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Daugaard Capitulates, Says America Too Weak to Help Syrian Refugees

At the beginning of the week, Governor Dennis Daugaard offered a glimmer of hope for sanity from South Dakota Republicans on the question of living up to American values and doing our part to help Syrian refugees. He didn’t come out and say the right thing—”America is a nation of immigrants, and we open our arms to all Syrians and other refugees seeking liberty and safety from terror”—but as other governors, our Congressional delegation, and legislators peddled xenophobia to boost their poll numbers, Governor Daugaard remained conveniently agnostic:

South Dakota’s governor won’t take a stance against Syrian refugees entering the state until it becomes pertinent, his chief of staff said Monday.

Tony Venhuizen, chief of staff to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, said the Republican governor wasn’t following the move of more than a dozen governors who have barred Syrian refugees from entering their state for fear that they could have ties to terrorist organizations. The reactions came in response to Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris [Dana Ferguson, “Daugaard Won’t Take Stance on Syrian Refugees Until They Arrive,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.11.16].

Amidst rampant hysteria, Governor Daugaard’s thin gruel was enough to earn praise from the ACLU:

We applaud Governor Daugaard for not joining U.S. Representative Kristi Noem and scores of other politicians across the nation who have attempted to draw a link between the tragedy in Paris and the admission and resettlement of Syrian refugees.

Calls to bar refugees from American soil are blatantly immoral and illegal. Freedom from racial profiling, religious discrimination, and discrimination based on national origin are at the heart of the values our constitution protects. In the wake of terrorism, we must remember to resist the impulse to overreact and suspend the very freedoms that make our country great.

Moreover, singling out refugees does not make practical sense. The U.S. has a rigorous and multi-layered security screening in place for refugee resettlement that includes background checks by multiple agencies. Refugees undergo biometric tests, medical screenings, and in-person interviews with Department of Homeland Security officials.

We urge policy makers at the federal and state level to affirm the need to welcome Syrian refugees who are fleeing the brutality of ISIS [American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, press release, 2015.11.18].

Maybe the ACLU’s applause was too much for the Governor. By Friday, the Governor got with his party’s program and offered a firm, fearful NO to Syrian refugees. He signed the following letter to President Barack Obama with 26 other Republican governors saying that until there’s been a review of our already rigorous refugee screening process, he doesn’t want Syrian refugees coming to our country:

Our country has long served as a welcoming beacon to individuals and families who seek safety and refugee status within the borders of the United States. For years we have been proud to welcome refugees into our communities in their pursuit of a better life and future.

However, we are deeply concerned that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria may have exploited the generosity of the refugee system to carry out Friday’s terrorist attack in Paris. While the tragic event was a direct assault on the European Union’s refugee system, the potential for this situation to arise in the United States is escalated by information revealed by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey. In testimony before Congress, he admitted to certain inadequacies in the system that would prevent the thorough vetting of the 10,000 refugees your administration has pledged to admit into the United States.

As governors, we are charged with ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our citizens. In order to adequately fulfill this duty, we request that you immediately review the process by which you conduct background checks on all individuals applying for refugee status and address the gaps acknowledged by your director of the FBI.

In the wake of this recent tragedy, and until we can ensure the citizens of our states that an exhaustive review of all security measures has been completed and the necessary changes have been implemented, we respectfully request that you suspend all plans to resettle additional Syrian refugees [Governor Dennis Daugaard and 26 other Republican governors, letter to President Barack Obama, 2015.11.20].


  • Paragraph 1: We have long-standing values of helping others.
  • Paragraph 2: We hereby renounce those values because we are scared.
  • Paragraph 3: We don’t have any plan for making the system better; we’re just going to stall.
  • Paragraph 4: We surrender to the terrorists by demanding impossibly total security and crushing the hopes of refugees who thought we would offer them protection from terrorists.

In his scramble to pander to fear, Governor Daugaard and his counterparts can’t even get their facts straight. Governor Daugaard asserts that the November 13 terrorist attack in Paris was “a direct assault on the European Union’s refugee system.” That sentence makes no sense. The terrorists attacked civilians at a music hall, a stadium, a restaurant, and four cafés. They did not target refugees or refugee service providers. In claiming responsibility for the attacks, Islamic State propagandists said the attacks were retaliation for French airstrikes against the Caliphate and general insults to their prophet, as well as an assault on Paris as “the capital of abominations and perversion.” The attackers and the Caliphate didn’t mention anyone’s refugee system.

