Refugees continue to flood out of Syria at a breathtaking pace. According to the United Nations, parts of Europe are now facing the worst migration crisis since World War II. President Barack Obama recently requested that Congress double the funding to house refugees here in the United States. However, given the threat that ISIS poses to the U.S., as well as the recent revelation that one of the Paris attackers entered France as a refugee, many have expressed concerns that the refugees need to be properly vetted before entering the U.S.
The concern over the potential dangers accrued by letting some individuals into the U.S. is real. It is not insurmountable, but it is also not trivial. America has long been a refuge to those seeking a new life, but to ensure that this dream continues to be a reality, a thorough vetting process must be instituted for refugees fleeing areas prone to extremism.
The challenges that exist in vetting individuals from these regions are significant. It is extremely difficult to vet personnel from war-torn areas where there has been a complete breakdown of governmental authority and control. Syria clearly is in this category.
It is extremely difficult to vet personnel from war-torn areas where there has been a complete breakdown of governmental authority and control. Syria clearly is in this category.
It is harder still in Arabic-speaking cultures. Some of this is simply because we as English speakers have a terrible time with accurate name identification from which all this vetting begins. Whether it is simply spelling due to transliteration errors or family and locational “attachments” to names, we are often in error. Anyone who waves this off is dangerously optimistic.
Secondly, we have failed at this before. I personally sat through numerous meetings with Iraqi expatriates and have a particularly painful memory of leading Ahmed Chalabi in the secretary of defense’s office in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq. People who had extensive “vetting” were determined to be our friends and allies. These assessments proved to be terribly wrong. Even our best regional experts and social scientists are still Americans and see things through an American lens, which has proven to be faulty when trying to sort out opaque motivations of members of Middle Eastern cultures. There are other examples of failures as well.
The Islamist extremists of ISIS and al-Qaeda have become more radicalized, more determined to harm the U.S., and more convinced that they need to do it here to be really effective.
The attack in Garland, Texas, this May is a perfect example. Their motivation to “do something” here in our homeland is enormous. Several thousand refugees who may have ill feelings toward a world that allowed them to lose their homes and country would be a lucrative recruitment target.
America has always been a haven for the dispossessed, and I pray she will always be so. But we must be cautious. The effort in these cases must be over the top in the vetting process. We must enlist all elements of the U.S. government and our allies to do everything we can to ensure that no already radicalized individuals slip through.
Anyone who gives you the old “we got this” line is not being entirely realistic. The Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, and the intelligence community must prove to Congress that their vetting process is rigorous, extensive, redundant, and ongoing. There also needs to be a detailed handoff to both the FBI and local law enforcement as these folks are settled. Anything less than that would be an abrogation of Congress’ oversight responsibilities.
A more effective vetting process must be established for Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. The extensive vetting we do for visa applicants is a good starting point. From there, every list and database available to the entire U.S. government, particularly the intelligence community, must be checked. I would also recommend screening any refugee applicant against the lists of our allies, particularly the U.K., Israel, Jordan, and other NATO countries, before any final determination is made.
America cannot isolate itself, and we must remain the beacon of freedom we have always been, but in this particular situation, we must go way beyond due diligence. The safety of our citizens deserves nothing less.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal