The Facts Behind Refugees

Anna Benham, JHU:

After the attacks on Paris earlier this November, the American political rhetoric has been loaded and tense. This past week, Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson referred to refugees as “rabid dogs”, and Governor Bobby Jindal instructed the National Guard to “track” refugees. This forces the United States to re-examine what the words “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty mean. As of November 22, the governors of thirty-one states declared their intent to bar refugees from entering their state—a decision that is not in the least theirs to make.

The United States Federal government has the plenary and supreme authority to act on the subject of admitting refugees into the United States. President Obama, while exercising his executive authority draws on two key precedents to reinforce his authority, namely the 1941 Supreme Court case Hines v. Davidowitz, and the Refugee Act of 1980. In Hines v. Davidowitz, the Supreme Court ruled that federal laws superseded the laws of a state, when pertaining to alien registration. Justice Black writes: “The Federal Government, representing as it does the collective interests of the forty-eight states, is entrusted with full and exclusive responsibility for the conduct of affairs with foreign sovereignties.” This encompasses the recent refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. In addition, the Refugee Act codifies the historic responsibility of the United States to provide asylum and assistance to those persons subject to persecution. Despite the federal government’s overwhelming authority in the matter, Governor Jindal of Louisiana has signed a state executive order to “use all lawful means” to prevent refugees from entering the state.  He, as well as the governors of many other states have cited security as a primary concern.

Since 9/11, the United States has permitted the entry of 784,395 refugees. Only three have ever been arrested on terrorism charges. The vetting process for refugees is extensive, and requires vetting by four federal agencies (the State Department, the Department of Defense, The Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center). In addition, refugees hailing from Syria must undergo an additional process—called the Syria Enhanced Review. The process takes many years and proves that the fears of many American citizens are unfounded. In addition, the refugees entering the United States are primarily geriatric or juvenile (25% are over the age of 65, while 50% are children). A mere 2% are males of “fighting age.”

Currently, citizens from 38 other countries are allowed to enter the United States without a visa, which poses a much larger terror threat than that of the refugee program. The bipartisan effort by Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to create the Feinstein-Flake bill is an effort to close the security loopholes in the current visa waiver programs. Citizens of these countries are forced to apply for a visa if they have been to Iraq or Syria within the last five years, which increases scrutiny of higher risk travelers with relatively low cost.

Current fears of the creation of fifth column terrorists from the influx of Syrian refugees are largely baseless. However, the reactions of citizens within the United States—and globally as well, reflect a much larger danger. The exclusion and profiling of citizens that appear to be a threat creates a division that feeds into ISIS recruitment. Like cults, ISIS preys on alienated young people who have been a victim of or perceive the marginalization of their race, creed, and religion.

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