Back in September, President Barack Obama called for the USA to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year. Since then, there have been cries from all levels of government to not permit this immigration from Syria. Not surprisingly, those cries have increased and gotten louder since ISIS perpetrated the terrorist attack on Paris earlier this month.
I sympathize with most of the people voicing those sentiments. While some criticize the plan simply to oppose the president, most sincerely feel that their security would be threatened by Syrian refugees in the USA. They are concerned for the safety of their loved ones. The problem with this sentiment is that it’s based on faulty logic—it would not help prevent a terrorist attack in the USA.
Yes, as the name Islamic State of Iraq & Syria implies, ISIS occupies portions of Syria. And yes, ISIS uses terrorism to control Syrians and terrorize people like the French and Russian. But if an ISIS terrorist wanted to attack inside the USA, posing as a Syrian refugee would be the last method he would use to enter the USA. Just about any other way in would be more suitable for a terrorist. That’s why the odds of being killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack are about 1 in more than 3.6-billion, according to a Cato Institute study (PDF).
The process for a Syrian refugee to resettle in the USA is long and arduous, involving numerous federal agencies and intense background checks. It must begin in a refugee camp run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) somewhere outside of but neighboring Syria. After registering with them, not only does the UNHCR decide whether it will resettle the refugee at all, it also decides to which country it refers the refugees who get resettled. Well over 95% of Syrian refugees resettle in five Muslim countries around Syria. Only about 0.05% of the 4.3-million Syrian refugees have arrived in the USA.
For the small number of Syrian refugees the UNHCR refers to the USA, the U. S. Department of State takes over the admissions process. But they do so in the refugee camp—it will be about two years before the refugee makes it to the USA. In the meantime, they undergo the most rigorous screening of any traveler to the USA and only about half of them will be accepted. They have an adjudication interview then, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, they conduct an enhanced security screening on refugees from Syria. If the refugee passes all this, they undergo a health screening and those with a contagious disease, such as tuberculosis, do not enter the USA. A U.S.-based resettlement agency provides a “sponsorship assurance” before those that can clear all these hurdles steps foot on American soil.
It’s far faster and easier for someone to enter the USA as a tourist, a student, or a businessman—and with less scrutiny—than it is as a refugee. Any Syrian wanting to commit an act of terrorism inside the USA would follow the path of least resistance to get here, which would be just about any method other than as a refugee. A terrorist could easily get a counterfeit Syrian passport in just a few days for less than $1,000 in places like Istanbul. The only people who would take all the time and deal with all the difficulties of the refugee process to get to the USA are Syrians desperate to escape the terrorists in their homeland.