Governor’s Principled Refugee Decision

Gov. Mike Parson deserves warm praise for his bold and principled decision to formally declare that Missouri will join 30 other states to accept refugees from war-torn countries.

Parson made the announcement in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which he complied with a presidential executive order that requires state governments to opt into acceptance of lawfully admitted immigrants. States must do so in order to be eligible to receive federal funds to support their resettlement.

In his letter to Pompeo, Parson wrote that Missouri has a long history of welcoming immigrants who have become “a  thriving part of our community.” He added that since 2002, nearly 18,000 immigrants have settled in 45 Missouri counties.

“I am confident this demonstration of compassion will mark the first step in these immigrants becoming patriotic and productive fellow Americans,” he said.

Understandably, and perhaps unavoidably in today’s hyperpoliticized climate, the governor’s compassionate stance met with thoughtless criticism and opposition, largely on social media. But he countered such rhetoric in a stop in Moberly last week, saying that the state is adhering to strict guidelines set out by the federal government for who is eligible to settle here.

“All of those requirements were met,” Parson said. “We’re not taking criminals, we’re not taking terrorists, we’re not taking those types of people.”

He added:

“They’re already here anyhow, so they’re going to go somewhere. And you know what? It’s the right thing to do.”

That generous stance was welcomed by the International Institute of St. Louis, which helps immigrants navigate the resettlement process. It applauded Parson’s decision to welcome the refugees, many of whom are escaping war at home.

Anna Crosslin, the agency’s president and chief executive, said: “With the right kind of resettlement assistance from agencies and our faith communities, these newcomers quickly become workers, shop owners, neighbors and friends.”

Also joining in lauding Parson for his decision was the Jewish Community Relations Council. Its executive director, Rori Picker Neiss, said in a handwritten note to the governor:

“Our Jewish community knows all too well the need to escape oppression and persecution and the dangers when we find ourselves with no place to go. We have also experienced the comforts and successes of the American promise when we have been welcomed into this country. We are honored to be part of the success story of Missouri and proud to help others become part of that story as well.”

History shows that countless Jews have taken such a path and gained greatly from such generosity. The American Jewish community had its greatest growth from the 1880s to the 1920s, when nearly 5 million refugees from Eastern Europe came to our shores.

And of course, the Torah calls on Jews to remember their history and welcome refugees. As it says in the book of Leviticus:

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

We congratulate Parson on his compassionate and wise decision to welcome immigrants to the Show-Me State and hope that his decision will show other states the right attitude to take toward strangers who need our help.