“I am not proud to be an American today.”
Six days after the horrific tragedies in the streets of Paris, the US House of Legislatures passed the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, or the SAFE Act. Along with the passage of this bill, 31 US governors have closed their borders to the resettlement of refugees, it should be noted, without any legal authority. With the Senate due to debate, vote, and most likely pass the bill (due to the support of the President pro tempore and third ranking member of the Senate democrats), President Obama has vowed to veto the piece of legislation. In the midst of such a country wide political fissure, I thought it necessary to inform my fellow citizens of the global and domestic ramifications of H.R.4038.
The act, that is one page long, is fairly straightforward: All refugees must be personally vetted by the Director of the FBI, Inspector General of Homeland Security, and Director of National Security. The majority of the bill lists the ‘appropriate’ congressional committees these three individuals must submit their personal guarantees to that any particular refugee is not a threat to American citizens. This bill is in direct opposition to President Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees. Many in the media and in politics believe that after the Paris attacks, we should not admit Syrian refugees or at the very least enhance our screening processes. I ardently disagree with both of those statements and fervently believe SAFE stems from the roots of fear mongering as well as rampant xenophobia and Islamophobia. Consider my case:
While many people will be quick to tell you that America has no way to vet incoming refugees that cannot be farther from the truth. The process of selecting refugees for asylum constitutes the most rigorous in the world. First, refugees apply through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees for resettlement. The United Nations then collects documents and interviews these refugees; they go on to recommend less then one percent of those refugees for resettlement. Those recommendations are then sent to the US State Department where our domestic vetting process begins. The State Department begins by collecting more information on each refugee and referring them to be security screened by the National Counterterrorism Council, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security independently. If a refugee originated from Syria, the Department of Homeland Security will order an additional series of checks labeled the ‘Syrian Enhanced Review’ by the USCIS Fraud Detection agency and the National Security Heads. Next, an USCIS officer will interview each refugee which has cleared the aforementioned screenings. During the interview, every refugee is finger printed and their prints run through the databases of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense. The remaining two steps of the process before admission to the United States consist of extensive health screenings as well as cultural orientation classes. While these occur, the information of each refugee frequently is checked with known terrorist databases in order to obtain up to date information or information that slipped through the cracks. The successful vetting of a refugee takes around 18-24 months after receiving a UN recommendation. Around 2,500 Syrian refugees have successfully undergone this process through the President’s plan. In summation, the SAFE act does not enhance this extensive screening process but instead slows the process to a stand still in order to create specific scapegoats in our government.
Would a terrorist undergo a two year extensive screening process when it is much easier to obtain a visa to enter the country or enter illegally through our borders? The answer is a resounding NO especially considering refugees are consistently checked up upon once entering the country. In fact of the close to 800,000 refugees to enter the country since 9/11, only three have been charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts. That means that .00000375% of refugees to enter the country have attempted to plan a terrorist attack since 9/11 and 0% percent have succeeded. The only time the fear of refugees wiping out the population of this country has been substantiated… well we celebrate it on the last Thursday of every November.
If the aim of the SAFE act is not to improve the process of vetting refugees, what is its purpose? The SAFE act stems directly from the fear mongering which ensued after the despicable terrorist attacks in Paris. The attacks were carried out by mostly radicalized French citizens with no direct connection to Syria. Actually, the only connection to Syria and refugees that the attack contains is a fake Syrian passport that was used to gain asylum in Greece found near the body of a suicide bomber outside of the Stade de France. To further add embarrassment to the United States, France’s President, François Hollande, – the leader of a country that remains in a state of lockdown with soldiers patrolling Paris streets- has reaffirmed his commitment to the European Union to resettle 30,000 Syrian refugees. Let it be acknowledged that France has a much less rigorous screening process and has just suffered a terrorist attack! Likewise, Germany- a country one third the size of the United States- has suspended the Dublin Rule (forcing all refugees to stay in the first European country they enter) to allow more then 80,000 Syrians- 8 times the planned number the US will accept- into its cities. Unlike the French, Americans cannot seem to separate the idea of Muslim and Syrian refugee from terrorist. In a country that theoretically should be suffering from the effects of fear mongering- both xenophobic and Islamaphobic- France has stood with its humanity and its reason.
Since the SAFE act is a roundabout way to refuse entry to Syrian refugees on the basis political maneuvering, do any politicians oppose it? In fact, yes, most interestingly Jeb Bush- a presidential candidate for the Republicans. Not to dash your hopes, but Jeb!’s plan is to admit only Christian Syrian refugees. I assume I do not need to point out the flagrant racism in this plan but for a moment let us consider where Jeb! is coming from. Christians in Syria are supposedly more likely to face life threatening dangers in the face of the crusading IS. Yet, 93% of all people IS has killed are Muslim. To accept only Christians and only recognize their risks completely ignores the suffering of millions of people. Another argument poses that their is no significant threat of a terrorist act being perpetuated by a Christian. This belief has two underlying assumption in this context, all terrorists are Muslim and all Muslims are terrorists. According to the FBI only 6% of terrorist acts on American soil since 1980 have been committed by Muslims and an American University Research study states the percentage of Muslims even “at risk of radicalization” is around 15%. Logically, all terrorists are in fact NOT Muslim, in fact a huge majority are not and a massive majority of the world’s Muslims are not even susceptible to terrorist ideology. We are not at war with Islam- we are at war with terrorists. By promoting institutional racism against Muslims, disenfranchising them, and leaving some to fend for themselves in poverty, we radicalize the very youth into the terrorists we seek to protect ourselves against.
We must remember, that we are not discussing immigrants to the US here, we are discussing refugees. We are discussing humans fleeing from a civil war that has seen the targeting of civilians with chemical weapons. I am appalled that the country that seeks to uphold freedom and equality would even consider turning its back on those in need or to judge the value of a human life on the basis of an individual’s religion. All human life is equal. All suffering is abhorrent. In the most prosperous country in the world, can we truly remain great if we do not extend that prosperity to our fellow humans in need?
After I heard of Arizona Governor Ducey’s decision to close Arizona’s borders to refugees, I immediately wrote to him and my representatives in disgust. I hope the information and questions I have presented previously at least persuade you to consider a solution to our fears, justified or not, that does not compromise our humanity. We live in a global society. The innocent and the endangered are not classified by race, religion, country of origin. We are all humans on this globe united by our common humanity. SAFE and the acts of the governors of this nation oppose the very morals and ideology our nation, our people, our world are based on. Political bickering must be put aside and we as a nation, a political system, a people stand behind the President’s plan to grant asylum to at least a few Syrian refugees. Our vetting process is extensive to the point of redundancy. The nation of France, rocked by terror attacks, remains committed to the resettlement of the refugees we seemingly intensely fear and whose struggle was a result of an ill-tempered invasion of Iraq by our own country. I am not proud to be an American today when I see our government as susceptible to xenophobic, Islamaphobic, and fear mongering ideology. I will seek to uphold my moral obligation to all of humanity and I beseech each and everyone one of you to do the same. We, as a world, must battle the evils seeking to destroy the essence of freedom, equality, and peace by standing united in charity and in love. I would not want to live in a world that did not, would you?