God does seem to look out for the United States. He gives us information to make decisions with, if we have the eyes and the patience to see it.
Within 48 hours of Obama dismissing security concerns about Syrian refugees as “shameful,” and railing against politicians who suggest “there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted,” reality has basically smacked down his entire point.
At approximately the same time Obama was accusing critics of being “scared of widows and orphans,” reality was biting him very specifically, in a standoff between Islamist radicals and police in France.
Does reality mean that we can’t or shouldn’t take in any “Syrian refugees”? I don’t doubt the truth that many of the people traveling as Syrian refugees are, in fact, refugees, who are just trying to get to safety somewhere. I assume many of the people could become good and productive citizens of the U.S.
But, as a matter of fact, America can’t afford, any more than other nations can, to let compassion turn off our diligence and proper skepticism. The more you inspect this problem, the more you understand why nations like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey sequester refugees in camps. You understand why more and more Europeans think the Paris attacks are too high a price to pay for compassion.
You understand why Americans – and not just critics of Obama – worry seriously that “Syrian refugees” have not been vetted thoroughly enough, and perhaps cannot be.
In the wake of Obama’s sweeping assertions about his critics, these eight things have erupted like a blinding flash of the obvious.
1. Andrew McCarthy points out, at National Review, that a “religious test” is in fact required by U.S. law on asylum and refugee immigration. One of the criteria for deciding if an applicant should be granted asylum is, precisely, the applicant’s religion, and how members of that faith are being treated where the applicant comes from.
In the case of Syrian Christians, this criterion would strengthen the justification for admitting them to the U.S. – more than it would for Muslims. ISIS is killing Muslims too, but not just because they’re Muslims. Indeed, jihadi groups other than ISIS were massacring Christians in Syria before ISIS became a factor in late 2012.
2. As already reported by LU’s Ben Bowles, Turkey just arrested eight suspected ISIS jihadis at an airport, planning to enter Europe as refugees. It continues to happen. We can’t assume it won’t be attempted by applicants for asylum in the U.S. – or that the authorities in the U.S., or anywhere else, will infallibly detect ISIS suspects among the seemingly honest applicants.
3. Daily Mail produced a summary of terror-cell arrests in the U.S. which demonstrates that a number of people who turned to terrorism here were admitted as refugees. Although the Tsarnaev brothers, the high-profile attackers in the Boston Marathon bombing, were not admitted as refugees, some of the people arrested in terror plots in the last 18 months were refugees admitted from Somalia and Bosnia.
Saying that we should not worry about this is expressing an opinion, not asserting a “fact.”
4. In 2013, the FBI told ABC News that the U.S. may have already admitted “dozens” of terrorists as refugees. The FBI was referring to the number of cases it was investigating, of refugees who appeared to have committed terrorist acts before being granted asylum in the U.S.
In other words, asylum was granted to people who could be credibly accused of prior acts of terror. There can be no basis for insisting that this can’t possibly happen with a vastly expanded program to admit Syrian refugees. It’s likely to happen more.
5. How well do we track and monitor the refugees once they’re here? One clue comes from local news coverage in Louisiana of the breaking story that Syrian refugees had been processed there over the last two years, without any notification to Congress or the state. The agency used by the federal government to process the refugees in Louisiana is Catholic Charities, which was interviewed by ABC (WBRZ) on Monday (all emphasis added):
The majority of [the refugees] are in the New Orleans area, but one came to Baton Rouge two months ago. WBRZ has learned Catholic Charities helped the refugee who settled in Baton Rouge, but said the immigrant left for another state after a couple of days, and they don’t know where the refugee went since they don’t track them. …
[An update from the Louisiana state police indicated the refugee left for Washington, D.C. No word on whether he’s there or what he’s doing. And since someone else is bound to bring it up: yes, I realize that ISIS’s latest video threat is to attack Washington, D.C. – J.E.]
“We’re at the receiving end,” Executive Director of Catholic Charities, Chad Aguillard said. “We receive them, we welcome them into our community and help them resettle. …”
The executive order issued by Governor Jindal also calls for strict monitoring of the refugees. However, state leaders were not made aware that refugees were in Louisiana until this weekend after watching the news.
6. Perhaps federal agencies are tracking the refugees? Unfortunately, the states are being prevented from finding that out. In a conference call with governors on Tuesday evening, the White House refused outright to give governors information on the Syrian refugees to be resettled in their states.
