Are Refugees a Security Risk?
By: Justin McFarlin
Back-to-back summits on refugees and migrants are being held this week at the United Nations and the White House. Such an important discussion couldn’t come at a more appropriate time, given that we are in the midst of the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, with an estimated 65 million forcibly displaced people around the world.
Unfortunately for these people in need, the political climate in the United States is less than hospitable to their plight — especially in the case of the millions of Syrian refugees. Many Americans have genuine concerns about who these people are and what the risk of bringing them within our borders might be. As a U.S. Army veteran, I firmly believe that not only do they not pose a security threat to us — in fact, we have a moral obligation and strategic reason to welcome as many of them as we can to our society.
The most important thing to know is that we have a rigorous process for vetting refugees that is controlled by our intelligence community. The United States begins the process by selecting from a pool of refugees who have already been through initial screening by the United Nations. Multiple U.S. government organizations, including the Department of Defense, the FBI Terrorist Screening Center, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Homeland Security, all run health checks, gather biometric data, and conduct multiple in-person interviews with these candidates.
The whole process can take six months to two years, and Syrian refugees in particular are subject to additional rounds of screening and wait periods. Put simply, the system is exhaustive, and it works — any politician trying to tell voters otherwise is ignorant or lying.
The fact is that any terrorist leader wanting to send agents to attack American soil would have no more inefficient way to deploy those agents than through the refugee program. The wait would be incredibly long, and the agent would need a personal backstory they know as well as their own life with biometric and historical data to back it up. What’s more, even if they were successful in staying consistent through every screening, the agent would have no control over where they ended up within our country! It would be a massive waste of time and resources.
So refugees do not pose a plausible security threat. What then is the value of welcoming them to our shores? For one thing, America is a nation of refugees, immigrants, and those who have fled oppression, violence and persecution. We have integrated countless groups to our society before, and we will do so in the future. Refugees are not looking to perpetuate violence — they’re fleeing exactly that from their war-torn homes, none more so than Syrians.
Thinking about the worldview of terrorist groups like ISIS gives us one more reason to welcome refugees. These extremists want Syrians to choose between their own perverted version of Islam or death; the idea that Muslims could live peacefully in the West breaks that mold. If we offer another choice — one of safety, opportunity and prosperity — we are providing a powerful moral rebuke and a desperately needed escape route for people around the world.
Can we ever be totally certain that someone who comes to our nation doesn’t wish to do us harm? Of course not. No interview, process or questionnaire can look into the heart of another person and see only the truth. But what is in our own hearts if we shut out so many — and fail to lead the rest of the world by our example — if we shrink from our responsibilities in fear and suspicion of the most vulnerable people on earth?
We can and must stay true to our values and safety at the same time. We can and must continue to welcome refugees to our great nation. Anything less is simply un-American.
Justin McFarlin is an ex-US Army Officer and West Point Graduate. He is also a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project. Views expressed are his own.
Originally published at www.insidesources.com on September 20, 2016.