It seems to me….
“We live in the age of the refugee, the age of the exile.” ~ Ariel Dorfman.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill, with backing from both political parties, mandating increased security screenings for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and delaying entry for anyone already been cleared for entry into the U.S. The U.S. already has some of the strictest set of background checks, fingerprinting, interviews, etc. of any nation taking up to two years to thoroughly screen refugees. The new bill now additionally requires the heads of Homeland Security, the FBI, and National Intelligence to certify to Congress that any refugee from Syria or Iraq is “not a threat to the security of the United States” before being allowed to settle in the U.S. Additionally, more than two dozen governors, including one Democrat, have said they would try to block Syrian refugees from even entering their state.
This represents a new level in inconsiderate cold-heartedness and total lack of consideration or empathy and does not represent the America I grew up in. What has happened to the America in which I thought I knew? How have we become so closed? We pride ourselves on being a nation of immigrants. Where is the compassion?
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Based on the callousness this measure represents, Lady Liberty’s torch should be removed and replaced with a sign saying “Not Welcome – Go Home”.
Many nations are considering accepting refugees fleeing the violence in Syria as part of the Western response to the millions of refugees fleeing that country’s bloody civil war and Islamic State-related violence. In Germany, Andrea Merkel has proposed accepting 800,000 refugees – and Germany is substantially smaller than many U.S. states including even Montana and less than half the size of Texas. President Obama has proposed accepting a much more limited number of only about 10,000 refugees – we should accept at least 100,000 and be ashamed of themselves if we do any less.
Rather than shutting our doors to these desperate men, women, and children who are risking their lives to escape death and torture in their homelands, we should work to utilize our immense resources and the good intentions of our citizens to welcome them. Additionally, there would be substantial benefit as migration can boost our economy and trade and lead to constructive cultural exchange.
The U.S. has a history of welcoming refugees in times of crisis and has done so on numerous occasions in the past. One of the more notable examples was in 1948 when Congress passed the Displaced Persons Act authorizing the entry of 200,000 (later raised to 415,000) European refugees above normal immigration quotas. By the end of 1952, just over 400,000 people – mostly from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union – had been admitted under that law.
There currently are more than 50 million displaced people around the world, the most since the end of World War II, primarily as a result of conflicts in Syria, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan.
So far, 4.2 million Syrian refugees seeking asylum in other countries have been registered by The United Nations. Of the 2.1 million refugees registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, there’s a relatively even split in gender: about 50.5 percent are women and 49.7 percent are men. For men and women, the bulk of refugees (a little under a quarter each) are between the ages of 18 and 59. The reality is that about half the refugees are children; another quarter are elderly. Almost all of the adults are either moms or couples coming with children.
Many of the men are fleeing the same enemy that nations across the world find themselves up against. Many doubtlessly are attempting to escape death either from ISIS or conscription into the Syrian armed forces (which President Bashar Assad in a July speech admitted faces major manpower shortages). Almost all the single males are in their late teens to middle age and the vanguard are scouting a route to a new home for families waiting to follow them. We must remember this is a humanitarian crisis for which the U.S. is partly culpable for creating.
The refugee screening process is multi-layered and difficult to traverse. Resettlement in the U.S. is a long process and takes many steps. Most people languish in temporary camps which frequently have been allowed to become incubators for future terrorists for months to years while their story is evaluated and checked.
Prospective refugees do not get to choose into which country they might be resettled. If they have family (legal) already in a country, they will most likely be placed with that family, but placement is random for all others; they cannot simply walk into a refugee camp, show a document, and say they want to go to the U.S.
The Refugee Admissions Program is jointly administered by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) in the Department of State, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and offices within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within DHS conducts refugee interviews and determines individual eligibility for refugee status in the United States.
There are multiple interviews and people are challenged on any discrepancies. Immigration laws require that individuals prove that they have a “well-founded fear” which must be proven regardless of the person’s country, circumstance, or classification in a priority category. But refugees are not simply admitted because they have a well-founded fear. They still must show that they are not subject to exclusion under Section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA) which includes serious health problems, moral or criminal matters, as well as security issues. They also can be excluded for such things as polygamy, misrepresentation of facts on visa applications, smuggling, or previous deportations.
Refugees are evaluated on a tiered system with three levels of priority.
Those with the highest priority are people who have suffered compelling persecution or for whom no other durable solution exists. These individuals are referred to the United States by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or identified as belonging in this category by the U.S. embassy or a non-governmental organization (NGO).
In the second priority are groups of “special concern” to the U.S. The Department of State determines these groups with input from USCIS, UNHCR, and designated NGOs. Currently recognized groups contain certain persons from the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Iran, Burma, and Bhutan.
