I promised last Sunday that this column would deal with the crucial question of how we should respond militarily to the vicious, fanatical killers who call themselves the Islamic State. But that will have to wait a week so I can address a subject that arose after I wrote that piece: how we should respond domestically to their victims.

Specifically, as an American who believes passionately that we should do what we reasonably can to come to the aid of those whose lives are threatened by systematic, organized murder, I feel a responsibility to try to persuade my former colleagues to go no further towards implementing what would be the most inhumane policy decision our government has taken in more than 75 years: refusing to provide shelter to innocent people who are seeking to escape barbarism in the Middle East.

To begin, let us be clear on the undisputed facts. President Obama has offered to accept 10,000 out of a total of hundreds of thousands of people who have been driven from their homes and whose lives are endangered by brutal, unrestricted warfare that recognizes no rights to non-combatants and honors no geographic boundaries. He has put in place a screening process to try to exclude those who pose a threat – better than the one in Europe, where that has not been feasible given the sheer volume of the stream of people, but where, despite this, Germany has already taken in far more than Obama has proposed.

It is undisputed that the motive for the exodus is self-preservation. It is also the case that our military intervention in the region contributed to the destabilization that has given rise to this tragedy. And there is scant evidence that those who have already fled the region have been perpetrators of violence, here or in Europe. Even in the case of the slaughter of people in Paris, which is the cited reason for the imposition of a total ban, while there is the unconfirmed possibility that one attacker entered in this way, it is indisputable that the killings would have happened in the absence of any recent refugee entry, carried out by people already resident in France and Belgium.

Admittedly, it is true as well that the screening process here cannot be foolproof and that there is no guarantee that one or even a handful of terrorists will not seek to hide among those who even the advocates of exclusion acknowledge are wholly innocent people desperate to escape destruction, again despite any evidence that this has happened in the U.S. to date.

And that frames several basic questions, the answers to which will say more about our national character than any other issue now before us.

One, is there any ratio of possible harm to a small number of Americans to the certainty of death for hundreds of thousands of foreigners that exceeds the basis for an ethically valid decision – again, especially since official American actions contributed to the situation? Of course, our official policy will and should value the lives of our own people by some large multiple over those of others.

But is there no limit to the disproportion? Once we note even a small possibility that some Americans will be injured, does that render any number of deaths or unbearable hardship for those outside our jurisdiction morally irrelevant? The answer given by the advocates of a total rejection of any refugees from Syria is yes. And I am quoting, not paraphrasing, their position, which is explicitly that we should take no risk to help these victims, even if their deaths will result.

This leads to a second question: Is this insistence that the ratio is infinite – that even a small increase in our vulnerability to some domestic violence, even as we take strong steps to minimize it, both by screening entrants and bolstering our law enforcement capabilities – rooted in part by an implicit devaluing of the humanity of those whom we regard as “others”? To our discredit, the evidence, both historic and contemporary, is yes.

It was 75 years ago that the American government sent hundreds of German Jews back to their deaths at the hands of Hitler, and only a few years afterward that Japanese-Americans were put in prison camps in the complete absence of any evidence that they posed any threat.

Much more recently, many of those now insisting that no refugees be allowed to seek safety in our country from a group that equals Hitler in malevolence, although fortunately not in capacity to act on it, called for an absolute ban on immigration form all of Africa because Ebola raged in a few countries on the continent. Anti-Semitism and the virulent anti-Asian prejudice that prevailed in America in the 1940s have happily diminished, but contemporaneously “Jews and Japs” were both widely considered lesser races.

As for Ebola, as I have written here before, I am certain that had the outbreak of the disease occurred in Italy, Ireland or Israel, there would have been no significant support for sealing off our borders from their citizens.

Indeed, I recently have heard and read statements from advocates of turning our backs that echo the arguments employed in these earlier displays of prejudice. In a televised debate I had with one leading conservative commentator, he reproduced, almost verbatim, the rationale invoked on the House floor by the virulently bigoted Mississippi racist John Rankin. To the point that many of the Jews seeking to escape the Holocaust were children, he responded that they would grow up to be “kikes.”

Almost certainly without consciously channeling Rankin, my interlocutor – who I will not name because he has no chance respond here – volunteered that the fact that many of those seeking to escape ISIS’ reign of destruction were children was irrelevant because they would “grow up to be Syrians.”

In every one of these prior examples, the American opponents of respecting the humanity of these “others” were flatly wrong – not just morally, but empirically as well. In none of the cases did there turn out to be any factual basis for their demonizations.

I am confident that thanks to the moral leadership being shown by Obama – sadly unlike Franklin Roosevelt’s acquiescence to prejudice in the 1940s – and by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, we will not repeat the ethical failures I have cited. And I am equally confident that the result will disprove the argument that America cannot afford to show compassion to those greatly in need.

One last point is important. With elected officials hearing from those who are insistent that we shut our borders, I hope those who share the view that America can be better than they want us to be will let those who have stood up for human rights know they are appreciated.

As a Massachusetts resident living part time in Maine, I am proud of Chellie Pingree, Richard Neal, Jim McGovern, Mike Capuano, Nikki Tsongas, Joe Kennedy, Katherine Clark and Seth Moulton for voting against the anti-foreign hysteria, and especially for Angus King for volunteering that view even before he had to declare himself on a roll-call vote.

Barney Frank is a retired congressman and the author of landmark legislation. He divides his time between Maine and Massachusetts.

Twitter: BarneyFrank