By Danielle Conrad, Executive Director of the ACLU of Nebraska and Mary-Beth Muskin, Executive Director of the Anti-Defamation League of Nebraska.

“We’re better than that,” former Secretary of Defense and U.S. Senator from Nebraska Chuck Hagel said in response to a bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. “We can still protect this country. And I recognize that security of a nation is the first responsibility of a government. I know that. I know it better than most people. But that doesn’t mean you give up your values and what you believe.”

In response to the horrific events in Paris, we are all working hard to find an appropriate response to serious threats to our individual and national security. However, the solutions we search for should not incite fear or condone discrimination against refugees in policy or practice. Refugees are people who have been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. We are disappointed that Nebraska’s Governor and members of our Congressional delegation have used recent events to offer unhelpful statements or cast votes contrary to the values we hold dear as Nebraskans and as Americans. 

The words and actions of these leaders are disappointing as they cause fear among members of our communities, cause confusion among our many excellent nonprofit organizations who provide direct services to these vulnerable populations in need,  and stand at odds with the fundamental American value of protecting those seeking safety from war and persecution. These actions have the effect of scapegoating refugees for the terror they are fleeing. It is wrong to condemn or single out individuals and groups based on their nationality, national origin, religion, or other protected grounds.

For example, the recent legislation, H.R. 4038, passed by the House of Representatives recently with the support of Congressman Fortenberry, Congressman Ashford, and Congressman Smith is not only an attack against refugees from Syria and Iraq, but it also harms those refugees’ family members who are already in the U.S. and eagerly awaiting to be reunified with their loved ones. Those families are now subjected to an interminable wait. The bill would prolong unnecessary suffering for both the refugees seeking protection and those family members waiting in the U.S. Moreover, the bill’s very name, the “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act,” would worsen stigmatization of Syrian and Iraqi refugees – and, more broadly, scapegoat all refugees - fanning the flames of discriminatory exclusion here and abroad.

Nebraska is the proud home to many refugees precisely because of our hospitality and our values. Recent media coverage has shared touching stories of many refugees and the organizations and individuals who have made it their mission to open their hearts and doors to those who know that the “Good Life” of Nebraska is the right life for them.

Political rhetoric and votes that seek to undermine vulnerable populations in need on the basis of their national origin or religion will not make our communities any safer. In fact, welcoming refugees as we have always done will make our communities stronger. Let us reflect upon this quote as we work together to find more constructive solutions:

“I think the American people expect more from us than cries of indignation and attack. The times are too grave, the challenge too urgent, and the stakes too high--to permit the customary passions of political debate. We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future,” President John F Kennedy.