Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Nathan Deal's stance against refugees is petty cruelty

Donald Trump's blather about immigrants and refugees is so far just that: blather. It's far from harmless, but he doesn't hold public office and thus lacks the authority to implement any of his nonsense. Heaven help the United States if that changes.

On the other hand, the anti-refugee blather coming from Gov. Nathan Deal does have an impact. It has an impact on the reputation of our state as accepting, tolerant and decent. More important, it has an impact on flesh-and-blood human beings in need of help, families driven from their homes by violence in which hundreds of thousands have been killed, people desperately seeking a peaceful place to live and raise their families.

Deal insists that place cannot be Georgia. Based on no evidence whatsoever, only the fevered product of his imagination, he has announced that as governor, he will try to block the resettlement of the handful of Syrian families slated for this state, an authority granted to him by no law, state or federal. He has already ordered state officials to refuse to cooperate in any way with such resettlement, including in the distribution of federally funded assistance, again without legal authority. In short, he has made himself into a regular little George C. Wallace, bravely standing at the state border to protect us from terrorist hordes by trying to deny them food stamps, and he has ensured that petty cruelty will be part of his enduring legacy as governor.

To his credit, Attorney General Sam Olens has advised Deal that the state has no legal ability to prevent refugee resettlement here, a warning that Deal has brushed aside. A federal judge in Texas has just told state authorities there the same thing, concluding that the state "has failed to show by competent evidence that any terrorists actually have infiltrated the refugee program, much less that these particular  refugees are terrorists intent on causing harm."

It is, in short, bigotry and fear, and that is never an attractive or productive combination.

It's also important to point out that there's a history here.

Shortly after taking office in 2011, and long before this misbegotten mania about Syrian refugees and terrorism, Deal had attempted to shut down the flow of refugees from other parts of the world into Georgia. He complained to federal authorities that our state of 10 million people couldn't handle an annual influx of some 2,500 refugees a year, and that we were being asked to shoulder a disproportionate share of the refugee influx. (That is not even close to being true). At one point, Deal even went so far as to block the issuance of federally funded contracts to provide English instruction, job training and other services to refugees, forcing faith-based and other resettlement organizations to lay off staff.

I have had several opportunity over the years to talk with these refugees, at length, to hear their stories and their challenges. They are not scary people. They are mothers and fathers grateful for the sanctuary that we, as Americans and Georgians, have been able to provide them. Many are survivors of more than you or I can imagine, and they are proud. Some 85 percent are off public assistance within six months of their arrival, despite the fact that their English is initially limited and whatever job skills they had in their native countries often don't translate into our economy. We're lucky to have them.

The idea that we're trying to block families in dire need from settling here because of what amounts to a 0.000001 percent chance that a would-be terrorist might be hiding among them is ridiculous. Georgia is, or ought to be, better than this.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.