Banning Syrian refugees diminishes the power of that essential American message etched into the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ...”

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FEAR does something to people. It makes us less tolerant. Quick to judge. Forgetful of history.

Too many U.S. leaders, either out of ignorance or cynical political purpose, are trying to shun Syrian refugees after the terrorist attacks in Paris Friday. The rationale goes that terrorists could slip in with refugees and attack Americans within U.S. borders.

Gov. Jay Inslee was exactly right when he joined a group of governors in refusing to shut their states’ doors to refugees fleeing bombs and terrorists in Syria.

 

Related video: How Washington embraced Vietnamese refugees

Forty years after of the fall of Saigon, a look back at the unprecedented efforts led by Gov. Evans to welcome refugees to the state of Washington. Read more. (Thanh Tan and Danny Gawlowski / The Seattle Times)    

However, as many as 30 other governors have said they will not accept Syrian refugees until their security concerns can be addressed.

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The fact is, displaced Syrians are themselves victims of the Islamic State, a terrorist group hellbent on killing those — including fellow Muslims — who disagree with their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.

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As President Obama pushes to increase the number of Syrian refugees admitted in the United States from a total of nearly 2,000 so far to 10,000 next year, he is meeting stiff resistance. A Republican-led bill has been introduced in the U.S. House that would halt the entry of Syrian and Iraqi refugees unless U.S. intelligence agencies can guarantee they are not a threat to national security. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan says he wants a vote this week.

Here’s another fact: Refugees already undergo an intense screening process by federal agencies. On average, the process takes 18 to 24 months to complete.

Though the federal government decides where refugees are ultimately resettled, Inslee’s stand should encourage other governors and politicians to be more rational.

Washington has a storied history of helping refugees that dates back to the end of the Vietnam War. Then-Gov. Dan Evans was the first U.S. governor to welcome Indochinese refugees to the state. He mobilized faith leaders and communities to get involved by asking them to house, befriend and offer jobs to the newcomers.

That humanitarian legacy endures, but only if Washingtonians maintain open hearts and minds.

Over the past year, 25 Syrian refugees, who withstood intense scrutiny, have made Washington their home.

Let’s ensure these new residents and others who need our help are treated with compassion, not hostility.