289 members of Congress and 28 governors are playing into the hands of Daesh, also known as ISIS or the Islamic State. Administrators from Florida to New Hampshire declared their states closed to Syrian refugees in the wake of the tragic November 13 terror attacks in Paris. Setting aside the debate over legal authority, these governors stand in the way of the United States’ moral and security obligations to offer refuge to families fleeing terrorism and conflict. Violence in Syria has left over 200,000 people dead and displaced more than 4,000,000, while wider regional instability has left millions more vulnerable. Politicians and global citizens in the United States must seize this opportunity to stand against Islamophobia and act in support of refugees fleeing the terror of Daesh.
“These people don’t want to leave [Syria], they leave because they have to,” explained a Boston-based Syrian-American university student who chose to remain anonymous. Civil war in Syria, insecurity in Iraq, and a growing Daesh presence has forced millions to take flight. The viral photo of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian whose lifeless body was recovered on the coast of Turkey, taught the world about the perilous journey many refugees face as they are forced to flee their homes. However, while the United States consistently admits more refugees than all other resettlement countries combined (UNHCR stats 2013, 2014), we have admitted only 2,200 Syrian refugees since the start of the civil war in 2011. The United States must extend its commendable record of accepting large numbers of refugees escaping violent conflict over the past forty years to include those currently fleeing Syria and Iraq.
Many security concerns expressed about Syrian refugees lack credibility. Access to the United States is inherently more controlled by geography and stricter regulations when compared to routes to Turkey, Greece, or our other allies in the European Union. There are more stringent controls for refugee entry into the United States than those for work, student, or tourist visas. It currently takes an American-bound refugee 18-24 months to go through the multiple interviews and background checks required by both the United States government and United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). Syrians are often subjected to additional screenings beyond the standard requirements.
While those who seek violence against America could ultimately gain entry through various routes, the refugee path would be especially ineffective. No refugee has ever launched a terrorist attack in the United States. Further, out of the 784,000 refugees the United States has accepted since 9/11, only one was arrested on domestic terrorism charges. That translates to 99.9999% effectiveness in the refugee screening process – far better than TSA security screenings.
It is in the national security interests of the United States to welcome refugees from the Middle East. Daesh portrays on social media and online publications an east-vs-west, Muslim-vs-Christianity culture war without a “grayzone”. They oppose Muslims fleeing the “caliphate” and highlight questionable American policies in the region to foster this divisive narrative. Rejecting refugees of terrorism aligns with this depiction, committing Syrians and Iraqis to their war-torn homes or inadequate regional refugee camps. This inhumanity often leaves predominantly Muslim refugees in desperate and vulnerable states, at best encouraging frustration with the west and at worst boosting recruitment for Daesh in the Levant and abroad.
The United States faces a choice; we can offer safe haven to vetted refugees, or we can write off thousands of families as the security threats they are fleeing. The American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015 (H.R.4038), which passed in the House of Representatives on November 19, pursues the latter. It does not once mention Daesh, Al-Qaida, or other foreign enemies to the United States and our allies. Instead, it mandates an impenetrable bureaucratic blockade to refugees, requiring the Director of the FBI to sign off on every single refugee under the bill and extensive monthly reports to twelve Congressional committees. The formidable refugee admission process would slow to a halt. Concurrently, members of both houses of Congress are trying to include such measures in the upcoming budget negotiations as a policy rider. The Senate must oppose all such efforts.
Advocacy groups, religious leaders, allied governors, and compassionate members of Congress are leading the American movement in support of refugees. Join their STAND for humanity in the face of Islamophobia and hateful campaign tactics. Call your Senator today to oppose any policy or budgetary efforts to stem refugee resettlement.
Congressman Seth Moulton (D) of Massachusetts, a decorated Iraq War veteran, reminds us that when “we change our values, [Daesh] wins.” American leadership requires this global consciousness and actions in the moral and security interests of the country. We achieve this by bolstering our response to the needs of refugees. STAND against Daesh and Islamophobia – the time for action is now.
Garrett Moore is an international affairs professional focused on atrocity prevention and international development. He is a long-time genocide and atrocity prevention advocate, and a recent graduate of Boston University. Garrett currently resides outside Boston, Massachusetts and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.