Gov. Greg Abbott was certainly right in many of the things he said Monday as he declared Texas will not accept any refugees from Syria following Friday’s deadly terrorist attacks in Paris.
But Abbott is tragically wrong to slam the door on these refugees.
“Neither you nor any federal official can guarantee that Syrian refugees will not be part of any terroristic activity,” Abbott wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama announcing his decision.
He’s right, there are no guarantees in any fight against terrorists, and it’s no different in the current war against radical Islamic militants.
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But neither Abbott nor any state official can guarantee that no fresh-faced cheerleader graduating from a Texas high school will ever turn to a life of crime — or even travel to Syria to join ISIS in order to further its terrorist goals.
The lack of guarantees doesn’t stop us from graduating cheerleaders, nor should it determine that Texas cannot be home to Syrian refugees.
Guarantees are impossible; we can only decide how to face uncertainty. Texas should be a land of compassion.
Abbott’s assessment of the federal government’s ability to screen out all terrorists from Syrian refugees seeking to enter the United States, perhaps Texas, is derived from reports widely circulated in conservative media.
FBI Director James B. Comey told a congressional committee last month that even though the screening process is extensive, it relies greatly on data and fingerprint searches that would not flag someone who has never before been involved in any activity that would create such a record.
Single males are not accepted in the U.S. refugee program. Still, it is possible that someone under the influence of ISIS but with a clean record could enter the program with his or her spouse and family, hoping to get to Texas and eventually carry out a terrorist act.
The chances are slim. Millions of people have fled Syria since 2011; in the past year, 190 have settled in Texas.
They have come here after successfully completing a State Department screening process that can take as long as two years.
All Syrian applicants are reviewed both in Washington and through in-person Homeland Security interviews in foreign countries.
Any of those 190 new Syrian Texans who came here during the past year could be a terrorist, but it’s far more likely that they are people desperate to escape the violence of their homeland and find a safe place to live and raise their families.
Texas should be a place where they find it.