In the wake of the truly terrible acts of terrorism wrought upon the communities of Paris and San Bernadino, we the people of a free, open, and democratic world, find ourselves facing certain dangerous paradigms –
First, is the realization that smaller and smaller cells of the demented, hell bent on visiting death and carnage on innocent persons continue operating more or less independent of larger terrorist networks and with greater frequency. Thus,they have become exponentially more lethal; their twisted machinations become more and more difficult to track or predict. This is a problem.
However, we are also left with another dangerous paradigm – the rise of racial and political reactionaries here in the U.S. who now propagate xenophobia, isolationism and other byproducts of fear. This is not new, per se. Such “blowback” is perhaps to be expected as a proximate result of shocking geopolitical events (enter the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII here or even the ostracism of German Americans during the First World War). On the campaign stump, a number of aspiring future leaders of the free world, best situated to redress the popular neuroses of mob mentality, have actually doubled-down on the hateful rhetoric. Beyond espousing support for the building of some Great Wall of Mexico, or the wholesale deportation of women and children who have come to the United States to escape persecution, a number of presidential nominees have officially poured fuel on fire, taking an even darker turn in recent weeks in response to the terrorist attacks.
Specifically, a number of governors, post-attacks, have vowed to reject the federal government’s resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states. Never mind the fact that the matter of refugees (and immigration law and policy in general) is defined by the federal government, governors and other members of Congress have championed a series of discriminatory measures (including proposed legislation) aiming to bar refugee resettlement solely on the basis of nationality and/or religious identification (does that sound un-American to anyone else?).
Fact-checking the putative “reasoning” behind much of this recent anti-refugee rancor reveals numerous flaws, inconsistencies and outright untruths. The point of this blog entry is a simple riposte, setting the record straight as it regards Syrian refugees. What simple research of the solid numbers show is that Syrian refugees cannot, credibly, be classified as a class of people who are generally dangerous so as to pose risk to the national security of the United States if permitted to resettle here. What this blog entry is NOT interested in supporting are other polar extremes – the notion that resettlement or any other form of immigration should take a front seat to our government’s obligation to secure its citizenry, the notion that the threat of global terrorism is somehow not real, or the notion that persons arriving at our shores should not first be scrutinized and vetted in accordance with the U.S. government’s national security prerogatives.
FACT 1: They Syrian Refugee crisis can credibly be described as the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.
FACT 2: Syrian refugees have NOT been resettling in the United States by the droves. Rather, to date, the United States has resettled only approximately 2,000 Syrians. Of course, this number is immensely smaller than the numbers resettled (or to be resettled) by any major Western country (e.g. Germany: approximately 99,000; Italy: approximately 1000,000; France: has pledged to take 24,000; Britain has pledge to take 20,000).
FACT 3: The U.S. vetting process is far more rigorous than any other country which has taken or has pledged to take significant numbers of refugees. Before approving any refugee for resettlement, the U.S. conducts a collaborative, multi-agency review including involvement by, among others, the U.S. State Department, the F.B.I.’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security. The vetting process is so intensive that each review takes somewhere in the order of 18 to 24 months to complete before approval. Only 50% of the vetted refugees are accepted for resettlement in the U.S.
FACT 4: Syrian refugees are not seeking a “free ride”. Much of the distortion spewed recently by less than responsible politicians has to do with portraying refugees as “free riders”, more interested in obtaining the material benefits of U.S. residency or citizenry than escaping warfare or persecution. However, there is substantial proof that Syrians are not particularly excited about leaving Syria and only seek to do so as a legitimate last resort to preserve their lives and that of their families. Nor is there much substance behind the allegation that the United States’ accepting refugees will result in an excessive strain on the U.S. taxpayer base. A study released by the Center for Immigration Studies indicates i) refugee or asylee use of welfare and other public benefits are generally no higher than among other immigrant classes and ii) refugees or asylees make up only about 13% of the total number of immigrants admitted into the U.S. Further, the same study shows that among immigrants, there is a direct correlation between extended use of welfare and low education, a truism that can of course be applied to the U.S. population at large.
These are just a few of the facts to be considered amidst the many misguided rumors now circulating about Syrian refugees. As stated, the writer in no way endorses downplaying either the importance of reasonably maintaining U.S. security or the threat of terrorism, global or domestic. It is hoped, however, that the reader will gain a fuller, perhaps more nuanced appreciation of the Syrian refugee crisis and also remember that among the many values which make the U.S. a great nation is an ornery refusal to succumb to the baser instincts of fear and intolerance.