Regardless of the circumstances that led to the discovery of a pristine but fake Syrian passport near the mutilated body of one of the suicide bombers in Paris, it’s become increasingly clear that ISIS wants nothing more than to foster a backlash against Syrian refugees in the West.
Aaron Zelin at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy documented an intensive ISIS propaganda campaign to discourage Syrians from fleeing their bloodied homeland. He writes, “the migrant flow is anathema to ISIS, undermining the group’s message that its self-styled caliphate is a refuge… The hostile reaction to refugees [in the West], therefore, only bolsters ISIS’s contentions.”
So they’ve played us like a fiddle.
With politicians talking about internment camps and religious tests, the U.S. is becoming a hostile place for Syrian refugees, despite the fact that none of the Paris attackers were refugees or from Syria.
Here are seven things that make this latest national panic notably ridiculous.
They’re the Most Vulnerable
Ben Carson, whose soothing tones impress GOP primary voters but who doesn’t appear to know much about the world outside a surgical suite, said of the Syrian refugees, “the majority of them are young males. And they could easily be people who are being infiltrated by terrorists.”
The reality is that after passing an initial security screening, only a small percentage of refugees who manage to get to places like Greece are referred by the United Nations for resettlement in the West, and Time Magazine reports that they’re picked according to “criteria designed to determine the most vulnerable cases.” So for the most part they include “survivors of torture, victims of sexual violence, targets of political persecution, the medically needy, families with multiple children and a female head of household.”
Rebecca Hamlin, a scholar at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of Let Me Be a Refugee: Administrative Justice and the Politics of Asylum in the United States, Canada, and Australia, told me that “our refugee program really puts a lot of priority on families, small children and the elderly. So of the just under 2,000 Syrian refugees we’ve taken in over the past few years, 48 percent of them are minors, and a good percentage are also elderly people. Of the remaining, many are the mothers of those children.”
According to the State Department, about one in 50 are unattached “military-aged” males.
They’re Screened Like Crazy
You may have heard that refugees go though an intensive inter-agency screening process, with input from the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Pentagon and State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. And that this vetting takes, on average, from 18 months to two years.
But Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) says that it only makes sense to give those refugees from Syria additional screening. Here’s the thing: They’re already subjected to extra scrutiny. According to NPR, “Refugees from Syria are then subject to additional screening that looks at where they came from and what caused them to flee their home, stories that are checked out. All of this occurs before a refugee is allowed to set foot in the country.” For refugees from Syria, the process can take up to three years.
That’s Why, Statistically, You’re More Likely to Blow Something Up Than a Syrian Refugee
The White House has touted the fact that not one of the nearly 2,000 Syrian refugees has been implicated in any plot to commit acts of terrorism. But that only scratches the surface. According to a well-researched report by The Economist, the United States has settled 750,000 refugees from all over the world since the 9/11 attacks, and not one has been arrested for committing or aspiring to commit terrorism in the U.S.
Here’s a handy chart:
PS: No, the Tsarnaev brothers didn’t come through our refugee program. Their father entered the country on a tourist visa, and then applied for asylum once he was already in the country. It’s a different process entirely.
Most of the Costs of Resettlement Are Picked Up By Charities, not Tax-Payers
There are a number of divisive memes circulating on social media. They claim that Syrian refugees will drain the Social Security system, or will displace housing that might otherwise be given to homeless veterans, whom we normally treat so well. In short, they’re supposedly moochers.
Setting aside the fact that different programs come out of different agencies’ budgets – and the fact that the last time we had a refugee panic following the 9/11 attacks Congress cut funding for refugee resettlement dramatically — it’s also the case that tax-payers only pick up a fraction of the costs.
“They do receive some cash assistance,” said Rebecca Hamlin, “but they also go through job training programs, and I should really emphasize the fact that most of the assistance refugees receive in this country is through voluntary organizations – it’s through churches and through charitable organizations.” There are nine different non-profits – six of them faith-based – that help provide refugees with jobs, places to live and necessities.
Yes, That Bill the House Passed Would Turn These Vulnerable People Away
On Thursday, the House passed the Orwellian-sounding “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act” by a 289-138 margin. Fifty Democrats voted for it. Only one Republican, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), voted against.
Those supporting the legislation were simply bowing to public opinion – fearful views held by a public that doesn’t have a good handle on the vetting process and whose passions have been inflamed by recent events. You can’t get more craven.
But they’ve defended their vote by insisting that the measure will only increase scrutiny of these desperate and vulnerable people fleeing terrorism abroad. Not so, says Hamlin. “We have to be really clear about this,” she told me. “It would essentially end refugee resettlement for Syrians. The security checks are so thorough that for them to be increased would make it all but impossible for anyone to succeed.” She says that the bill requires that three very high-level government officials personally assure that each individual refugee poses no security threat. “It’s basically political theater,” says Hamlin.
What Happened to the ‘Pottery Barn Rule’?
It’s too simplistic to say that the U.S. Is responsible for the mess in Syria, but one would have to be blind to deny that we bear a significant amount of responsibility for it. It’s not just that Americans decided to launch a war of choice that destabilized the region. Americans also made the fateful decision to fire the entire Iraqi security establishment, leaving them heavily armed, flat broke and without prospects. And if we hadn’t done that, ISIS wouldn’t be what it is today.
As Liz Sly reported for The Washington Post, “even with the influx of thousands of foreign fighters, almost all of the leaders of the Islamic State are former Iraqi officers, including the members of its shadowy military and security committees, and the majority of its emirs and princes…. They have brought to the organization the military expertise and some of the agendas of the former Baathists, as well as the smuggling networks developed to avoid sanctions in the 1990s and which now facilitate the Islamic State’s illicit oil trading.”
Many of the same politicians who are now demagoguing these desperate refugees supported that war. Morally speaking, we should be debating how to accommodate 100,000 refugees from the conflict – as 20 former officials from the defense and diplomatic communities have called for – rather than blocking the measly 10,000 we’ve committed to resettling.
History Is Repeating
I mentioned that a similar refugee panic followed the 9/11 attacks, despite the fact that all of those attackers entered the U.S. on tourist or business visas.
But a better analogy might be our response to Jews fleeing Germany and Austria on the eve of World War II. Boatloads found that they weren’t welcomed here, or anywhere else.
Then, as now, public opinion was against them. Even after Kristallnacht, in early 1939, more than six in ten respondents told pollsters that they opposed letting 10,000 Jewish children into the country. That it’s the same number that we’re talking about today is striking.
Anti-Semitism played a major role in that sad reality, as Islamophobia does now. But among the arguments for keeping Jewish refugees out of the country was that they might be Communists. And they were also suspected of being Nazis while fleeing the Nazis, just as these Syrian refugees are suspected of being Islamic terrorists while fleeing Islamic terrorists in 2015.