By Joe Jenkins
Though the White House is close to meeting its goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, there has been ongoing resistance from some Washington lawmakers, state officials, and media talking heads. Their complaint is almost always centered around one thing: the security vetting process.
While many have rightly expressed the importance of maintaining a high level of scrutiny on those entering the United States, others have made the outrageous claim that the United States has no way of properly vetting refugees. It cannot be understated: this claim is completely and emphatically untrue.
Every refugee that steps foot on American soil has undergone a stringent multi-agency, multi-step screening process that typically takes 18-24 months. The State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counter-terrorism Center, and the FBI each utilize multiple information databases and biometric screening information when determining whether a refugee is destined for the United States—and not all are. Expert intelligence analysts in these screening agencies report that they approve less than half of applications they receive.
Before these screenings even take place, refugees must first receive an official designation from the United Nations to be referred to a resettlement country. They have no control over what country they are designated to. Being resettled at all is a statistical improbability for a refugee. Last year the world resettled less than one half of one percent of the 21 million refugees in need, according to UNHCR.
Clearly the refugee resettlement system would be a poor choice for those seeking to infiltrate the United States.
Those in charge of keeping America safe agree: our refugee vetting system is working. Former Department of Homeland Security heads Janet Napolitano and Michael Chertoff call the process “thorough and robust,” emphasizing that it “will allow us to safely admit the most vulnerable refugees while protecting the American people.”
In addition to authoritative experts like Napolitano and Chertoff, Sasha Chanoff, founder of RefugeePoint, sees through the smokescreen of “security concerns.”
“The first step is to dispel fear,” writes Chanoff. “We don’t have a problem vetting these displaced people. Our problem, in this time of xenophobia, is finding our own moral center.”
For Chanoff and those working toward an American-led effort to help refugees, the question is not one of lax security, but of identity.
“Are we humanitarians or are we not?”