Have we allowed fear to get the better of us?
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, suspicion has bled from its proper focus on the Islamic State to include refugees who are fleeing two of the countries — Syria and Iraq — infested by the terrorists.
The foundations of that fear are suspect. All of the perpetrators identified so far by French authorities appear to be European nationals, specifically either French or Belgian citizens, many of whom have made trips to Syria. But the only connection to Iraqis or Syrians caught between ISIS and a brutal Syrian dictator, is a passport found near the body of one of the attackers. The passport, if authentic, belongs to a Syrian national who entered Europe through Greece in October. But the British newspaper, The Independent, quoted an official French source who noted that the passport might have been planted by the terrorists as propaganda, meant to create fear among the countries now receiving refugees.
If that was the terrorists’ intent, it worked.
Just days after the attack, a parade of governors, state legislators, members of Congress and presidential candidates called for an immediate halt to the U.S. program to accept refugees from Syria and Iraq and stricter vetting of refugee candidates. The U.S. House, without allowing hearings or careful review, passed the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, which calls for a duplicative and onerous system of checks for refugees from Syria and Iraq.
A few officials from Washington were exceptions to the rule. When more than 30 other governors said they would not accept refugees, Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee pledged in an interview with National Public Radio and an op-ed column in The New York Times that his state would not turn away those who had been reviewed and cleared by the federal government. Likewise, U.S. Reps. Suzan DelBene, D-1st District, and Rick Larsen, D-2nd District, also expressed support to continue acceptance of refugees.
Larsen, in a release, said that shutting out Syrian refugees would allow ISIS to claim that Muslims aren’t welcome in the U.S., providing them another propaganda tool. Larsen also refuted claims that refugees aren’t already carefully vetted, noting the screenings currently required by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, and the departments of Homeland Security, State and Defense, a process that takes anywhere from 18 months to two years.
DelBene co-sponsored legislation offered as an alternative to the SAFE Act that would have reaffirmed the checks above for all refugees, not just those from Syria and Iraq, and would have required Homeland Security’s inspector general to submit monthly reports to Congress on refugee applications.
Even if the SAFE Act is approved by the Senate, President Barack Obama has said he will veto the bill. In that event, it’s unlikely the House will take up the alternative legislation, a DelBene spokeswoman said, calling into question how seriously members of Congress believe the vetting process is in need of reform.
In truth, there are no guarantees that someone who comes to the United States would not use his or her refugee status as cover for a terrorist plot. But ISIS, al-Qaida or any group seeking to attack our nation from within its borders would have an easier time and quicker route by using a tourist visa than posing as a refugee.
Since 2014, only about 2,000 Syrian refugees have been allowed into the U.S. Of those, about 25 are here in Washington state. Ultimately, the U.S. has agreed to allow in about 5 percent of those fleeing the Islamic State.
As the United States, France and other nations build a coalition to combat and eliminate ISIS, the United States has a duty to share in the humanitarian response to accept refugees from the region.
At the height of the Iraq War, when our fears over terrorism were just as sharp as they are now, the citizens of Snohomish County welcomed more than 1,000 Iraqi refugees, including an Iraqi boy, Muhammed “Humoody” Jauda, blinded by insurgents who shot him in the face when he was 2 years old.
A Snohomish couple became Humoody’s legal guardians and he was granted asylum in 2008. Humoody, who now uses his adoptive parents’ name Smith as his last name, is now 12 years old and hopes to become a U.S. citizen when he turns 18.
“People get stereotypes from what they think, instead of what’s actually there.”