The Ins and Outs of Accepting Syrian Refugees
Since the recent terrorist attack in Paris that killed 129 people, the topic of accepting Syrian refugees has become rapidly politicized. If you came here to find an exhaustive editorial, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place. I have little to add to the chorus of editorial boards at virtually every media outlet that have sounded their opinions loud and clear.
Instead, I am focusing on one particularly important aspect on which the question of accepting Syrian refugees hinges: the screening process the U.S. government undertakes to scrutinize refugee seekers. In principle, if we were able to guarantee with absolute certainty that all refugees were in fact refugees and not in fact extremists in disguise, then the main concern voiced against accepting refugees would be diminished.
So let’s get into the nitty, gritty details of what the screening process actually entails.
A Prospective Refugee Seeker (hereafter referred to as “PRS”) flees his home and makes his way to a refugee camp. Once there, PRS applies for refugee status via the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and encounters his first hurdle along the path to resettlement: UNHCR background checks. Only a small percentage of refugees who pass are referred for overseas resettlement. This cohort is comprised of the most vulnerable refugees: families with multiple children and a female head of household, the medically needy, and targets of political persecution, etc. Such scrutiny is reflected in data we have on the roughly 2,150 refugees who have already been admitted to the U.S., half of whom are children, one quarter adults over 60, and merely 2 percent males of ‘combat age.” One can only imagine the circumstances that warranted the admittance of this latter group.
Lucky for PRS, the UNHCR has determined that the U.S. is best suited to be his new home (he does, after all, love liberty, fried food, and endless election cycles). From here, the U.S. conducts an independent screening process involving nine government agencies including the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, and the National Counterterrorism Center. PRS is interviewed by a DHS official and undergoes biometric security checks, all of which take place at refugee hubs outside Istanbul, Amman, Cairo, and elsewhere.
18 months after the process began, PRS is finally accepted. Half of his fellow applicants aren’t so fortunate. One of nine networks of nonprofits, in conjunction with the State Department, will assist PI in the resettlement process. He’ll likely end up in a medium-size, low-cost city such as Nashville, TN, or Buffalo, NY. Within a year, his status will be adjusted to legal permanent resident.
After tracing the legal refugee’s journey from beginning to end, I’m willing to draw a couple conclusions. First, it would be really, really difficult for a terrorist to beat the system. Highly improbable, maybe impossible. Anyone who would suggest otherwise has not looked critically at the safeguards already in place. Attaining legal refugee status would undoubtedly be one of the toughest paths for a terrorist hoping to penetrate our borders, and I’m sure ISIS realizes this. Here’s one thing to keep an eye on: the Obama administration plans to ramp up the number of refugees it accepts to 10,000 in 2016 alone. While there’s been no indication otherwise, we should we should pay close attention to how the system accommodates this great influx. -Luke Shapiro