Everyone loves a good argument and few questions are more likely to start one right now than “should we allow Syrian refugees into the United States?” Answering the question requires balancing competing concerns. First and foremost is the moral imperative of protecting American citizens versus the humanitarian concerns of providing for refugees.
But that isn’t the only set of competing concerns. What about the question of whether the United States should be helping its own -thousands of homeless veterans, for example -before helping others who may represent a unique security threat? Should America’s self-interests be sacrificed in the pursuit of high ideals. And in the 21st century, that self-interest is threatened by the specter of global jihad.
The Obama administration plans to increase refugee admissions for fiscal 2016 to at least 85,000, with 10,000 of the refugees coming from Syria, despite the horrific Paris attack in which at least apparently one of the attackers is believed to have posed as a Syrian migrant to get into France. The plan would move these refugees to the front of the immigration line, ahead of “undocumented” immigrants and those on the “legal” immigration list.
White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes employed the usual self-assured bureaucratic rhetoric, saying that the government has a “very careful vetting process” for all Syrian refugees. Still further, he argued that these refugees are tragic victims; women, children and orphans of the Syrian civil war that has raged since 2011. Put like that, who could disagree with the canonical view of the administration?
The director of the FBI, for one. James B. Comey testified before Congress in October that his agency has neither the resources nor the necessary information to fully vet Syrian refugees. He could not offer assurances that terrorist fighters could not slip in by posing as refugees. Nobody can guarantee ISIS could not use the Syrian diaspora as a way to kill Americans and serve as an ISIS Trojan Horse. There are no solid background records available to confirm that refugees are who they say they are.
All this should not be surprising given that we are dealing with refugees from a broken country in the midst of years-long civil war.
Overlooked in the discussion are security risks presented by the estimated 40 percent of the 11-to-12 million unauthorized residents who came here legally, then stayed after their student, business, or tourist visas expired. Lest Americans forget, on 9/11, 19 foreign terrorists came through America’s front door on legitimate visas, hijacked four planes and murdered almost 3,000 innocent people. On the day of the attack, four of them were continuing to live in the shadows even thought their visas had expired.
If the federal government has not been able to track the arrival and departure of foreign visitors, why would Americans believe their government can effectively screen Syrian refugees. To put it nicely the average American lacks confidence in the competency of their government to identify covert operatives. That is not irrational.
All it takes is one terrorist to get through the screening process. In other words, the government agencies conducting the screening have to be perfect. If you believe they are capable of such behavior, it is likely you think it’s possible to fight a war without collateral damage to civilians.
It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It is a definition Americans should remember as we consider the issue of allowing Syrian refugees into the United States.
Originally Published: November 28, 2015