skip to Main Content

From the President: Do Our Protections Destroy What We Value?

Recent events require a rethink of what it means to circle the wagons

dan-dewoskin-new-photoby Daniel DeWoskin
President, DeKalb Bar Association

When terrible things happen in the world, we tend to circle the wagons. This phrase generally means that we unite in our defense. We often do this when there is a tragedy or catastrophe within our borders. It may be a natural disaster such as Katrina or a man-made horror such as the September 11 attacks. In any event, in light of the attacks in Paris, we need to rethink what it means to circle the wagons.

In times of crisis, our circle protects us. It allows us to see our common values and goals, our unified humanity and strength. However, as many of our leaders engage in misguided attempts to protect us and bestow the impression of safety, our circle serves to exclude more than to protect. I am speaking specifically of the recent vote of House Republicans to halt the resettlement of refugees from Syria and Iraq to the U.S.

We should not close our eyes to what is happening around us, but we should act as compassionate intellectuals in a free nation that prides itself on the benefits of a melting pot and the American dream.”

Our nation has a critical interest in preventing terrorists from settling in our country. This is true regardless of where the terrorists may be coming from. The fact that recent terrorist events may have been perpetuated by Syrian nationals should not cause us to distrust all Syrians. After all, terrorists may come from anywhere and we should be vigilant when it comes to immigration and resettlement from anywhere.

What seems to be missing is an understanding or consideration of what Syrian refugees must be going through at this time. Their homeland is in turmoil and violence and displacement are rampant. For our country to throw up higher walls and vote that they be impenetrable to this entire group of people who are suffering categorically strikes me as remarkably un-American.

Once again, this vote does not call for greater scrutiny. It does not impose new questions or merely new restrictions, but goes further in requiring that the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI certify that refugees pose no security threat. This legislation is sweeping and caustic given that the current process already takes up to two years and is by no stretch of the imagination a rubber-stamping of refugees seeking shelter from a country stricken by war.

Our country’s collective goals are noble. We want to protect our nation, our way of life, and our freedom. We do not seek to isolate, to alienate, or to discriminate. However, in this time of crisis, the decisions and actions we take out of fear place us at greater risk in the long run and endanger so many that our core values as a nation demand we should instead be helping.

This is a very divisive issue and one that is shaping up to fall along strict party lines. It is unfortunate that as we continue into an election year, our fears may get the best of us and find us revisiting xenophobic attitudes from previous generations. We have come far enough to learn from our own nation’s history. I am not suggesting that we close our eyes to what is happening around us, but rather that we act as compassionate intellectuals in a free nation, one that prides itself on the benefits of a melting pot and the American dream.

In the base of the Statue of Liberty, there is a plaque with the words “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” These words that so many of us know so well are from “The New Colossus,” a sonnet by Emma Lazarus, written in 1883. As we continue to circle the wagons in the 21st Century, engaging in the new vigilance of our post 9-11 world, let us not cower in fear and shut out the rest of the world in a feeble attempt to redefine who we are. As we engage in this discourse, we should not lose sight of what we expect of our leaders here and abroad and what duties we owe to ourselves and our children. We must protect ourselves, but to shun a class of displaced victims of war out of fear that a terrorist may walk among them victimizes everyone, including us. It is a self-inflicted act of terrorism.

Back To Top