It’s so easy to have our lives interrupted by evidence of just how divided our nation has become. Slow mornings out the door with a cup of coffee in one hand and the remote in the other end on a sour note as Good Morning America wakes us up to realities of anti-immigrant graffiti and hate crime rates increasing at an exponential rate. Due to this new divisiveness that has so quickly become a reality, the Syrian refugee crisis has become, in the eyes of many politicians and the public, a security crisis and no longer a humanitarian crisis. As a result, we as a nation have focused too much on the “what ifs” and not enough on actually contributing to assisting in this international crisis.
One part of the issue is the general lack of knowledge about the vetting process. Proponents argue that a reason they are vehemently against allowing Syrian refugees into the United States is because of the prospect that one refugee could be a terrorist. Although it is normal to worry and even completely human to worry about our security, these claims are completely unfounded. All refugees entering the US must go through extensive screening processes that can take up to two years to complete. They must first be referred by the UNHCR and in this step alone, less than 1% of the global refugee population can continue on to being admitted. Refugees must go through medical checks, numerous interviews, numerous screenings, and once they finally arrive in the US they face more security measures that are three times as long and extensive as the average security measure for people entering the US (The White House). Since 1980, the US has invited in millions of refugees, including hundreds of thousands from the Middle East. Not one has committed an act of terrorism (The Hill).
Nonetheless, despite the multitude of facts that go to show that our vetting process has already proven to be massively successful in guaranteeing American security, politicians continue a tirade of fear mongering on these unfounded claims.
If citizens and politicians were truly informed on the matter of security risks as they claimed, then the reform would be aimed towards student, tourist, and nonimmigrant visas, as they have a much less extensive process to have a foreigner admitted to the US. Nonetheless, chances of even these visa holders being terrorists are already minimal and do not need extensive reform. Rather, the issue that has created the hysteria in America today has blown out of proportion due to a lack of understanding of these issues.
Yet, as politicians attempt to create a nationalist backing of their constituents, they ignore the American born who harbor an Un-American perspective towards the first amendment. Refugees have still been less inclined to terrorists than domestic anti-government extremists, radical environmentalists or radical pro-life Christians. They are actually less dangerous than those who advocate against them and against refugees entering the US at all. In 2007, five members of an anti-immigration militia in Alabama planned a machine gun attack on Mexican workers. After they began to spy on their targets, agents raided their homes and found automatic weapons and hundreds of grenades. A Wyoming militia leader planned a similar attack the same year and was convicted of weapons charges. More instances are found of hate crimes on these refugees and other immigrants who weren’t naturally born in America than any instances found at all for the other way around. Meanwhile, the statistic still stands at zero acts of terrorism by a refugee in US history.
Mina Cikara, a professor who runs the intergroup neuroscience lab at Harvard, notes how we have gotten to this point in our divided America, “When attacks happen, there’s a high cost in mistaking in-group, out-group members for another one”. Terrorist attacks set off one of our most fundamental gut reactions; when threatened, we on instinct create an “us” vs “them” divide (Vox). We internally decide what is safe and familiar, and what is not. In an attempt to create a closer knit in group of Americans, Muslims and those who just don’t “look” American get excluded into the outgroups.
The problem with putting refugees into the “them” category seems obvious: they belong in the “us” category. In fact, due to their location and political instability of the surrounding countries, they are the prime target group and victims of ISIS. According to ISIS, Syrian Muslim refugees are traitors to the radical Islamic cause. “It is correct for Muslims to leave the lands of the infidel for the lands of Islam, but not vice versa,” one ISIS video said in September. If these vetting processes are made stricter, we have less chances of accepting refugees in quickly and effectively, and they soon become statistics of increasing death rates instead of civilians saved.
Syrian refugees are being targeted in their homeland by all sides from the war and if America does not work to accept refugees effectively, then terrorism will grow. Young men will be forcibly recruited to the ranks of ISIS or other radical groups fighting in the civil war in Syria. By not making the Syrians’ security a priority now, our own security will become a risk. Refugees are at a higher risk of joining a radical group in war zones, whether voluntarily or forcibly, and this will be prevented by resettling them before it is too late.
It is hard enough as it is to get refugee status with the current process: people from places engulfed in conflict tend to lack adequate documentation. That makes background checks difficult. And when in doubt, the Department of Homeland Security tends to deny the request (Wired).
As briefly touched on earlier, if anything, by increasing the vetting process, the government provides acquiescence for racism.
President Obama has called out to not alienate Muslims in response to the Paris attacks. Yet by focusing on making the vetting process even more rigorous than already is, we alienate Muslims as the largest majority of those entering the US because we continue to put more security measures for them even though they are the ones escaping terrorism.
Since the Paris attacks last month, there have been 73 cases of hate crimes against Muslims and even those who merely look similar to Muslims as of December 16, 2015 alone. This number disregards hate crimes made after this date and daily instances of minor misdemeanors and harassment. By reinforcing the idea that these refugees aren’t safe and need more security measures enforced upon them, countless Americans and refugees will continue to be targeted. To touch up on the aforementioned idea, it will only increase the mental divide between “us” vs “them”.
The current vetting process is already tough as is. It is a slow process that keeps refugees away from permanently resettling for up to two years, stuck in a state of limbo without opportunity to work or learn while waiting for permanent resettlement in America. These refugees must go through so much as is before going through the stressful and painstaking process for refugee status. They face Islamophobia for the large majority of refugees who are Muslim, and discrimination and injustice to the rest simply for being associated with the religion by being of an ethnicity from the Middle East. The vetting process for refugees is not a concern for our nation; the only concern should be on how to resettle these refugees and decrease discrimination against them for the easiest transition possible.