Under Trump’s “Extreme Vetting,” Should Dictators Vet the Refugees they Create?

This blog is cross posted with The Huffington Post

Sorry Omran Daqneesh, that photo of you bloodied in the back of an ambulance was unfortunate, but reliable records from Aleppo are not currently available and the al-Assad government could not provide sufficient information to confirm you do not pose a threat to the security of the United States. You are therefore not eligible for refugee resettlement. 

Sorry lost boys of Sudan, the civil war that caused 20,000 of you to flee and march a thousand miles to Kenya makes it difficult to obtain sufficient information to ensure you are not a threat. President Omar al-Bashir (yes, the one wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide) has assured us that he will not harm you, even though his armies killed your parents. Your request for resettlement in the United States is denied.

These are the kinds of responses the United States might send to a child driven from Aleppo or Sudan under President’s Trump’s recent executive order targeting refugee resettlement.

Trump’s January 27th executive order directs a halt to refugee resettlement and an indefinite ban on resettlement of Syrian refugees. Though currently blocked by the courts, this move foreshadows a system where refugees and other immigrants could be turned away because their home countries do not provide “the information needed… to adjudicate visa, admission, or other benefit[s].”

On Tuesday, Department of Homeland Secretary John Kelly defended Trump’s refugee ban by arguing that a “pause” in all refugee resettlement and indefinite suspension of Syrian refugees is necessary while “we look at how well these various countries can vet people.” This suggests that the “pause” could convert into prolonged bans for refugees and immigrants whose home country cannot or will not provide information the Trump Administration deems necessary.

Is this what “extreme vetting” is supposed to mean? That dictators, oppressive regimes, or governments unable to protect their own citizens would be the gatekeepers to refugee resettlement in the United States?

Gaddafi could certainly have provided a great deal of information, true or not, on political dissident Libyans fleeing his regime. Saddam Hussain would have likely been glad to provide false information that Iraqi human rights defenders presented a security threat to the United States.

Al-Assad has long maintained an expansive secret police and intelligence force that would surely be interested to learn which pro-democracy activists or peaceful protestors are being considered for resettlement to the United States. Before resettling North Korean dissidents should the U.S. government write Pyongyang to request their official file from Kim Jong-un?

A nation’s ability or willingness to provide information on citizens fleeing its tyranny should wield no power over the United States decision to provide protection. U.S. vetting procedures, which are already extremely robust, should not depend on any foreign government’s assessment.

Refugees, by their very definition, require protection because their own government is unable or unwilling to provide it. A refugee is someone who fears persecution in their home country, often having suffered horrendous abuses at the hands of their own government. To say vetting of refugees is insufficient because the nations they flee cannot ensure they pose no security threat is a self-fulfilling prophecy that will grind refugee resettlement to a halt.

While difficult to imagine more extreme vetting than what is currently in place, Secretary Kelly also implied that some additional requests or inquiries could provide the extra level of vetting to meet Trump’s standards. In the coming weeks, hopefully Secretary Kelly will have the opportunity to learn about the already extensive levels of information and documentation collected from refugees during the resettlement assessment process, and the many questions that are already used during the lengthy interviews conducted by U.S. officers and representatives.

The United States can, has, and must continue to ensure security of its citizens by vetting refugees through the most extensive security mechanisms in the world—the ones it already uses. Extensive interviews conducted by U.S. officials, background checks, more interviews, fingerprints, multi-agency security checks, and so on, bring to bear the full scope of U.S. intelligence to keep America safe.

Trump Administration: Don’t delegate your job to dictators, don’t excuse your rejection of the world’s most vulnerable on the failures of failed states.


Published on February 10, 2017


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