“National Security” : The GOP’s favorite cop out

An economic analysis on refugees and why barring them is irrational

Yesterday, President Donald Trump just barred refugees and citizens from 7 muslim countries on grounds of “national security.”

The phrase “national security” has become an overused, overhyped justification to tighten immigration restrictions. Many conservatives support tightening our borders and increasing refugee vetting for the sake of our nation’s safety, regardless of the possible benefit we gain by accepting immigrants and refugees.

Trump won the presidency by promising to “Make America Great Again,” which partly means keeping Americans safe from terrorism. But keeping Americans safe and rejecting Muslim refugees are entirely different issues. Trump and his supporters have hid behind “national security” as an unfounded counter-argument to rejecting refugees from certain parts of the world. It is a cop-out for other fears and prejudices held by his supporters and other right wing politicians.

Why they are wrong:

I. Refugees pose a relatively small threat.

In general, terrorism does not pose an existential threat to our nation. Since September 11th, 2001, Americans have been no more likely to be killed by an act of terrorism than fatally crushed by their own furniture. Terrorism is a real threat, but Americans are significantly more likely to die by mundane activities every day than at the hands of a terrorist.

Despite the relatively low number of American lives lost to terrorism, many civilians are seriously worried about the risk of admitting refugees from “terror-prone” regions. However, the number of Americans killed by refugees committing acts of terrorism is even lower than their risk of being killed by terrorism in general. According to the CATO institute, only three Americans were killed on U.S. soil by a refugee terrorist between 1975–2015. That is an annual chance of one in 3.6 billion. (Yes, billion. With a “b”)

The risk of refugee terrorists entering the U.S. is so small it is almost negligible. This means that those in favor of Trump’s plan to suspend Middle Eastern immigration have either grossly miscalculated the risk of Syrian refugees or chose to ignore it. By pushing his suspension policy, Trump has perpetuated an ignorant rhetoric around refugees held by supporters who just simply do not want them here.

Why we need to accept Syrian refugees:

I. Refugees add to our economy.

Immigration is often posed as an issue of what we have to lose, instead of an analysis of what we have to gain. Although the Center for Immigration Studies estimates very high resettling costs for Syrian refugees in the United States, few people analyze the net cost and benefit of admitting refugees into our country.

A recent case study conducted at the University of California, Davis found that refugee populations often actively engage in their host-country’s economy to better their circumstances after resettlement. In many cases, refugee populations have either no impact, or a positive impact, on the host country’s economy and total real income. While the initial cost of resettling refugees may be high upfront, they often give back more than they initially receive.

Take Utica, NY for example. Utica is a city completely rebuilt by refugees who have worked hard and occupied unwanted jobs. Over the past fifty years, refugees in Utica have revitalized neighborhoods and stemmed Utica’s decline. By halting immigration, Trump will do cities like Utica a disservice. Instead of overestimating the risk of terrorism, we should instead value the economic surplus immigrants and refugees bring to the U.S.

II. People are dying in Aleppo.

Apart from the economic benefits we have to gain from admitting refugees, we have an international obligation to help other humans dying of genocide. Syrian refugees pose a minute risk to “national security,” they contribute to our economy, help rebuild declining corners of the U.S., and they need our help.

Suspending immigration is not about national security, it is about Islamophobia and unfounded fears that they will take more than they give. Refugees and Muslim immigrants will contribute to our economy and do not pose the kind of threat Trump likes to claim. Public safety is important, but claiming “national security” as a justification for suspending immigration is a cop-out for prejudice. Trump needs to stop hiding behind an inflated sense of patriotism and rationally weigh what is at stake.