- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 26, 2015

Dubbing the Pilgrims the country’s first refugees, President Obama used his weekly radio address Thursday to chide his fellow Americans for their reluctance to accept Syrian refugees and to insist that the U.S. has a duty to accept them and other immigrants.

“Nearly four centuries after the Mayflower set sail, the world is still full of pilgrims — men and women who want nothing more than the chance for a safer, better future for themselves and their families. What makes America America is that we offer that chance,” Mr. Obama said. “We turn Lady Liberty’s light to the world and widen our circle of concern to say that all God’s children are worthy of our compassion and care. That’s part of what makes this the greatest country on Earth.”

In typical Thanksgiving Day addresses, presidents thank U.S. troops, praise the country and offer encouraging words about generosity and the push for justice and equality.

Mr. Obama has committed to resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. this fiscal year and has been stunned by the vehement reaction from Americans who overwhelmingly oppose his plan in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris. One of the suicide bombers is believed to have sneaked into the country as part of a group of refugees.

The president said the U.S. situation is different from that in Europe, where refugees arrive and then have to be sorted out.

“No refugee can enter our borders until they undergo the highest security checks of anyone traveling to the United States. That was the case before Paris, and it’s the case now,” Mr. Obama said.

He went on to quote from letters he received from two women who said they wanted to welcome the refugees — including one from Florida who can trace her family back to the Mayflower, and “said that welcoming others is part of ‘what it means to be an American.’”

Mr. Obama is hoping to persuade senators, who will be asked next week to consider a bill passed by the House last week that imposes new checks on Syrian refugees.

The legislation does not end the program, nor does it impose a religious test — both claims Mr. Obama has hinted — but instead requires the FBI director, the homeland security secretary and the country’s intelligence chief to sign off on each refugee.

The bill’s backers say that if the Obama administration has really vetted all of the refugees as it says, such certification should be easy and will go a long way toward ensuring Americans that someone is directly responsible for the program.

A majority of the country’s governors also have said they are reluctant to help resettle refugees in their states.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration sent letters to states warning that refusing to help would break a 1980 law that requires states to provide assistance without regard to race, religion or national origin.

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement warned states that it may pull their funding if they refuse to cooperate.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that was stunning given Mr. Obama’s diametrically opposite stance on refusing to punish states and localities with sanctuary city laws to protect illegal immigrants.

“It’s hypocritical for Obama administration officials to threaten enforcement action against these states when they refuse to enforce the vast majority of our immigration laws, such as cracking down on sanctuary cities that openly defy federal law and endanger the American people,” the Virginia Republican said.

The sanctuary city debate has raged inside the administration for years.

Immigration agents pushed to punish states that refused to follow federal law and cooperate by turning over illegal immigrants whom agents asked to be held for deportation. The Justice Department, at the time headed by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., refused to approve any punishment.

Sanctuary cities burst into the news this summer with the death of Kathryn Steinle, 32, who was shot as she was walking along the San Francisco waterfront with her father. The man accused of the killing was an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times and was free in the U.S. because San Francisco sheriff’s deputies, following the county’s sanctuary policy, refused to turn him over to federal agents.

The House passed a bill that would have withheld Justice Department grant money from sanctuary cities and states, but Senate Democrats launched a filibuster to halt it. Mr. Obama threatened to veto the legislation anyway, saying it was bad policy to withhold money.

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