One of the governors requesting the information was California’s Jerry Brown, who has made no negative announcements about what California will do. White House officials responded with a flat “no.”
On the call several Republican governors and two Democrats — New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan and California’s Jerry Brown — repeatedly pressed administration officials to share more information about Syrian refugees entering the United States. The governors wanted notifications whenever refugees were resettled in their states, as well as access to classified information collected when the refugees were vetted. …
Brown said he favored continuing to admit Syrian refugees but wanted the federal government to hand over information that would allow states to keep track of them, the GOP state official said.
McDonough responded to Brown that there was currently no process in place to give states such information and the administration saw no reason to change the status quo.
7. But how much do we need to worry about this, really? How close can these immigrants come to our sensitive infrastructure, where they could hurt a lot of people? That’s a good question. One window into it is the news from June 2015, at Newsweek, resurrected by alert bloggers in the last 48 hours, that an investigation showed the Transportation Security Administration with 73 employees who were on the national terrorism watch list.
It’s a good bet some number of them are immigrants, since most individuals on the terrorism watch list are immigrants, and we don’t discriminate against immigrants in hiring for TSA jobs. It doesn’t matter whether any of them came in as refugees; the point here is that, as legal immigrants, they can certainly get hired by TSA. They can get hired for all kinds of infrastructure jobs.
Should we discriminate against immigrants in job hiring, to make it safer to give asylum to people? No – no more than we should curtail the gun rights of Americans to make it safer to give asylum.
But waving this point away is making a decision to ignore something, or at least accept a risk. It’s not establishing a “fact.”
8. Widows and orphans – that’s who Obama accused his critics of fearing, speaking in the Philippines on Wednesday. Widows are women, of course, who look less scary than military-age men in the pictures of refugees and migrants making their way by the thousands into Europe.
So it comes across as a perfectly timed wake-up call, that the suicide bomber confronting police in their siege of a Paris flat on Wednesday was a woman. The Paris police were closing in on the “mastermind” of the 11/13 attacks, and during a six-hour standoff, in which gunfire was reportedly exchanged, the woman blew herself and her surroundings up.
We don’t know at this point if she was a refugee. (My guess: probably not.) We do know that, as a woman, she would have been indistinguishable, for many purposes – quite possibly too many for community safety – from Syrian widows coming in as refugees.
Writing for the Guardian, terrorism expert Jason Burke explains:
The advantage of using female suicide bombers for an organisation can be simply tactical – they can avoid suspicion more easily, or can pose as a one half of a couple – or strategic.
Terrorists aim to spin out media coverage as long as possible. They know now that after the initial attack will come a hunt, and then, probably, a last stand. Their aim all along is to shock, awe, terrorise, and to attract as much attention as possible. Using women is one very effective way of achieving all these objectives.
So what do we do? I suggest that we do not pretend that these concerns aren’t real, or go around substituting accusation and sanctimony for rational argument. That applies to both sides of the issue.
There’s an alternative focus for policy
But one of the main things we have to do is acknowledge that there is an alternative – one we are not pursuing. What is the best outcome for Syrians displaced by war? Is it to be driven on perilous journeys to foreign lands? Or would it be to have the opportunity to reclaim the land of their birth from the radical marauders laying waste to it?
No one so far has made a meaningful attempt to destroy the radical guerrillas in Syria, secure Syria against them, and give it back to Syrians who can make it habitable. That very much includes the United States. If we actually took the steps necessary to destroy ISIS, it would be done by now. We have the power to do it, but we have not used that power.
Some problems are too big to be addressed in a period of two to three years, but this one is not. The ISIS problem has metastasized because we – the United States – are, quite literally, doing almost nothing to stop it. Our bombing campaign is almost laughably insignificant, because of the constraints we have put on our purposes and options at every level of warfare, strategic, operational, and tactical.
Taking in refugees, instead of shaping the fight for their country so that it can be won, is a flawed policy to start with. The terrible upheaval in Syria is not something we can’t do anything about. (That goes for the entire West. If we had come together and exercised our combined national power four years ago — diplomatic, military, economic — we wouldn’t be facing the refugee situation now.)
The most humane, responsible policy for what was once the world’s leading nation would have been to work actively at restoring security and peace to Syria – supporting most refugees in safety, nearby, until they could reclaim their own homeland and give it hope and a future. Although we still could adopt this policy, it won’t be before January 2017, and it will be too late for too many Syrians.