Speaking with radio host Hugh Hewitt yesterday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said it’s too dangerous to allow Syrian refugees—including orphan toddlers—into the United States.
Polls show his view is widely shared: post-Paris, more than half of Americans believe accepting Syrian refugees is dangerous, and 41 percent believe Syrian refugees should be rejected altogether.
But Christie’s perspective was also popular more than 70 years ago, when the United States was faced with another refugee crisis: Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany. Then, about two in three Americans opposed allowing the Jews to escape to the States, even condemning children to what we now know was near-certain death in Nazi camps.
Comparing any enemy to Hitler and any situation to the Holocaust always brings the danger of hyperbole and hysteria. Of course, there are many real differences between that circumstance and ours, and I do not wish to imply any association between Christie and the Nazi regime.
But still, the historical perspective here is important, not least because it provides us an opportunity to consider with clearer eyes what others (and we ourselves) may think 20 or 50 or 80 years down the line about a rejection of desperate refugees today.
This is necessary to consider given two facts in particular, namely the European identities of the Paris attackers and the extensive vetting process Syrian refugees already undergo before coming to America.
“Let me underline, the profile of the [Paris attacks] terrorists so far identified tells us this is an internal threat,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Monday. “It is all EU citizens so far. This can change with the hours, but so far it is quite clear it is an issue of internal domestic security.”
Though one of the Paris bombers was found to have a Syrian passport, that document has been revealed to be a fake, suggesting that it was planted in an attempt to make Western countries wary of accepting Syrian refugees attempting to flee ISIS’s brutal onslaught.
The refugees themselves are wise to this new risk. “There are of course ticking bombs coming in with the refugees,” said a Syrian teacher named Nizar Basal who has fled to Germany. “But the question is, what will happen to us? What will people think about us? They will think we are the enemy.”
Basal’s fears are justified, but they shouldn’t be given how carefully screened refugees are before they come to the States:
Before a refugee even faces U.S. vetting, he or she must first clear an eligibility hurdle. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees — or occasionally a U.S. embassy or another NGO — determines which refugees (about 1 percent) should be resettled through its own process, which can take four to 10 months.
[Then], once a case is referred from the UNHCR to the United States, a refugee undergoes a security clearance check that could take several rounds, an in-person interview, approval by the Department of Homeland Security, medical screening, a match with a sponsor agency, “cultural orientation” classes, and one final security clearance. This all happens before a refugee ever gets onto American soil. …
For refugees from Syria and similar countries, however, the process can span two years.
Americans are worried about welcoming Syrian refugees. After the horror in Paris, this reaction is understandable. But in light of our not-so-distant past, it is also worth a serious reconsideration.