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In the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks that left 129 dead, more than 20 U.S. governors have suspended acceptance of Syrian refugees into their states, citing national security concerns. Their position came after intelligence reports revealed that at least one of the Paris attackers entered Europe among the current wave of migrants after falsely identifying himself as a Syrian refugee[i].
Legacy of Compassion Towards Refugees
Accepting Syrian refugees to the U.S. is not a threat to the safety of American citizens, but rather an opportunity to continue demonstrating our American values of compassion towards vulnerable people. The U.S. is a great nation with a rich history of helping those who arrive at our borders seeking safety. From 1934 to 1945, Americans rescued unaccompanied Jewish children fleeing the Holocaust and placed them with foster families and relatives. During the early 1960s, the US accepted Cuban refugees seeking shelter and reunited them with relatives and friends[ii]. The current crisis is no different – innocent people are fleeing violence and coming to the U.S. simply to be safe.
Current Protests to Accepting Syrian Refugees
Despite political opposition, the Obama Administration is proceeding with its plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees by next year. U.S. State Department officials are concurrently investigating whether governors can legally block refugees from settling in their states. Since 2011, the violence in Syria has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced nearly 12 million Syrians (more than 50% of the country’s pre-conflict population of 22 million), leading some to designate the conflict as the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II.
Admission of Syrian Refugees into the U.S.
The U.S. is fully capable of vetting refugees with a system in place that includes repeated high-level security checks, biometric screening, an interview with the Department of Homeland Security, and a medical screening. The process takes 18 to 24 months on average. No other person entering America is subjected to this level of scrutiny[iii].
Due in part to this robust screening processes, refugees have historically been unlikely terrorist threats – 750,000 refugees have been admitted into the U.S. since 9/11 and none have been arrested on domestic terrorist charges[iv].
According to State Department officials, only 2% of Syrian refugees in the U.S. are military-aged men with no family[v]. The majority of resettled refugees are women, children and families – all survivors of violence and torture.
As the debate about the security ramifications of welcoming Syrian refugees continues, the U.S. should reflect on and remember its history of supporting vulnerable refugees during similar crises.