- - Thursday, December 24, 2015


Despite some heated sparring, the Republican candidates at last week’s presidential debate found one thing to agree on: They all vehemently oppose President Obama’s pledge to accept 10,000 more Syrian refugees into the United States over the next year.

“If we allow 9,999 Syrian refugees into the United States, and all of them are good people, but we allow one person in who’s an ISIS killer — we just get one person wrong, we’ve got a serious problem,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas agreed, touting his bill to suspend all refugees from ISIS- and al Qaeda-controlled territories for three years. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson declared that it would be “terrorist malpractice” if the refugees accepted by the United States were not “infiltrated with terrorists.”

At first glance, the candidates’ sentiments seem reasonable. Processing centers cannot absolutely confirm a refugee’s good character, nor guarantee that they will not engage in terrorist activity. Unless a refugee has committed an act that lands him on a counterterrorism database, there is no way to prove he is not involved in terrorist activities.

This strategy holds the victims of the Islamic State guilty until proven innocent, without testimony beyond their own to support their case. If the candidates are serious about their goal of eradicating radical terror on American soil, refugees fleeing the Islamic State should be the least of their concerns.

The odds are low that any of the refugees relocated to America will become terrorists. Of the 784,395 refugees relocated to the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, only three have been arrested on terrorism charges. The State Department specifically prioritizes children, victims of torture and abuse, and the elderly in their considerations. More than half of the refugees accepted by the United States are children.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees considers fewer than 1 percent of all refugees as candidates for resettlement. As of yet, the United States has accepted fewer than 2,000 refugees from Syria. They constitute less than 3 percent of the 70,000 refugees admitted to America from the rest of the world, and roughly 0.000006 percent of America’s population.

President Obama has pledged to accept 10,000 more refugees into the United States over the next year. While such an increase may seem drastic, America remains a minor player in the Syrian refugee resettlement process: Germany has accepted approximately 970,000 refugees just this year, according to Newsweek.

While it remains difficult to verify the identity of individuals seeking refuge from the chaos and violence of the Islamic State, initial screening from the U.N. and a processing period that can last up to two years have so far proven effective barriers to would-be terrorist operatives. The long process also involves a series of face-to-face interviews, taking testimony on a refugee’s persecution and background, fingerprint documentation, and background checks on existing terrorist databases. Refugees go through the highest level of security screening of any traveler to the United States.

Instead of being concerned over the intensity of the vetting process for refugees, the GOP candidates should concern themselves with more effectively controlling the U.S.-Mexican border, and tracking and stopping Islamic State recruitment within the United States.

In the week following the Paris terrorist attacks, U.S. Border Patrol agents detained 13 Syrians crossing the border in Laredo, Texas. The Associated Press reported that Border Patrol agents also detained five Syrians during fiscal 2015, and 14 more in 2014. Central American smuggling rings are an attractive possibility for those trying to get to America, according to Washington Post reports.

U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper announced in March that 40 Americans had traveled to Syria to join Islamist militants and then returned home, using their American passports. More than 200 Americans have traveled to the Middle East to fight for the Islamic State, the FBI reported in August. The FBI is currently investigating more than 900 homegrown ISIS cases.

But Republican presidential candidates are more concerned with the “dangerous” refugees fleeing Islamic State terror.

GOP candidates should review the meaning of the word “refugee.” Refugees leave their homes to avoid war and persecution. When there is no evidence that they’re not terrorists, Republicans bar their entry to the land of the free in cowardice.

Lady Liberty proclaims America a haven for the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It’s time for Mr. Rubio, Mr. Cruz, Dr. Carson and the rest of the Republican field to rethink their illogical political rhetoric and get to work on battling the already-known influence of the Islamic State in America.

Refusal of “homeless, tempest-tossed” Syrians makes Lady Liberty a liar.

Vivian Hughbanks is a student at Hillsdale College.

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