The third priority is composed of relatives of refugees (parents, spouses, and unmarried children under 21) already settled in the U.S. who may be admitted as refugees. The U.S.-based relative must file an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) which must be processed by DHS.
Before being allowed to come to the U.S., each refugee must undergo an extensive interviewing, screening, and security clearance process conducted by Regional Refugee Coordinators and overseas Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs). Individuals generally must not already be firmly resettled
At this point, a refugee can be conditionally accepted for resettlement. Then, the RSC sends a request for assurance of placement to the U.S. and the Refugee Processing Center (RPC) works with private voluntary agencies (VOLAG) to determine where the refugee will live. If the refugee does have family in the U.S., efforts will be made to resettle them close to that family.
Every person accepted as a refugee for planned admission to the U.S. is conditionally accepted upon passing a medical examination and passing all security checks. Only upon passing all of these checks (which involve basically every agency of the government involved in terrorist identification) can the person actually be approved to travel.
Before departing, refugees sign a promissory note to repay the U.S. for their travel costs. This travel loan is an interest-free loan that refugees begin to pay back six months after arriving in the country.
Once the VOLAG is notified of the travel plans, it must arrange for the reception of refugees at the airport and transportation to housing at their final destination. This process from start to finish averages 18 to 24 months but possibly might take several years.
The process in Europe is different than in the U.S. and there is ample justification for concerned that more terrorists are infiltrating the European system because they are not nearly as extensive and thorough in their process. One of the suspects in the Paris attacks might have come to the EU posing as a Syrian refugee which makes many people question whether the EU needs to tighten up security as it deals with hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees crossing its border.
Limited anxiety is normal and total acceptance of individual differences probably never will happen. In primitive societies, any stranger usually was killed. The thin veneer of society frequently is insufficient to overcome instinctive behavior. While most of us aspire to tolerance and preach its necessity, actual reality is that what we say all too frequently is not what we do. Humans have achieved much culturally and in technology but there has been either little or no advancement in what or who we basically are.
Muslims are today the most despised minority in America. The currently leading Republican presidential candidate has flirted with the idea of registering Muslims, a form of collective punishment that has not been seen since the internment of Japanese-Americans in the 1940s during World War II. Their religious faith is constantly criticized and they face insults, discrimination, and a dramatic rise in acts of violence against them. Americans increasingly seem to view Muslims as actively propagating a dangerous ideology. Individuals always should be judged as individuals and not placed under suspicion for some “group characteristic”.
Regardless of demand for greater assurances, no system can be 100 percent flawless. Screening of refugees is significantly more extensive than for visitors arriving by airplane. But if 100 percent assurance is to be the new standard, then it becomes mandatory that we shut down the entire airline industry, close the borders, and stop all international commerce and shipping as each of those has been the source of entry for people and are much easier ways to gain access to the U.S. That immigrants somehow pose a more significant threat than all the tourists who pour into the United States every single day just doesn’t correspond with reality.
There are those that demand we care for our own homeless population prior to admitting any migrants. We admittedly have a major problem we need to address through increased health and mental treatment availability. The need is real but Congress has repeatedly demonstrated its reluctance to provide any real solution to this problem leaving the U.S. as the only major country not providing universal medical care. Many of the U.S. homeless are military veterans and should be entitled to care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities.
In a more perfect world, there would be no national borders and people would have the freedom to move wherever they felt provided the greatest opportunity. But though geographic demarcations indicating national borders are a human creation and cannot be seen from space, we xenophobically erect these restrictive barriers at our national borders preventing entry to almost all desiring to immigrate.
We never must listen to those emissaries of hate and intolerance preaching against assistance to those in need and less fortunate. All Christians have heard the story of a Middle East couple denied shelter two thousand years ago…. Those of us who have been given much always should extend the hand of compassion and welcome.
Many people seem tightly constrained by their own narrow egocentric world-view and unable to appreciate the dire hardships facing others. Let’s keep the U.S. a nation we all can be proud of. Barring those in need from shelter is not who we are and not the kind of nation we want to be.
That’s what I think, what about you?
 Vladimiro Ariel Dorfman is an Argentine-Chilean novelist, playwright, essayist, academic, and human rights activist.
 Lazarus, Emma. Inscription on the Statue of Liberty.
 Beech, Hannah. Refugees Adrift, Time, 15 June 2015, pp34-38.
 Much of this description is based on comments by Scott Hicks in a Facebook posting, https://www.facebook.com/BryanScottHicks/posts/1187326084630475?fref=nf , 19 November 2015.