Imprimis

Who We Are As a People—The Syrian Refugee Question

Edward J. Erler
Co-author, The Founders on Citizenship and Immigration


Edward J. ErlerEdward J. Erler is professor emeritus of political science at California State University, San Bernardino. He earned his B.A. from San Jose State University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in government from the Claremont Graduate School. He has published numerous articles on constitutional topics in journals such as Interpretation, the Notre Dame Journal of Law, and the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. He was a member of the California Advisory Commission on Civil Rights from 1988-2006 and served on the California Constitutional Revision Commission in 1996. He is the author of The American Polity and co‑author of The Founders on Citizenship and Immigration. This fall he is a visiting distinguished professor of politics at Hillsdale College.



The following is adapted from a lecture delivered at Hillsdale College on October 12, 2016, sponsored by the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship and Pi Sigma Alpha.

Nothing has provoked the ire of America’s bipartisan political class as much as Donald Trump’s recent proposal that the U.S. should suspend the acceptance of refugees from Syria and other terrorist-supporting nations until we find a way of perfecting the screening process to ensure that we are not admitting terrorists or terror sympathizers. On its face this proposal was not unreasonable. Most of these refugees do not have adequate documentation, intelligence agencies do not have sufficient information to determine whether or not they have terrorist connections or intend to engage in terrorism, and the heads of our security agencies have warned that active terrorists will inevitably slip through security screening cracks. Nor is it as if there was no reasonable alternative. Wouldn’t it have been better, as Trump and others have suggested, to address the refugee crisis by setting up security zones in Syria or other Middle Eastern countries where refugees could find safety and where Muslim nations might feel obligated to help finance their care? In addition to making sense from a national security perspective, this would also have been a more humane solution, since it would not have uprooted the refugees from their homelands and injected them into an alien way of life.

Why are our political leaders, despite these facts, willing to expose the nation to such potential danger?—a danger that is surely greater than we now imagine. One only has to observe the results of the refugee crisis in Europe to see what is in store for the American homeland. Yet the Obama administration, following Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government in Germany, is adamant that the number of Syrian refugees—and Muslim refugees generally—must increase substantially. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently named Merkel as her favorite world leader, has frequently indicated that acceptance of refugees is an important reaffirmation of America’s commitment to diversity. It is a reaffirmation of “who we are as Americans,” she has said, as if the American character is defined by its unlimited openness to diversity. To show the bipartisan nature of this commitment, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has used the same phrase to explain his approval of the refugee program. In both cases, the clear implication is that America’s commitment to diversity outweighs considerations of national security. Indeed, in what can only be called a self-willed delusion, proponents of the refugee program seem to believe that their commitment to diversity makes us stronger and more secure as a nation, and that any opposition to the program is racist, xenophobic, and most particularly Islamophobic.

Consider what this means. Germans have been warned that it is their duty to accommodate themselves to newly arrived refugees and not to place politically incorrect demands upon them—that is, not to demand that the refugees adapt to German ways. Some have advised German women in particular that if they don’t wish to be harassed by male refugees, they should cover their heads and be accompanied outside of the home by a male. Will this be a part of America’s politically correct future?

Merkel, like Obama, bases her immigration policy on a globalist view of the world. Secretary of State John Kerry propounded this view in a recent commencement address, warning Americans that we must prepare ourselves for a “borderless world.” But a world without borders is a world without citizens, and a world without citizens is a world without the rights and privileges that attach exclusively to citizenship. Rights and liberties exist only in separate and independent nations; they are the exclusive preserve of the nation-state. Constitutional government only succeeds in the nation-state, where the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed. By contrast, to see the globalist principle in practice, look at the European Union. The EU is not a constitutional government; it is an administrative state ruled by unelected bureaucrats. It attempts to do away with both borders and citizens, and it replaces rights and liberty with welfare and regulation as the objects of its administrative rule. Constitutional government—to say nothing of liberal democracy—will not be a part of the politically correct, borderless world into which so many of our political leaders wish to usher us.