Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: No fraternité in U.S. governors’ refusal to accept Syrian refugees

People walk and take pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower illuminated in the French colors in honor of the victims of the attacks last week in Paris.
People walk and take pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower illuminated in the French colors in honor of the victims of the attacks last week in Paris. AP

Heartbroken over the horrific scenes in familiar Parisian streets and cafés — terrorist attacks with explosives and automatic weapons that killed innocents — I didn’t see the next round of despair coming.

The Paris body count, at 129 killed and more than 350 injured, isn’t yet final. Vital facts are far from confirmed, and already American elected officials are using the attacks by ISIS operatives to justify closing U.S. doors to Syrian refugees.

How can our first response be to pile on more suffering on victims of a conflict we helped create, when communities around the globe are awash with moving tributes to a violated city that represents culture, civilization and love?

Social media profiles are veiled in the blue, red and white of France’s flag. Memories of Parisian jaunts are being shared. Photo albums are unearthed to counteract images of carnage with flower stalls, patisseries, Rodin’s The Kiss.

Seeing the acts of bravery of Parisians, who in the midst of terror didn’t close their apartment doors but opened them to victims fleeing and bleeding, I thought we, too, would rise to the occasion. We would stand firm against evil and everything the killers loathed and aimed to destroy — the ebullience of a society founded, much like ours, on the principles of liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Freedom, equality, fraternity.

For the most fleeting moment, I thought the anti-immigrant voices would at least manage temporary restraint out of respect for the dead and the mourners — people of many backgrounds and faiths — before exhibiting their narcissistic need to put themselves first.

But there he was, Gov. Rick Scott, writing a letter Monday to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to say that Florida would “not support the requests we have received” to offer state services to 425 Syrian refugees in the state. This from a single suspicion that one of the Paris terrorists camouflaged himself as a Syrian refugee.

After a weekend of watching suffering, our governor’s first thought on Monday morning was to stereotype a group of victims of terrorism and to close state doors to them. Not that he has the authority, but that kind of talk can spark the hate in others, turning what should be a place of refuge into another kind of hell.

How ugly to put First World comfort ahead of frightened, traumatized people fleeing war and terrorism.

Turning our backs, migration expert Kevin Appleby said Tuesday, “diminishes our standing and moral leadership in the world and our ability to bring nations together to address this humanitarian crisis.”

The terrorists’ objectives — to instill fear, to quash the values America and its allies hold dear — were achieved with the governor’s letter and with the words of another dozen governors who took the same harsh stance. As if the process by which the United States accepts refugees didn’t include intensive security screenings and follow-up.

In the aftermath of evil, the call to action should be to honor and help victims of terror and war, not to shut the door in their faces.