Furthermore, Governor Daugaard and company exaggerate the statements made by Director Comey and colleagues during the October 8 meeting of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Director Comey said we don’t have as much intelligence as we’d like from Syria to help vet the refugees, but he did not say that lack of intel prevents a thorough vetting. Nicholas Rasmussen, head of the National Counterterrorism Center, said the feds are already building awareness of those gaps into the screening process by asking more questions. If anything, the October 8 hearing says that the Administration is already responding to the concern that Governor Daugaard is Dennis-come-lately squawking about.

If the October 8 hearing really should motivate any gubernatorial concern, Governor Daugaard should note the concern raised by Senator James Lankford (R-OK), who said that over 10,000 Americans died last from heroin brought into our country by narco-terrorists. Director Comey affirmed Senator Lankford’s statement. If logic motivates the Governors’ thinking on slamming the door on Syrian refugees, then they should be clamoring for slamming the door on immigration from any potential source of far deadlier heroin, or maybe immigration in general.

We can engage in all sorts of fact-checking and comparative risk assessment to show the weakness of Governor Daugaard’s stance on refugee policy. But the primary point is this: Governor Daugaard is surrendering to fear, which is exactly what the terrorists want. The more American leaders who turn their backs on people in need, the more ISIS and other bad guys can turn to those people in need and say, “See? America doesn’t care about you. Join us.” The more American leaders like Dennis Daugaard who fail to show confidence, humanity, and hope, the more refugees will give up, the more refugees will suffer and die, and the more refugees (a small fraction, but still more) will turn to violence and vengeance on behalf of radical Islamic terrorists and others who hate America.


  1. mike from iowa 2015-11-22 09:34

    I’m guessing the biggest terrorism threat out there is good ol’ Uncle Sam. We just usually hire our terrorists with money and weapons which will invariably turned against us in the near future. Remember stinger missiles that we supplied to Mujahideen in Afghanistan to counter Soviet aircraft?

    We’er all terrorists,Mama.

  2. mike from iowa 2015-11-22 09:41

    Doesn’t the majority of heroin come from poppies grown in Afghanistan,the proceeds of which supplies al-Quada and other terrorists?

  3. Dave 2015-11-22 09:46

    If only the refugees could scrape together enough money to buy a green card through EB5.

  4. Paul Seamans 2015-11-22 09:50

    The praise of Daugaard by the ACLU is probably what solidified his position on barring Syrian refugees. What true Republican wants the unsolicited endorsement of the ACLU?

  5. jerry 2015-11-22 10:41

    I thought Daugaard’s arse was looking bigger, that would explain the Depends he is now wearing. Hard to tell with Marty. The chickens have come together, who needs EB5 when we have Pierre which is loaded with the fowl and their waste. Isn’t it time for them to gather in the amen corner to profess their following of the teachings of Jesus Christ? You just know that ol Jesus himself was full of hate, no?

  6. jerry 2015-11-22 10:50

    Then there is this republican coward, who for a minute, actually sounded sane.

    Turns out, that was just theatrics and he voted just like our own cowards, against all that America has stood for since they started stealing land from the Natives.

  7. Loren 2015-11-22 11:04

    I think it is quite evident that the Gov’s talking points memo got delayed in the mail. As soon as they showed up, he got right with it, babbling the same crappola of our national delegation. Can anyone honestly say that any of our representatives have had an original thought or proposal lately? Seems like we might just as well tell them to stay home. We can obtain anything they have to say by watching Faux Nooz.

  8. Spike 2015-11-22 11:29

    Tobacco is the most dangerous terrorist in this country.
    I’m with Cory, the ISIS have won if we capitulate to fear mongering.
    What a mess over there, always has been. But hey, let’s invade something. … any place but Saudi Arabia, cause their rich n treat their women like objects. .N oh they also were the source of 9-11.
    Damn impressive that ACLU liked Daugaard statement. I bet the insider crew in Pierre had a hive breakout on that one.

  9. Donald Pay 2015-11-22 11:33

    You can hope the leaders of your country and state don’t lack the guts to confront evil. Usually, you are disappointed.

    ISIS, of course, has to be confronted, but what I fear more the ISIS is the evil in what seems to be the majority of the American people. Alhtough he got the Iraq war wrong, GW Bush got this much right after 9/11: he made sure he stood up for the American Muslim community by saying we weren’t at war with Islam.

    Today we have a Republican Party whose base and most of whose leaders are willing to descend into religious-based hatred and xenophobic evil to the point that they espouse Nazi-like ideology and solutions like databases and closure of religious institutions. How un-American, but yet we have idiot Americans taking up Nazi ideas and waving the American flag. It’s much, much worse than burning the flag.

