By Katherine Crosby
The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security held a hearing last Thursday entitled, “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and Its Impact on the Security of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.” The hearing comes in the wake of attacks in Beirut and Paris, but also in the same week that more than 30 U.S. governors declared they will refuse Syrian refugees in their states due to perceived security risks.
Much of the conversation about security focuses on the effectiveness of the screening. In a process that can take 18-24 months, potential refugee candidates are first referred through the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), then go through interviews with specially trained Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers, complete medical examinations, and undergo interagency checks.
Those calling for a pause in refugee admittance programs or voting to increase security checks offer concerns that the lack of intelligence within Syria means that U.S officials have no real information to check refugees against during the vetting process. However, many experts continually testify that the system we have in place is the most comprehensive it has ever been. Refugees are the most heavily vetted population of anyone to enter the U.S. Allowing them continued entry saves lives.
Rampant in the rhetoric is blatant discrimination and a false understanding of security. Accusations of terrorism fly easily and it is assumed that refugees lack skills or the capacity to be full participants in society. Many repeatedly ask for assurance of 100 percent protection against security threats. This is to demand safety and security that is free from all risk; it is asked for in the name of preserving freedom and prosperity. But this is a security born of fear, and therefore really no security at all. It will instead only contribute to a cycle of violence and division, causing us to turn away from those fleeing from violence and war.
We must instead search for a different security, one rooted in the knowledge that we are to welcome the stranger and serve the least of these (Matt. 25:34-40). This is security born of compassion, courage, and hope, unwilling to react out of fear and self-interest. Governor Jay Islee of Washington powerfully expresses that it is “easy to lose our way in moments like this when we are so fearful,” but that we must not succumb to this fear as we have in the past.
Now is a time for even more fervent support of those facing the continued insecurity of displacement and the terror of violence and war. Iain Levine, the deputy executive director for programs at Human Rights Watch suggests, “Political leaders should not fall into the trap laid by extremists who foment division and distrust, but rather show courage and resolve to protect those who have been uprooted…”
Encourage your political leaders to support the safety of refugees by welcoming them to the U.S., by contributing to the vast needs of refugees and displaced people in the Middle East region, and by continuing to work for a non-violent political solution to the conflict.