Defending Syrian refugees

By Katrina Kervin

Eleven-year-old Omran Wawieh, right, a refugee from Syria, is staying with parents and siblings at a motel in Pomona, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Eleven-year-old Omran Wawieh, right, a refugee from Syria, is staying with parents and siblings at a motel in Pomona, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

In response to the despicable attacks that took place in Paris last Friday and the double suicide attack in Beirut Thursday, 27 governors of states scattered across the country have issued statements proclaiming that they would prevent Syrian refugees from settling in their states. The attacks on Paris are responsible for claiming the lives of 129 people, while the Beirut attack left 43 dead.

Strong emotions and empathetic responses have been the natural reactions to these attacks, and fear of a similar threat making its way to American soil has prompted politicians to take an especially harsh stance on accepting refugees.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has gone as far as to say that no Syrian refugees, even young orphans, should be accepted into the United States. Other presidential hopeful, Ted Cruz, suggested that Syrian Muslims should be sent to “majority Muslim countries,” but we should provide a safe haven for Christian refugees. Massachusetts’ own governor, Charlie Baker, is opposed to allowing refugees without more information about the vetting process. Legally, these statements have no effect, as states do not have the authority to bar refugees from entering and settling within their borders, but they are gaining attention and panic-based support throughout the country.

These responses are not surprising, but they also aren’t justified. It appears that politicians are attempting to scare Americans away from supporting refugees, without providing actual facts regarding our refugee system. In more unsettling statements, such as those made by Cruz, politicians are trying to use the Paris attacks as a basis to discriminate against refugees based on their religious beliefs. Most of the refugees are fleeing from homes where they were victims of terrorism themselves, and to shut our doors on them in such an uncompromising and absolute way is immoral and excessive. Although it’s understandable to want to ensure that our country is safe, we also have a moral obligation to help those seeking safety, and greet those in need with compassion.

It’s important to understand just how strictly refugees will be vetted before being allowed to enter our country. President Barack Obama has called for the U.S. to welcome 10,000 refugees, far less than most other European countries. This selective amount will give the U.S. a chance to be much more thorough in its vetting process. The United States holds some of the strictest systems for checking the backgrounds of refugees, which will become stricter for Syrians.

Refugee admissions hold the highest level of scrutiny and security checks of any category of travelers, and a refugee applicant cannot be approved until all security checks have been completed and cleared. A refugee has to be vetted through various databases to confirm their identity, history and other pieces of biographical information. All of this would have to be done before they could even begin the journey over to our country. On top of this, our country has a very successful security record. According to the Washington Post, of the 745,000 refugees that the U.S. has accepted since Sept. 11, none have been arrested for domestic terrorism charges.

While the influx of refugees seems to offer an unprecedented opportunity for foreign-born extremists to infiltrate the country, the intense screening process that is already in place makes such a possibility unlikely. The majority of recent terror plots within our border have come from our own citizens, not Muslim extremists.

The response to impulsively close our doors to Syrian refugees is predictable, but it’s not the right move. Yes, it’s true that one of the attackers was found to have a Syrian passport, although many are now claiming it to be a fake. The rest of the known attackers? They held European passports. To cry out for the refusal to accept all Syrian refugees because of this event is a hasty, disproportionate response stirred out of panic instead of logic.

Katrina Kervin is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]