Hillary Clinton has joined Barack Obama in accusing Republican of betraying American values for raising legitimate security concerns about admitted Syrian refugees, declaring last week that “slamming the door on refugees isn’t who we are.”
Funny, because when her husband was president, he “slammed the door” on refugees — the cell door at Guantanamo Bay.
In the early 1990s, tens of thousands of refugees fled Haiti and sought refuge in the United States following the military coup that overthrew President Jean Bertrand Aristide. They did not include Islamist terrorists, but many posed another perceived threat: They had HIV. Instead of admitting them into the United States, President Bill Clinton ordered the Haitian refugees be held at Guantanamo, and then repatriated back to Haiti.
During the 1992 election Clinton criticized President George H.W. Bush’s practice of repatriating Haitian refugees as “cruel” and “immoral,” and promised to end the practice. But after winning the presidency, Clinton reversed course, and tried to stop the Haitian exodus by declaring that the refugees would be intercepted and sent back to Haiti. It didn’t work, and eventually he decided to house tens of thousands of Haitian refugees in Guantanamo. A federal judge declared Clinton’s policy of detaining refugees at Gitmo “outrageous, callous and reprehensible” and criticized him for inflicting on the Haitians “the kind of indefinite detention usually reserved for spies and murderers.” After an American-led force restored President Aristide to power in 1994, the Clinton administration told the remaining refugees they had to return home, declaring: “Under no circumstances will any Haitian currently in Guantanamo be admitted to the United States.”
Did Bill Clinton “betray our values” in refusing to admit these refugees?
It was not the first time Clinton saw Guantanamo as the solution for a refugee crisis. In 1980, some 125,000 Cubans fled the Castro regime as part of the Mariel boatlift. While most were fleeing oppression, the regime also released thousands of criminals from Cuban jails and patients from Cuban mental health facilities and sent them to America. The Carter administration chose Fort Chaffee, Ark., as a detention facility to hold the refugees. But then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton told the White House he did not want criminal and mentally unstable Cubans brought into his state. When the White House objected that there was nowhere else to put them, Clinton recounted in his memoir “My Life,” he told the White House: “We still have a base at Guantanamo, don’t we? And there must be a gate in the fence that divides it from Cuba. Take them to Guantanamo, open the door, and march them back into Cuba.” The Carter administration overruled Clinton’s objections and sent the refugees to Arkansas.
Later, as president, Clinton reversed the 35-year-old U.S. policy of granting asylum to Cuban refugees fleeing communist persecution. In its place, he instituted an inhumane policy called “wet foot, dry foot” in which he offered Cubans asylum based on the Darwinian principle of “survival of the fittest” — refugees intrepid enough to evade the Coast Guard and reach dry land could stay, while those interdicted at sea would be sent back to their Cuban communist masters.
Now, Hillary Clinton is accusing Republicans governors of “turning away orphans” for refusing to accept Syrian refugees, when her own husband did the same with Haitian and Cuban refugees. Unlike the Haitian and Cuban refugees her husband sent home, today’s Syrian refugees pose a major national security challenge for the United States. While most refugees are innocent men, women and children fleeing terror and persecution, we know that Islamist terrorists have already successfully used the U.S. refugee program as cover to infiltrate terrorists into our country. It only takes a few Islamic State infiltrators to bring the chaos we see in Paris today to our shores.
Obama administration officials have testified that they cannot assure Congress that they can effectively screen the refugees. And even if the vetting process were perfect, a November 2014 poll of Syrian refugees found that, while the vast majority oppose the Islamic State, a significant minority of 13 percent support the terror network. At that rate, if the United States were to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees, as the Obama administration proposes, it could be admitting as many as 1,300 ISIS supporters. It’s hard enough to screen for Islamic State operatives. Screening for Islamic State sympathizers is virtually impossible.
These are serious security issues. But instead of working with Republicans to resolve them, and finding a bipartisan way forward to help the refugees, President Obama is politicizing the issue — and Hillary Clinton is joining the political bandwagon. She ought to be careful. It’s tricky claiming the moral high ground on refugees when President Clinton’s preferred solution was to send them to Guantanamo Bay.