The United States House of Representatives passed a bill last Thursday to halt President Barack Obama’s plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States by 2016. With 242 Republicans and 47 Democrats in favor, this majority could override the veto power of the President.
This debate in the U.S. government focuses on security checks and the process of vetting Syrian refugees. The shock of the recent attacks in Paris have had a significant impact on the motion to suspend the plan.
Although still under investigation, a Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the suicide bombers in the Paris attack. In effect, more than 24 state governors have expressed opposition to the resettlement plan, despite Obama’s defensive position on the issue.
“We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria and exaggeration of risks,” Obama said. All of the confirmed attackers have been identified as French nationals thus far.
In an attempt to gain insight into the refugee crisis, I approached several individuals at Portland State.
“Portland has many problems of its own,” said Bhawinee Banchongraksa, an international student studying English at PSU. “Still, I don’t think we can refuse these people who face such life-depending problems.”
“I think we should help those who need a place to be safe,” said Xing Li, a student from China.
“As a Muslim myself, I am sad to see people’s assumptions that everyone with our faith is dangerous…I feel that I have to prove to them that I am just here to study,” said Nor Amira Abd Rahman, a student from Malaysia studying economics.
It was notable that the only individuals who proceeded to comment on the phenomenon were international students. Was this a coincidence?
The voices heard from PSU’s international students suggest the current U.S. stance in a nutshell—a serious lack of sentiment and careful analysis to determine the real cause of insecurity in this nation.
The Guardian reported that 48 percent of Americans now agree to completely close the borders to incoming refugees. This is a two-point increase since last month. Also, 83 percent agree that a proper security check is necessary for all refugees, and 80 percent believe that terrorists are taking advantage of the opportunity to seek asylum as refugees. These statistics allude to the public’s increased fear and disapproval of the refugee crisis.
The current “refugee crisis” refers to the mass movement of people who are forced to settle in nations all over the globe. Syria has been suffering from a violent civil war for five years now. According to the United Nation’s statistics, 250,000 people have lost their lives in the conflict. Furthermore, the violence in the region has led 4.2 million Syrians to leave their homeland to find security in other nations.
Most of the refugees have moved into countries near Syria, including Turkey and Jordan. Thousands have also made their way to Europe and the U.S.
Since January of 2014, the U.S. has embraced the resettlement of 2,058 Syrian refugees. The proposed admittance of 10,000 more refugees is just 1 percent of the number of individuals accepted by Lebanon.
“We have resettled 3 million refugees in the U.S. since 1975,” said Mitzi Schroder, director of policy for Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, to Al Jazeera. “They have not been a source of terrorist concern.”
It is possible to make analogies between the current refugee crisis and the U.S. response to the Jewish refugees who fled from Nazi Germany during World War II. In a poll at the time, 61 percent of the U.S. public disapproved of admitting 10,000 (mostly Jewish) refugee children from Germany. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote that this is “a stain on our conscience” that must not be repeated.
Obtaining refugee status in the U.S. is an intensive process that lasts at least 18 months. With this process, just three out of 785,000 refugees admitted since 9/11 have been arrested with terrorism-related charges. Taking advantage of the refugee resettlement plan seems inefficient and more difficult than other pathways to enter the country.
House Speaker Paul Ryan told CNN there are “gaps in this refugee program” proposed by the administration. In light of the Paris attacks and their potential connection to the Syria- and Iraq-based Islamic State, such gaps must be closed. However, it is also valuable to reflect upon the history of resettlement in the U.S. and the effectiveness of closed-door policy in improving the security of the nation.
Neither vague strategies nor anti-refugee sentiments are productive resolutions. To render effective solutions, it is important to examine the existing problem areas: failure of Europe’s intelligence services, access to guns and weapons by organized terrorist groups within the U.S., repercussions of socially alienating refugees and Muslims, and failure in American foreign policy to make Syria habitable for its residents.