The deadly Friday the 13th attacks in Paris by the Islamic State have raised new concerns about terrorists entering Europe and the United States posing as refugees from Syria’s civil war.
President Obama this week reiterated that he intends to welcome at least 10,000 refugees over the next year after thorough vetting. But at least 30 governors say they will refuse to resettle refugees in their states. And several members of Congress have introduced legislation to defund the refugee resettlement program.
Is this a case of callousness and political cynicism? Or are there legitimate reasons to re-think U.S. policy on Syrian refugee resettlement? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.
Let’s talk about numbers.
It took eight men to carry out the attacks on Paris.
No surprise there: It took just 19 men — armed, we must remember, with box cutters — to carry out the 9/11 attacks. There was just one shoe bomber, and he failed…
Because of 9/11, America enmeshed itself in Afghanistan and then Iraq, pouring tremendous amounts of blood and treasure into those countries with, at best, middling results. Because of those attacks, and the attempted follow-on attacks by the failed [undergarment] and shoe bombers, our society is transformed. Our government spies widely, and internally. We can’t bring shampoo to the airport, but we do [have to pass through an invasive] airport scanner.
Fewer than two-dozen men transformed the way we travel, helped launch us into 15 years of war that shows no sign of abating. And now, a decade-and-a-half after that, another eight men spread terror abroad, and suddenly we’re ready to turn out the lamp that lights the flame at the Statue of Liberty.
In other words, we’ve given a handful of men — barely enough to fill out the roster of your local Rotary Club — the power to determine our foreign policy, the power to make us harder and less generous as a people, to turn our back on people fleeing violence and oppression.
This is not to minimize the amount of damage those men have done, nor to minimize the lives they’ve taken. But it is striking that such a small group of men have had such an effect on the way we live and think.
As of this writing, none of the five identified attackers in Paris has turned out to be Syrian. That country’s refugees are fleeing the same Islamic State-bred violence we claim to oppose. We must be on our guard, of course. But if we fail to balance that natural wariness with a little compassion — well, to use a cliché, the terrorists really have won.
My liberal friend misses the point about halting the relocation of Syrian refugees to the United States. We’ve more or less always been a welcoming nation. But charity shouldn’t come at the expense of national security.
Just because we’ve allowed 1,900 or so Syrian refugees to relocate here since 2011 doesn’t mean we have to admit 10,000 more of them in the year ahead.
Different situations require different responses. The United States changed its refugee policy in the mid-1970s to accommodate boatloads of Vietnamese fleeing their communist rulers. We adjusted our laws again in 1980 to handle an influx of Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s godforsaken “worker’s paradise.”
But note the circumstances. The United States played a rather large role in instigating that refugee crisis from Southeast Asia 40 years ago. And Cuba is 90 miles off the coast of Florida. What’s nearer is dearer.
We know the Islamic State is exploiting the Syrian refugee crisis to move its fighters into Europe, because their leaders have said so and we’ve seen the results in Paris. And just this week, Turkey arrested eight jihadists posing as refugees.
As it happens, the Wall Street Journal recently reported a brisk trade in stolen and forged passports in Turkey. Some of the phony refugees are gaming Europe’s immigration laws in search of work or welfare. But others may not have such selfish motivations.
One of the Paris jihadists reportedly had a fake Syrian passport with him. Some commentators seized on that story as evidence that the Syrian refugees aren’t the real problem. On the contrary, it’s strong evidence that the massive and often chaotic influx of refugees into Europe has given terrorists the opportunity they need to move freely now and wreak havoc later.
We also know Obama administration officials have conceded that U.S. screening procedures are anything but foolproof. FBI Director James Comey last month told a congressional committee that “a number of people who were of serious concern” had slipped through as Iraq War refugees. “There’s no doubt,” he said, “that was the product of a less than excellent vetting.”
When considering our refugee policy, it isn’t wrong to ask if the risks outweigh the rewards. Knowing what we know now, the United States shouldn’t import more potential threats as a goodwill humanitarian gesture.