November 22, 2015
Dear Daniel and Adam,
I have been so moved and inspired by your wise and mature reflections on the recent terrorist attacks in Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Paris and now Mali. Your thoughts over the past weeks, shared by phone and email, recognize that we live in a dangerous world, but also poignantly reflect the values of our great and free nation. Both of you have helped me see more clearly how to talk about my feelings and thoughts on these important issues.
Much as I wish it were not so, we do live in a dangerous world. It has, in fact, always been this way. Our earliest ancestors had to worry about predators, natural disasters, disease and unique among our species, attacks by other people. One of the first stories in the Bible is Cain's murder of his brother Abel. The earth is strewn with ruins of failed fortresses built to defend communities against their neighbors.
But out of that danger, each of us as individuals, and together as a nation, has to choose whether to give in to fear or to pursue our more noble instincts. I hope, as you both begin your adult lives and find your own paths in this world, you will continue to take the latter course. It is that path, I believe, that charts the moral arc of our history, and our future.
I, of course, share the apprehension we all feel after the horrific murders in Paris, in Jerusalem, and so many other places. We are absolutely right to be concerned about infiltration of terrorists into this country and into our daily lives. There is certainly a risk that individuals intent on harming you will try to sneak into the U.S. as refugees, or tourists, or business people. Some will even be born and raised here.
In this context, we all rightly look to our government to secure our borders, protect our cities and keep us safe. Security has to be, and has long been, our government's top priority. It is imperative that we continue to diligently watch for potential threats by all appropriate means. We have to make sure we control who enters our country. And we have to sustain and increase our efforts to fight the terrorists at their source, both on the ground and in the battle for hearts and minds.
But we/you cannot afford to let fear overwhelm the very values that define our liberties and put us on the right side of this struggle. We cannot forget that we are a nation founded by refugees who were fleeing oppression and often fearful for their lives.
This week we celebrate Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims' story -- our nation's first wave of refugees. We come together as one people united in remembering our "shared" history, even though most of us trace our journey here to times more recent. We join together giving thanks for the refuge each of our families found in this amazing country.
Our own family story reflects that history. Your great grandmother, Molly, fled her home as a little girl with her family, seeking refuge from the pogroms of Czarist Russia. They bravely crossed Europe and then the Atlantic Ocean to find freedom of religion and freedom from fear.
The journey your great grandparents took is the same one as the refugees of today seeking to come to this country, including those fleeing the atrocities in Syria. Our country is stronger today because we welcomed and integrated past generations into our communities. We cannot turn our backs on these principles now.
I understand and appreciate the desire of people to ensure that our current screening processes guarantee that no terrorist is able to enter our country. I also know from experience that no system is perfect, and even the best systems need to be continually improved. That's why I support calls for investing in enhancing our screening programs, not just now but into the future.
But we must also reject the fear-mongering and senseless calls to close our borders. It is not who we are as a nation. It would be a dishonor to both the sacrifices of your great grandparents, and the nation that so generously welcomed them.
I love you and will continue to pray for, and work for a better future for you and for future generations.