Littwin: Why is Jared Polis helping the anti-Islam right?
November 22, 2015
I know what Donald Trump is doing. And I know what Ben Carson is doing. And I know what Ted Cruz is doing. And I know what Chris Christie is doing. And I know what all those GOP governors who aren't running for president — at least not this time — are doing.
What I don't understand is why Jared Polis, of all people, is helping them do it.
In no time at all, they've turned the horror of the ISIS attacks in Paris into a nasty piece of all-American fear-mongering, targeting Syrian refugees — themselves on the run from ISIS horrors — as potential terrorists. In its time of mourning, France has renewed its pledge to take in 30,000 more Syrian refugees. What is America's responsibility after the disaster that was America's role in the region, even in a time of heightened concern about terrorism?
It's shameful but utterly predictable. At this point, no one is quite sure what to do about ISIS — only if your name is Bush do you think another war is a good option — and so the fight has become about the refugees who, if you think about it, are very much like immigrants, meaning the xenophobic battle lines had been set already.
That's how you come to see more than two dozen governors (one a Democrat) pledging to turn away Syrian refugees from their states. And you see presidential candidates threatening to force Muslims to sign onto a database with which to track them (Trump), comparing the potential threat of refugees to the potential threat of rabid dogs (Carson), calling for a religious test for refugees (Cruz), citing the risk of allowing 5-year-old orphan refugees into his state, asking who would take care of them, as if we routinely dump orphans to the side of the road (Christie).
You knew the House would join in on the fun soon, with new Speaker Paul Ryan bringing to a vote a bill that would "pause" the intake of refugees from Syria and Iraq, just to be on the safe side, even if the Paris attackers were mostly — or maybe entirely — from France and Belgium.
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But the pause could be more like a full stop, which seems to be the point.
The bill would require each future refugee from Syria and Iraq to be certified as nonthreatening by the FBI director, the head of homeland security and the director of national intelligence. Without this bill, it takes 18 to 24 months to vet a refugee. With three top officials having to personally sign off, well, the math just gets that much harder.
As expected, the bill passed, but not everyone expected it to pass so overwhelmingly, with 47 Democrats joining nearly all Republicans. It still has to get past the Senate and, if it gets that far, a threatened Obama veto. But what was really unexpected was that one of the Democrats to vote for the bill was Polis, who is strongly pro-refugee, strongly anti-xenophobe and quite happy, he says, to have seen John Hickenlooper promise to welcome Syrian refugees to Colorado.
In other words, Polis voted for what is considered by nearly everyone to be an anti-Syrian-refugee bill as a pro-Syrian-refugee legislator.
If you're confused, don't expect any help from me, although I tried. Most of the Democrats who voted for the bill had election issues and weren't expected to take a hit for Obama. But Polis is from a safe district, where his vote couldn't have hurt him much either way. So why did he do it?
I read Polis' statement, in which he said he supports bringing in more than the 10,000 Syrian refugees the Obama administration is promising but that he voted for the bill because he wants to see improvement in an "already-extensive vetting process." It didn't seem to clear anything up.
I texted with his press team, who said he didn't believe that the bill, designed to slow down the process, would slow down the process much at all.
I got Polis on the phone and asked if he didn't think that most of those voting for the bill were, in fact, opposed to bringing in more Syrian refugees.
I asked if he thought the refugee-vetting system, which requires multiple background checks and doesn't allow a prospective refugee to come to America until he or she is approved, wasn't already rigorous.
He not only agreed — he also said if he'd been writing the bill, he'd have put the emphasis on those traveling here on passports that don't need a visa and those traveling on a student visa.
I could have mentioned that according to the Migration Policy Institute, 780,000 refugees have resettled in America since 9/11 and that of the 780,000, only three — yes, three — had been arrested on terrorism charges, and two of those were for terrorism outside the country. But Polis was way ahead of me. He texted me a copy of a letter he had signed in September asking Obama, who has been so cautious on Syrian refugees, to raise the Syrian refugee target to 100,000.
"If we're going to ask the American public to accept a lot more refugees, we should also assure them we are doing everything to make the process as safe as possible," Polis said, noting that congressional oversight was critical. "We have to show that Americans can have confidence in an already strong program."
And so, against all logic, Polis insists he voted for a bill that nearly everyone believes is a not-so-subtle message that Americans think it is dangerous to allow more Syrian refugees (read: mostly Muslims) into the country as a way to convince Americans that we should allow more Syrian refugees into the country. And I'll bet you thought this political season couldn't get any stranger.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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