Baker wrong to reject Syrian immigrants

By William Keve

(IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation/Flickr)
(IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation/Flickr)

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced Monday that the Commonwealth will not be accepting Syrian refugees. Baker cited the safety of Massachusetts citizens and a lack of details from the White House on how federal resettlement plans would be implemented. This is a disastrous choice for Massachusetts, the United States and the world. The only good news is that Baker has no authority to overrule President Barack Obama on this issue.

There is no debate over the constitutional authority of the federal government to dictate immigration policy to the states. The Supreme Court decided this issue in 1941 with the Hines v. Davidowitz decision, which upheld the 1940 Alien Registration Act, or Smith Act.  In the majority opinion, Justice Hugo Black wrote, “The supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation, is made clear by the Constitution.” Baker is among dozens of Republican governors who apparently didn’t get the memo. It’s quite ironic, considering his opponent for the job was a former Attorney General.

Even ignoring the legal reasons why Baker made the wrong decision, Massachusetts has no reason to fear Syrian immigrants. In the past, Massachusetts has been incredibly receptive to immigration not just from Mexico and the Caribbean, but from the entire world. Fifteen percent of registered voters in Massachusetts are first generation Americans, and, correspondingly, roughly one in six people from Massachusetts identify as Latino or Asian. There has been no significant political recourse against these immigrants, against white immigrants of any kind, or even against Arab immigrants prior to the terror attacks in Paris. After the destabilization of Libya following the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Massachusetts accepted some of the 30,000 refugees that NATO countries agreed to harbor.

The political action taken against Syrian refugees is entirely based on the fear of association between Syrians and terrorists. Baker’s previous rhetoric on immigration, when it has even been mentioned, has never invoked security. The first notable American political figure to do that was Donald Trump, who Baker has basically stepped in line with. The message is clear: Baker is implying that Syrian refugees are significantly more likely than other immigrants to endanger American citizens. That idea is baseless and racist. Baker called himself “a data guy” in the subsequent press conference, but refused to use any data that backed up his decision. Instead, he went with his gut on the idea that displaced Syrians are coming to our country with any intentions other than to get their lives back on track. I can’t imagine Baker has the same assumption about European immigrants.

The cultural lore of the United States is all about internal development through immigration. The foundation of the American dream begins with immigration. It moves on to aspiration and diaspora, and ends with creating an ethnic legacy that will improve the nation that allowed the immigrant to thrive. It often takes decades for immigrant legacies to develop. Every ethnicity in the United States had a rough entry period, especially the folks who call the Commonwealth home – from the Irish to the Italian to the Puerto Rican to the Chinese, all types of immigrants were oppressed and eventually established themselves as cornerstones of Massachusetts in the 21st century. Denying an opportunity that previous generations enjoyed to future bay state residents makes us no better than the people who tried to bar the current inhabitants of Massachusetts from initially coming here.

One idea I can get behind is that middle-eastern nations should be the first to open their doors to Syrian refugees. The reality is that Turkey has taken in more than two million refugees – nearly half of all displaced Syrians – while Turkey has a population of fewer than 80 million. America is taking in just 10,000 compared to our population of 300 million. Most other middle-east countries are not far behind Turkey in terms of proportional commitment.

Baker has made a great mistake that will ultimately be undone by the federal government in the coming months. The stain is a symbolic warning to all those who seek to better Massachusetts by setting down roots here. This choice reflects badly on the Commonwealth.

William Keve is a Collegian Columnist and can be reached at [email protected]