palestinian and, yes, Syrian refugees and immigrants — whether fleeing political and social repression or fleeing the economic gun of poverty — have given their blood, sweat, and tears to this country. No one brush can be used to paint any group.”