Governor Chris Christie Should Listen to National Security Leaders on Refugee Resettlement
This week New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced that New Jersey state agencies will no longer participate in the federal government’s resettlement program. More than half of the nation’s governors, including Christie, have said they will not accept Syrian refugees within their borders, and the Tennessee State Legislature is suing the federal government over the refugee resettlement program.
While states cannot unilaterally block refugee resettlement, these inflammatory actions run counter to America’s founding ideals and the nation’s national security interests. National security experts from both sides of the aisle attest to the rigorous refugee screening processes and the need for the United States to step up its response to the current global refugee crisis. A December 2015 letter from a bipartisan group of 20 former U.S. national security advisors, CIA directors, secretaries of state, defense, and homeland security confirms that Syrian refugees are vetted more intensively than any other traveler to the United States.
These experts also state that increased U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees would protect the stability of important U.S. allies in the region, as detailed in our February report, “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Need for U.S. Leadership.” Governor Christie’s announcement ignores this perspective.
Attempts to block refugee resettlement are not limited to governors and local leaders. Several members of Congress have also launched a new effort to remove Department of Homeland Security funding that pays for the processing and resettlement of refugees from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia.
These roadblocks are particularly troubling as the United States struggles to reach its modest goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees by September 30, 2016. Earlier this month, Human Rights First released a report detailing the slow progress the Obama Administration has made in the first six months of FY 2016 toward that objective. The United States only settled 330 Syrian refugees last month, bringing the six-month total to 1,285 Syrian refugees.
Over 4.8 million Syrians have fled their country due to conflict and persecution, with Syrian border states, including Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, hosting the majority of these refugees. In response to the large influx of refugees—and the lack of sufficient aid and resettlement support from other nations outside the region—states surrounding Syria have closed their borders, blocking civilians from escaping, and imposed restrictions that make it difficult for many refugees living in the region to remain. Most refugees are prohibited from working legally, and are left in constant fear of detention and deportation back to Syria. In Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Turkey, the large number of refugees is straining critical infrastructures—including water, sanitation, medical care, education and housing, as well as economic and job markets.
The United States should be leading an international effort to solve the global refugee crisis, not spouting misguided, inaccurate, and xenophobic messages that undermine U.S. national security interests and moral leadership.