What To Do About The Refugee Crisis?

Our nation is a nation of immigrants. The majority of Americans believe that we are stronger as a nation when we welcome immigrants and refugees into our communities and harness their skills. But the key phrase is “when we welcome immigrants and refugees who share our values”. And common sense must prevail.
The White House declared last week National Welcoming Week, and the major announcement of the week was that the White House was one month ahead of schedule in welcoming 10,000 new Syrian refugees. They also declared they are on track to welcoming a total of 85,000 refugees by the end of September, and Obama announced that in FY2017 (which begins Oct. 1), he will up that number to 110,000 refugees, increasing the number of people we receive by almost 60 percent over a two-year period.
On its website, the White House shows Gunnery Sergeant Emir Hadzic as one of the refugee role models, and he is definitely that. Hadzic fled the persecution and hostility of his home country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to become the first Bosnian-American to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps. His decision to serve was to give back to the “goodhearted American people” who welcomed him. Most Americans would welcome Hadzic with open arms.
And most Americans would feel comfortable with refugee influx knowing that there is a proper vetting mechanism in place. But is there or isn’t there? A recent Time Magazine article detailed the Syrian refugee process, stating that all refugees undergo extensive background checks, but those from Syria go through additional layers of security screening. “Of all the categories of persons entering the U.S., these refugees are the single most heavily screened and vetted,” explains Jana Mason, a senior adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Yet the same week as the Time article, several statements from top FBI, CIA and Homeland Security officials told a different tale. House Homeland Security Chairman said “the Administration’s own officials are warning us about this program. I would argue that [the President] can spin it politically anyway he wants to but the fact of the matter is: the threat is real. ISIS has said in their own words that they want to exploit it to infiltrate the West. Again, it is not a threat I am making up, it’s a threat their own officials have warned us about.”
CIA Directory Brennan said, “I think it makes it even more incumbent on the security and intelligence professionals to make sure that we are able to look at individuals who are coming into this country with an eye toward what it is that we might know about individuals or ways that terrorist organizations might try to secret people into these networks, into these refugee flows…[I am determined to] see what we can do to strengthen that system that allows us to have as best insight as possible into the backgrounds of these individuals as well as what their intentions might be.”
FBI Director Comey said, “We can only query against that which we have collected. And so if someone has not made a ripple in the pond in Syria on a way that would get their identity or their interests reflected in our databases, we can query our databases until the cows come home but nothing will show up because we have no record of that person.”
And finally, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said, “It is true that we are not going to know a whole lot about the Syrians that come forth in this process… That is definitely a challenge….We know that organizations like ISIL might like to exploit this [Syrian refugee resettlement] program…The good news is that we are better at [vetting] than we were eight years ago. The bad news is that there is no risk-free process.”
This is the crux of the issue: roughly half of Obama’s expected 110,000 new refugees for FY17 are from Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Burma and other jihadist hotspots where vetting of refugees is extremely difficult. Those numbers are alarming for Congressional conservatives, and experts say the actual numbers will likely be much higher than even the president is admitting–possibly as high as 150,000 to 200,000, because the Obama administration has worked with the UN to bring more refugees from Syria into the United States under “alternative pathways”– student visas, health visas, expansion of the family-reunification visa and other creative methods. The administration is also reclassifying people from Central America as “refugees,” and by giving them this status, they will immediately qualify to receive federal food stamps, Medicaid and other federal benefits, and they will be “fast-tracked” to full citizenship within five years.
Under the Refugee Act of 1980, most authority was given to the executive branch; Congress controls funding, but virtually everything else is controlled by the president. Congress could deny funding for the refugee program, but has not done so for the last 35 years. The president is required to consult with Congress on how many refugees will be brought in.
For Americans who feel the refugee issue is the central issue of the 2016 election, the people have a clear choice. Trump has stated he will stop all refugee resettlement from terrorist-harboring countries, while Hillary Clinton has said she intends to increase the resettlements from Syria by 550 percent. A May 2016 Brookings Institute poll shows the public is in favor of accepting refugees but only in small doses (10,000 – 15,000 total), nowhere near the levels of Obama.
There has been major backlash from state governors and certain cities in Idaho, South Carolina, Montana, Minnesota, Texas, and North and South Dakota. California has received the most refugees, followed by Michigan.
Just this week, Obama pleaded with UN member countries to “fulfill a moral obligation to alleviate a global refugee crisis of epic proportions”, and did so even as there is political backlash in his own country about absorbing refugees fleeing the situation in the Middle East. “This crisis is a test of our common humanity. Whether we give into suspicion and fear and build walls, or whether we see ourselves in another,” Obama said. Obama singled out the 4.8 million displaced Syrians as particularly unacceptable, and compared it to turning away Jews who fled Nazi Germany. “I believe history will judge us harshly if we do not rise to this moment”, said Obama.
The UN estimated that during 2015, 65.3 million people were displaced from their homes by conflict or persecution. Many are displaced but remain within their own country’s borders, while 21.3 million are classified as refugees.
Some Americans wish to avoid the destructive path of Europe, which has been inundated with refugees from Muslim Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. European Council President Donald Tusk seems to agree: “Today, the European Union has a clear objective to restore order on its external borders. There will be no repeat of the year 2015 with more than one and a half million irregular migrants,” he added. The US contributes major humanitarian aid to countries that host large refugee populations, in particular to countries that neighbor Syria.
While Obama clearly feels that Americans haven’t responded with appropriate compassion, many Americans feel that we have a sovereign right to protect our borders and take a common-sense approach to safeguard our country while at the same time exhibiting the compassion that America is known for and praised for worldwide.