Just three months ago, the world was shocked by heart-wrenching photos of a 3-year boy who drowned and was found face down in the surf on a Turkish beach. The images of his lifeless, innocent body pricked the world's conscience and prompted widespread calls to do more to help those fleeing the widespread violence engulfing Syria and other countries.
Then came the massacres committed by Islamic jihadists in Paris and San Bernardino. Empathy evaporated, and voices clamored to shut our nation's door to those fleeing massacres and brutality in the Middle East. Donald Trump issued his infamous call to turn away all Muslims - to cheers from his disturbingly large number of followers. Some even hinted it was time to round up the ones that are here.
In only a barely more sober vein, a majority of the nation's governors, including Gov. Christie, said they would fight any resettlement of Syrian refugees inside their borders.
In this holiday season, when people typically pay more attention to the needs of the less fortunate, let's take a moment to consider how easy it is to overreact when considering an appropriate response to real threats.
In the most notorious example, after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, thousands of law-abiding Japanese Americans were herded into internment camps. Some 45 years later, Congress and President Ronald Reagan issued a formal apology and paid reparations. Today's opponents of sheltering Syrian refugees would repeat the mistake our country made in the run-up to World War II, when a shipload of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany was turned away.
Unlike the chaos with migrants flooding into Europe, the United States can take in Mideast refugees at a careful and measured pace. Applicants must pass an intensive, multi-stage screening process that takes 18 to 24 months, typically while the applicant waits in another country.
There are much easier ways for terrorists to sneak across our borders. None of the hijackers on 9/11 was a refugee. The Pakistani woman in the San Bernardino attacks came here on a "fiancée visa," with plans to marry an American citizen.
The U.S. visa waiver program, which allows travelers from some 38 friendly countries to enter with no real scrutiny, is also a vulnerable immigration pathway. It could open the door to terrorists who are citizens of Western countries, like the European nationals who launched the attacks in Paris.
Of course, President Obama and Congress should take a closer look at how officials screen people for admission to the country through all the various immigration channels. In fact, the omnibus spending bill passed Friday by Congress requires more vigorous security checks as part of the visa-waiver program.
The United States has taken in 785,000 refugees since 9/11, but only a mere dozen have posed security threats resulting in arrest or deportation, according to Secretary of State John Kerry.