Mike Pence, man. Trying to make political hay out of a terrorist attack while dumping on immigrants (and war refugees, to boot). It’s hard to imagine a more quintessentially hard-right response to the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut. Well, except for Mike Huckabee, who recently ranted that “it’s time to wake up and smell the falafel” and recommended that Syrian refugees be settled in “the neighborhood where the limousine liberal lives”—more specifically Hillary Clinton’s neighborhood in Chappaqua.

But Mike Pence is too shy to come across as a raging fearmonger. He’s hoping that sneaky fearmongering will do the trick. Let’s not even think about buying into it.

Here’s Pence’s “tough-guy” stance against the Islamic State and federal authority: “Indiana has a long tradition of opening our arms and homes to refugees from around the world but, as governor, my first responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of all Hoosiers. Unless and until the state of Indiana receives assurances that proper security measures are in place, this policy will remain in full force and effect.”

It’s frankly laughable to imagine a group of ISIS strategists huddled over a conference table in Raqqa, stymied by the exclusion of their sleeper agents from Indiana and other American states of little international profile. On the slim chance that these hypothetical agents find the targets in New York and California too high-visibility, it’s hard to see how the border patrols along our many U.S. highways will be able to keep them out of Paragon, or Leisure, or Nappanee, or wherever Pence imagines they’d like to wreak their fiendish plots of destruction.

The absurdity of this scenario shows the real purpose of Pence’s position: to leverage tragedy for political advantage in the wake of limp statewide poll numbers.

Could there be a terrorist hiding among the mere 10,000 (out of 11 million) Syrian refugees that President Obama has announced the United States will allow in next year? I suppose there could be.

There could also be a terrorist hiding right across town from Pence’s current home, maybe even across the street from a Dairy Queen. His name might be something as American-sounding as Eric Rudolph. Or Tim McVeigh. Actually, those names sound more German and Irish, if you really listen to them.

Which is kind of the point.

In America, in 2015, we shouldn’t be in the business of keeping out thousands of people—especially a people in urgent need of refuge—to stop one person who may or may not exist.

During the late 1930s, as the Nazis in Germany became increasingly belligerent and murderous, hundreds of thousands of innocent Jews were desperately trying to get out of the country. By 1939, the middle of that year, 309,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia had applied for the 27,000 spots available under the United States quota. Those applicants were subject to extremely tough requirements for emigration, including the requirement of a U.S. citizen sponsor.

Pence is right about one thing: Indiana does have a tradition of opening its arms to refugees from around the world. Hoosiers of no small political profile provided financial sponsorship to Jews seeking refuge from the Nazis in the years before World War II, despite the prevailing opinion at the time being strongly for keeping them out. One of those Hoosiers who sponsored many Jewish refugees, with financial guarantees out of his own pocket, was Gustave Efroymson of Indianapolis, who had been the owner of two Indianapolis department stores and president of the Real Silk Company.

The Indianapolis chapter of the National Council for Jewish Women helped to resettle Eastern European immigrants here and get them acclimated to life in the Heartland. The Jewish Social Services agency in Indianapolis provided housing and employment assistance, and financial assistance, too. During the years 1945 and 1946 alone, the Jewish community in Indianapolis provided $821,000 to help those left stateless by the Nazis and the war in Europe.

By 1941, the Nazis halted official emigration. Two-thirds of the Jews in Europe, around six million people, were murdered.

It’s hard to imagine anyone in 2015 saying we should have gotten fewer people out. That we couldn’t have done much more.

Certainly no one whom you would want to remember as your governor.

 

Image (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACzech_refugees_from_the_Sudetenland_1.gif) via Wikimedia Commons.