    If we can’t count on our leaders to stand up against the evil among us, folks need to consider what can be done. Most of my life I’ve stood up for folks who needed a voice, and who were being bullied, ignored or dismissed by the political structure.

    I had hopes for Daugaard might be able to stand up to that evil. A one-party state has some advantages, as my daughter who lives in China tells me. Leaders don’t have to rely on their own courage. They can do the right thing without fear of political retribution. If you have moral leaders with good ideas, a lot can get done and people can feel secure. They can lead by example. How sad it is when moral leadership succumbs to the evil of the crowd. Of course when a one-party state has immoral leadership, it tends to go bad fast.
    There are a few Republican leaders out there who have had the courage to stand up for rationality. Kasich is one. I almost have a desire to vote for him, even though I would oppose nearly all of the rest of his program. You have to support courage in a politician wherever it occurs, because you know it is very, very rare.

    Can anyone think of others in the Republican Party? I fear we have we come to the place in the Republican Party where fascism has finally taken over the party, not that it hasn’t also afflicted some of the Democrats as well.

    I find reading the history of this country helps relieve some of my fear. We periodically go through periods where proto-fascist demagogues fan the flames of the xenophobic among us, but we always find the courage and commonsense to confront them and beat them back. Let’s hope we can do that in relatively short order.

    In a related matter, John Nichols has a great piece today on the history of Muslims of the Midwest.

  10. Winston 2015-11-22 12:44

    In other words, he was for the refugees before he was against them. A course this is the same Dennis “I only do interviews in pairs” who was once against Obamacare, but now he is in negotiation with the Feds to expand Medicaid thanks to Obamacare’s persistent survival.

    To say no to a Syrian refugee is to say no to a Steve Jobs or a Jerry Seinfeld:

  11. larry kurtz 2015-11-22 12:54

    Daugaard is of Norsky descent, right?

    The first Norwegians arrived in the Dakotas as early as 1859, shortly after the treaty with the Yankton Sioux was signed July 10, 1859. It took another ten years before the greater influx of Norwegians took place.

  12. Douglas Wiken 2015-11-22 13:10

    So what Kurtz?

  13. Richard Schriever 2015-11-22 13:12

    The use of fear is SOP for the GOP. They use it quite effectively to keep their own party members in line. (We’ll cut off your campaign funds, NRA attack ads, TEA-pubs primarying (??), etc. etc., etc.) It’s their stock-in-trade for talking about pretty much every issue. Budget deficits, poverty, taxation; you name. Let’s just call them The POF (Party Of the Fearful).

  14. bearcreekbat 2015-11-22 13:25

    According to Salon’s Bill Curry, “In five years of civil war, 200,000 Syrians have died and 9.5 million have fled their homes. Germany has taken in 38,500 of them. The United States: 1,854. Half are children. Most of the rest are women or elderly. Two percent are single men of combat age. . . .”

    These figures don’t seem to support Republicans’ fear or anti-Syrian immigration proposals.

  15. Sam2 2015-11-22 13:42

    Nice to see the gov come to his senses. No need to have another Paris France in South Daktoa

  16. mike from iowa 2015-11-22 14:01

    But fear is what you get from wingnuts,even when they outright lie and distort everything to cause fear. Their voters tend to fall for the propaganda. Simply amazing how shallow voters can be.

  17. mike from iowa 2015-11-22 14:04

    You can say no to unfunny Seinfeld forever and always. Wouldn’t hurt my feelings any.

  18. Les 2015-11-22 15:06

    It’s just a great time for Gov Daugaard to change the subject to something more positive than folks dying from the fraud of SD politics.

    Get over it. Thanksgiving is upon us! Give thanks for not being a Syrian refugee.

  19. larry kurtz 2015-11-22 18:02

    Throughout the colonial period and into the ascent of this Hamiltonian Empire every European fleeing for America was an economic refugee. Norway and the rest of Europe had been denuded of hardwoods; despots, coal smoke, and daily misery made the deadly trip across an expansive ocean worth the cost.

    Denny Daugaard’s thirty pieces of silver are coming from the national Republican Army Party with little regret. If America is weakened (a ridiculous notion) it’s because the GOP conspired to make it so.

    Remember that LBJ teamed up with these cutthroat bastards to assassinate a Democratic president on this date fifty two years ago so America could create the wave of Vietnamese refugees who have been largely assimilated by the Borg that is This American Hive today.

    New Mexico has been helping to build a Syrian diaspora despite the rantings of our Republican governor.

