Derek Gentile: Refugee resettlement fears understandable, unfounded

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PITTSFIELD — There has been some angst about plans to relocate 12 to 15 Syrian or Iraqi families to the Pittsfield area.

It's understandable; there is always fear of the unknown. And my reasons for supporting it are rooted in our mission as Americans. But I suspect that those who fear this relocation have little interest in the concept of America as a haven for refugees. Although, obviously, that's what America was for their ancestors.

But as an operational point, let me point this out: The possibility of terrorists disguised as refugees infiltrating the city is not as certain as one might think.

Syrian refugees are the most vetted refugees in the world right now, for obvious reasons. It takes them about 18 months to two years to get through the process.

From a practical standpoint, that's too long for terrorists. It is much easier for them to come through Europe and then enter the United States that way.

And easier still is to simply radicalize Americans already here. It's easier for Americans to buy guns, easier to by bomb-making materials, easier to move around the country.

My understanding is that ISIS in particular is attempting to radicalize Americans of non-Middle eastern origin. They are reaching out to, in particular, citizens of Irish or Nordic origins. We don't know how successful that is, but I suspect we may be seeing more of those ethnic groups involved in terrorist acts in the future.

I do want to say that I know of people who have come over from Middle Eastern countries. They all have families, and some of those families are still back in what's left of their country.

Their principal goal is to get the rest of their family to a safe place. All the ones I know are tremendously grateful to the United States for providing them with a new life and a safe one.

And all of them respect what they have here and want to contribute to, not live off, the country.

Look, I get it. I'm certainly not going to change anyone's mind. Fear and racial animosity are strong things. But I don't think this is going to be the disaster many people believe.

And I plan to keep track of this relocation. And we'll see in a year or two what shakes out.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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