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EDITORIAL: Gov. Sandoval, others rightly call for caution with Syrian refugees

Calls to delay or block the settlement of Syrian refugees in the United States are not rooted in crazy fear, Islamophobia or political expedience. They are a reasonable reaction to a world-changing terrorist event and a rational public safety response intended to help prevent the next 9/11.

Late Monday, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval joined the growing number of state chief executives who want Syrian migrants kept out of their borders. Gov. Sandoval’s request was more measured than those from other governors, who vowed to use whatever means necessary to keep the refugees from ever entering their states. In a letter to President Barack Obama, Gov. Sandoval asked for a thorough review of the federal government’s screening protocols and requested that no Syrian migrants be sent to Nevada until that evaluation is complete.

But even a detailed examination of refugee intake procedures and all-new vetting measures offer no guarantee that the United States and its allies can identify radical jihadists, who might use the exodus of humanity from the Middle East and North Africa to enter the West and help Islamic State carry out another savage attack on the scale of Friday’s bloodshed in Paris.

President Obama has condemned the suggestion that the country can’t help people fleeing the Islamic State’s growing terrorist empire, saying the United States has an obligation to help those already victimized by the caliphate. But the president also has an obligation to protect national security, which faces a substantial threat from Islamic State.

The group the president once labeled the “JV team” and said was “contained” just before the Paris attack is, in fact, a highly resourceful, well-organized, far-reaching and dangerous enemy. Not long ago, Americans were assured that despite Islamic State’s horrific executions of Christians, Americans and Westerners on its spreading turf, the caliphate’s only threat to U.S. soil was the web-based propaganda it used to recruit sympathizers and motivate “lone wolf” terrorists. But the Paris attack, which killed more than 120 innocents and seriously wounded hundreds more, increasingly appears to be the work of a cell carrying out orders that originated abroad and were planned with encrypted communications.

As of late Tuesday, European authorities were engaged in a massive manhunt for suspects tied to the Paris attack, which left seven terrorists dead at the hands of police or their own explosive vests. Those efforts have been complicated by two factors: the suspects’ skill at avoiding detection, and Europe’s open borders and lack of coordinated security. Although several of the terrorists were home-grown, at least two of the suspects are believed to have entered Europe through Greece by posing as refugees, according to multiple reports. This is the detail that is most alarming to Americans, and governors are wise to attempt to stop the federal government from delivering enemies of the state to our shores.

Until all the conspirators in the Paris attack can be apprehended and their movements accounted for, until we know to what extent Islamic State is using the migrant wave to move terrorists into position for additional strikes against the West, the United States mustn’t allow migrants displaced by the group into the country. The United States can provide financial support to European countries for bearing the burden of the migrant crisis, and its intelligence agencies must help identify potential jihadists posing as refugees, but relocating tens of thousands of them here is beyond foolish.

Even if Washington carries out the review of screening procedures requested by Gov. Sandoval, Islamic State operatives easily could slip into the country because the regions overrun by Islamic State have no reliable government records or databases that can confirm refugees’ identities. There really is no way of knowing who anyone is or what ideology they might be loyal to. This wouldn’t be a significant concern for refugees from many nations. But we’re talking about people from a part of the world where suicide attacks, beheadings and anti-American sentiments are frighteningly common.

It’s absurd that all Americans, including the elderly and toddlers, must be subjected to intrusive security measures to board an airplane on the chance that one of them is a terrorist, but because we can’t identify a terrorist among tens of thousands of refugees, we have to let all of them enter the country.

Islamic State has vowed to carry out attacks on American soil. The carnage in Paris is a slap in the face to U.S. officials, the president foremost among them, who’ve long underestimated the group’s capabilities. Governors have no authority over immigration policy, and their requests aren’t likely to sway the Obama administration. But their position is common sense. Our leaders, from the president to governors to police and industry leaders, must commit to preventing the kind of assault that took place in France. If such an attack happens, refugee policies will be the least of their concerns. Our core freedoms are at stake. And if we lose our rights, the terrorists will have won.

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