Welcome to America, Where We Turn Away Orphans Out of Fear but Allow Suspected Terrorists to Buy Guns

This is the front page of today's New York Daily News.

This is the front page of today’s New York Daily News.

The American response to the terrorist attacks in Paris has been horrifying. This cowardly refusal to accept Syrian refugees has done real damage to the American ideal of accepting “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Only a handful of governors, including Jay Inslee, have responded to the attacks by opening their arms to Syrian refugees, and the rest have adopted an utterly un-Christian stance of fear and hatred. On the right, presidential candidates have demanded (unconstitutional) tests to “prove” Christianity before refugees are allowed in the US. President Obama, meanwhile, has rightfully mocked anti-refugee protesters of being “worried about three-year-old orphans.” Max Fisher at Vox looked at six ways the anti-refugee rhetoric fails to reflect reality. For one thing, governors can’t legally refuse refugees. For another, America vets its refugees very well. For a third, the Parisian attackers authorities have identified up until now have not been Syrian refugees.

Even worse, many of the same people who refuse to accept refugees have actively fought against policies that would help keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. Today the New York Daily News reported:

The NRA — and their gun-loving Republican cohorts — are refusing once more to stop terrorists intent on getting armed in the U.S.A.

A legal loophole allows suspected terrorists on the government’s no-fly list to legally buy guns, but a bill to fix that will likely wither on the vine. The federal Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act, even in the wake of last week’s terrorist killing of 129 people in Paris, remains a long shot due to its rabid pro-gun opponents.

The News goes on to report, “more than 2,000 suspects on the FBI’s Terrorist Watchlist bought weapons in the U.S. over the last 11 years.” So while Americans fall over themselves trying to deny citizenship to a group of people based on religious grounds, they fail to support actual legislation that could keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists.

This is all backwards thinking. For a moment, let’s set aside the fact that it’s morally right to accept refugees. It’s also economically smart to accept refugees. America’s economy is successful because we’re a diverse nation, one that welcomes a variety of perspectives. As Nick Hanauer wrote here in September:

Innovation is an evolutionary process and, just like in the biological world, diversity is the key to evolution. The more cognitive diversity we have—the more people simultaneously approaching the same problem from as many different backgrounds and perspectives as possible—the greater the rate of innovation. It’s not how hard you try; it’s how many different ways you try to solve a problem that leads to success. Innovation is driven by differences, not sameness.

The evidence is clear: diversity does not hinder growth—it supercharges it. That has always been America’s competitive advantage: we have the most diverse workforce in the world, and for all our problems, we do a better job of integrating diversity than anyone else. Diversity is America’s most valuable resource; it is what makes us the most innovative nation on Earth.

Need more proof that diversity spurs innovation? Consider one of the most famous men of the last twenty years, who happened to be the son of a Syrian migrant. How many future innovators are we turning away out of nothing more than base fear? How many of our other policies are failing us even as the most timid Americans slap together hypotheticals to form a nonsensical refugee system based on nothing more than hearsay? This has not been a good week to be an American.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.