The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, is cross-posted from HuffPo:
Imagine that you and your family have been displaced from your homeland by an oppressive government. Imagine that if you are forced to return to that homeland you will likely be subjected to persecution — and potentially death.
Now imagine that the world’s democracies close their doors and refuse to give you asylum.
That is exactly what happened to thousands of Jews who were targeted for persecution and ultimately extermination by Hitler’s Germany.
In November 1938, the Nazis organized a systematic attack on Jews called Kristallnacht. That event escalated the growing anti-Semitism in Germany to a new level, and many Jews decided they must leave the country.
On May 13, 1939 some 900 Jews fled Germany aboard the cruise liner SS St. Louis. They had hoped to reach Cuba and then travel to the United States and safety.
But when they arrived in Cuba they were not allowed to land. Then the captain steered the St. Louis towards the Florida coast, but U.S. authorities refused to allow the ship loaded with desperate refugees to dock.
In the end, the ship was forced to return to Europe — and 250 of those on board were ultimately killed by the Nazis.
Most Americans look back on our refusal to admit the Jewish refugees from Europe as a shameful blot on American history. We must not allow it to happen again.
Today the flow of refugees are Muslim, Christian, and Yazidi. They are fleeing ISIS and the horrific civil war in Syria.
Our most fundamental moral precept is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — the Golden Rule. When fellow human beings are fleeing their homes in fear of their lives, we must do our best to help provide them help and safety or we won’t be able to look at ourselves in the mirror.
What if we found ourselves on the other side of that equation? What if that child’s body on that Greek beach were one of our children? What would we expect and hope for from our fellow human beings?
It certainly is not the unforgivable demagoguery that flooded the airwaves on Monday from 24 GOP governors who issued statements saying they would “not take in” Syrian refugees in their states and would deny any aid to resettle them.
New Jersey Governor and long-shot GOP presidential contender Chris Christie said he wanted to keep out Syrian refugees even if they are children.
Another presidential candidate, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said he would use “all lawful means” to block Syrian refugees from coming to Louisiana.
Rick Snyder, Governor of Michigan, which has a large Syrian community, said he would do everything he could to keep Syrian refugees out of the state.
Illinois Governor, Bruce Rauner announced he had “suspended” taking refugees in Illinois.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a letter to Obama that begins “As governor of Texas, I write to inform you that the State of Texas will not accept any refugees from Syria in the wake of the deadly terrorist attack in Paris.”
Of course, none of these governors actually has the legal authority to prevent Syrian refugees from coming to their states. The United States of America does not have borders between states that they can close, and states have zero legal authority over immigration standards to the United States under the United States Constitution.
The sole purpose of their declarations was political demagoguery — to play on the fears that erupted in the wake of the Paris attacks — to whip up fear of “the other” for their own political gain.
Not surprisingly, many GOP presidential candidates followed suit.
GOP poll leader Ben Carson said he would block all refugees from the Middle East.
Marco Rubio — who had previously shown openness to refugees — slammed the door.
Jeb Bush said the U.S. should concentrate on helping only Christian refugees.
Ted Cruz said: “It would be the height of foolishness to bring in tens of thousands of people including jihadists that are coming here to murder innocent Americans.”
And of course, Donald Trump said: “This could be one of the great Trojan horses. … We cannot let them into this country, period.”
All of this, of course, even though at this moment the only individuals verified to have been involved in the Paris terrorist attack were Europeans. Turns out it is not at all certain that the purported Syrian passport found near a dead attacker was legitimate or even belonged to the individual who was admitted to Europe through Greece, since it turns out that a duplicate passport was found elsewhere.
This makes it likely that both passports are fakes created by forgers.
In fact, of course, a backlash against Syrian refugees plays directly into the hands of ISIS, that wants to prevent emigration from Syria.
To his great credit, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Junker called on European leaders not to put off the plan that has already been agreed upon to aid those fleeing from Syria.
Those who attacked Paris were “criminals,” said Junker at the G20 summit in Turkey, “not refugees, not asylum seekers.” “Those who organized these attacks and those that perpetrated them are exactly those that the refugees are fleeing and not the opposite,” he said.
That is moral leadership. The kind of leadership that was echoed by President Obama who said that America would not turn its back on the refugees and would continue to use the same tough vetting procedures that are currently in place to screen asylum seekers. The fact is that the procedures used to screen asylum seekers are tougher than for any one else seeking to enter the United States.
In fact, some of the most anti-refugee voices would not themselves be Americans today had our country refused to open its arms to their families and ancestors when they sought to escape oppression in the past.
America at its best is the “city on the hill” — the country that stands by our values, even when it is difficult.
In 1939, some American leaders found it easier to turn away a boatload of Jewish refugees. It was safer. It was someone else’s problem. As a result, a third of those refugees perished. Decades later, it is hard to understand how America could have been so callous.
We need to evaluate our decisions today by the same yardstick. What will our children and grandchildren say? What will we say when they ask, what did we did to help those fleeing ISIS and a horrific civil war?
America is the country that opens its arms with welcome and hope, rather than demagoguery and fear.
After all, it is hard to say that you stand up for American values when you turn your back on the words that are engraved on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”