CHARLESTON, S.C. — As Republican presidential candidates continued to sound the alarm Friday about Syrian immigrants, Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders took a step in the opposite direction, launching a petition drive to preserve the program that facilities their arrival in the United States.
“In this moment, it is particularly important that we not allow ourselves to be divided by the anti-immigrant hysteria that Republican presidential candidates are ginning up,” Sanders, who was arriving here for a three-day campaign swing, said in an e-mail to supporters. “When hundreds of thousands of people have lost everything and have nothing left but the shirts on their backs, we should not turn our backs on these refugees escaping violence in the Middle East.”
In the wake of the Paris attacks — which have refocused the political dialogue on combating the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations — Republicans have called for a range of measures in recent days.
The GOP-led House of Representatives passed a measure Thursday calling for new security constraints on President Obama’s pledge to admit 10,000 refugees from war-torn Syria, most of whom would be Muslim. And Republican presidential candidates have gone further, with some suggesting greater scrutiny be applied to all Muslims.
Sanders’s petition asks for support for continuing “the refugee program that promises 10,000 Syrians, mostly women and children, who are escaping violence in the home country.”
“Of course we have to investigate the backgrounds of people coming into the country — and we will — but to suggest that we would even turn away orphans is incredible,” Sanders said in his e-mail.
Sanders, whose upstart presidential campaign has largely focused on economic issues to this point, also used his e-mail to relay the story of his father immigrating to the United States from Poland in 1921 at the age of 17 as he looked for a better life.
“He never made a lot of money, but it didn’t matter because he was able to start a family and send his two sons to college,” Sanders said. “That meant the world to him, and he loved this country.”
The two other Democrats seeking the presidency — front-runner Hillary Clinton and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley — have also been outspoken in their support of Obama’s efforts to allow Syrian refugees into the country.
In a major speech in New York on Thursday, Clinton said that “turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every single Syrian refugee – that is just not who we are.”
During an appearance Friday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” O’Malley appealed for a more reasoned look at the current program, noting that “there's a 13-step process that goes through this vetting process for Syrian refugees.”
“We’re in no danger of having a whole bunch of Syrian refugees come to our country any time soon,” O’Malley said. “It is a one-year — some people say two-year — process before they actually go through the vetting process."