1,000 rabbis urge US govt to take Syrian refugees

Zaid Khan, 10, participates in a pro-refugee protest in Seattle, Washington November 28, 2015. © Jason Redmond
Rabbis in the US have signed a letter urging the government to support refugee resettlement and not repeat mistakes made during the holocaust.

The letter, which was signed by 1,000 rabbis and presented to Congress on Wednesday, is in response to political opposition to Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris and Beirut terror attacks.

Published by US charity HIAS (formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), the letter cites the 1939 SS St. Louis incident in which over 900 Jewish refugees escaping the Third Reich were denied entry to the US and sent back to Europe to face persecution.

The charity calls the incident a "tragic decision made in a political climate of deep fear, suspicion and anti-semitism" and an example of the US not being able to "tell the difference between an actual enemy and the victims of an enemy.” It also urges the current US administration not to “make the same mistake again."

Shortly after the St. Louis incident, Congress rejected a proposal to allow 20,000 Jewish children to come to the US for safety. Laura Delano Houghteling, wife of the US commissioner of immigration and cousin of then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, defended the decision, saying "20,000 charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults."

It wasn't until after details of the Holocaust emerged that the US recognized the importance of helping refugees.

The majority of US state governors are opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees on security grounds, justifying their decision with an unconfirmed rumor that one of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks arrived in Europe as a refugee.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence rejected a Syrian couple and their five-year-old son from the state in November, forcing them to be resettled in Connecticut.

Republican congressional leaders are expected to bring a bill before congress over the coming days intended to tighten the clearance process for refugees from Syria and Iraq.

The bill would add steps to the process, including a sign-off on each individual refugee by the secretary of Homeland Security and directors of the FBI and national intelligence, making them liable for any incidents caused by refugees they admit.

The current process already takes a lengthy 18 to 24 months. Opponents of the bill have argued the visa waiver program which allows people from 38 countries to enter the US with no screening should be examined instead.

President Obama is expected the veto the bill, with a statement from his administration saying it would “hamper our efforts to assist some of the most vulnerable people in the world.”

He said the US will admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming year as part of their admittance of 85,000 refugees from around the world. This is an increase from 70,000 the previous year.

Rabbis have signed open letters to Congress before, with 871 asking them to reject President Obama's Iran deal earlier this year. 340 rabbis signed a letter in support of the deal.

There are roughly 3,900 rabbis currently in the US.