    Denny needs to get over himself and clean up his own backyard of domestic terrorists.

  20. Dakota Bob 2015-11-23 06:58

    Dennis Daugaard…the Millard Fillmore of South Dakota governors.

  21. happy camper 2015-11-23 07:55

    Did you watch that Frontline show that Les made a link in the other post? It’s dreadfully chilling. A legitimate source reported 50% of the Muslims in Paris are fundamentalist. Not radicalized, but these second generation that are the terrorists have not mixed well in France. A fundamentalist Christian is not my cup of tea but they’re not a half step away from an AK47. A fair question is what portion of the fundamentalist Muslims are truly extreme and could go to the dark side. It’s fine to be tolerant, but they aren’t. ISIS is teaching kids to be suicide bombers. People who are willing to blow themselves and their children up have a very different set of values. Sorry, but a religion used to nurture this many fanatics does not receive a rubber stamp of approval. The driving forces may be as much or more about politics and economics, but not entirely. And yes a belief in “god” is a big part of the problem. If they got their hands on a nuclear weapon they would use it. Watch the video.

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-11-23 08:20

    Thinking about what Donald Pay said, I note that monarchy would be great if monarchs were consistently moral and wise.

    Hap, I remain suspicious of any fundamentalism that would place specific religious tenets above general respect for equal human dignity and the rule of law. The challenge is determining how, within the wise constraints of constitutional democracy, we deem certain religious beliefs and practices unacceptable.

  23. jerry 2015-11-23 08:24

    Me so scared now happy camper. John Oliver helps explain why you should take your Depends off

    France is one of the few country’s that respects democracy, yes that France who was attacked. That France who republicans like to hate. We are a shell of ourselves and that is the way the media loves our obedience to their prayer call. It is truly embarrassing to see this. Home of freedom, laughable. Home of the brave, even more so. Our soldiers continue to fight the fight, but they are few and not very well represented within the country as a whole. Most of the rest, driven by the media are just talking heads just blather on of a good war, but it is always with other peoples blood.

  24. happy camper 2015-11-23 08:32

    If you’re not concerned you’re just unwilling to open your eyes. ISIS lined up a group of Taliban on top of a line of explosives and blew them up. They taped it. You can watch it in the video. Then they show this stuff to kids to indoctrinate them. In France nobody knew these people were terrorists. They allow them to drink and smoke pot so they won’t be recognized as terrorists.

  25. happy camper 2015-11-23 08:33

    Are you so stuck in your ideology of political correctness you can’t watch the video with an open mind?

  26. jerry 2015-11-23 08:39

    The good news for you though happy is that Lynn has converted you to the anti-cannabis league of no nothings. Congratulations to Lynn as she has shown that her endeavor to persevere has prevailed. You are now awarded your aluminum foil hat, wrinkle it to your ability to catch those wave lengths from some echo chamber in space

  27. leslie 2015-11-23 08:44

    harney hung 30 irish immigrant soldiers on a rampart staged the be fully visible to his enemy in mexico city. then he showed up on the blue water. our children have emulated his tactics of terror ever since. those grown children now indignantly brag about their great view of harney peak.

    it might not be a mistake to recognize harney as a terrorist, image improved in his old, coddled age.

  28. happy camper 2015-11-23 08:45

    The good news is the nation’s security is not dependent on Jerry’s opinion. We all want to help people and we shouldn’t have ever been over there in the first place meddling. We stirred up a hornets nest with no clear resolution. Brussels is still on lock down.

  29. jerry 2015-11-23 09:07

    Then, there is this.

    Relax happy camper, find your binkey, lock the doors and charge the cell. Turn on the Fox and Friends and feel like your a part of something. Trump will be on shortly and you can grip yourself with the knowledge that he thinks just like you do. Order one of his caps, study geography and history so you can be like Ben Carson. If you think really hard, you can also be like Carly Fiornia, that bastion of a business leader and all around girl Friday.

  30. happy camper 2015-11-23 09:09

    I watched your links Jerry. Did you watch mine? Saying we can vet terrorists is just as silly as Bush saying we should only let in Christians cause they can prove it. Two refugees were part of the Paris attack. There’s very little information on many of these people which doesn’t mean it’s all clear. It’s a quandary. The comparisons to Jews in 1939 and our Japanese intern camps are not quite the same. ISIS has the goal of spreading terrorist cells. That’s known and happening. Mali, Russian plane, etc.

  31. jerry 2015-11-23 09:34

    So America is weak then. To weak to even vet anyone. So why are there visas then? or the EB5

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