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Not My Brother's Keeper: A Security Primer for Americans on the Refugee Crisis

23/11/2015 09:11 GMT | Updated 19/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Since the horrible attacks by Daesh (IS, ISIL, ISIS) terrorists in Paris last week, Americans have been grappling with how to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. This has played out in Governor's offices, on Facebook, in the media, and the comments sections online (never read the comments!.) This debate has been primarily driven by emotional arguments that pander to, depending on who you ask, naivety, fear, compassion, or anger.

This is an attempt to lay out some basic facts and observations, devoid of the sometimes histrionic arguments being made.

1. Accepting Refugees Is Not A Significant Security Risk

The United States has accepted over 3 million refugees since the signing of the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act following the Vietnam War. Since the terrorist attacks on 9/11 the US has accepted over 780,000, nearly half from majority Muslim countries. Of the 3 million refugees that have been accepted, 3 have been arrested for attempts at terrorism, 2 Iraqis and 1 Uzbek. In all of those cases the arrested were attempting to support terrorism in their home country, not commit it in the United States. That is .000001 percent of total refugees taken in, and a .000004 percent of refugees taken in since 9/11.

For comparison, the odds of dying by firearm are 1 in 300, or .0033 percent chance. A majority of Americans still say Second Amendment rights are more important than gun control.

Of the Syrian refugees who have been accepted by the US so far, 50% are children, 25% are over the age of 65, and 2% are "combat age" males with no family.

2. Applying For Refugee Status Is The Hardest Way To Gain Entry to the U.S.

For a refugee to apply for resettlement in the United States, they must first be awarded legal refugee status by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and referred to the US Resettlement Program by either UNHCR or the US Embassy. UNHCR refers only 1% of legal refugees to a third country for resettlement. The United States is one of 9 countries that accept resettlement.

If a refugee or refugee family is referred to the US, they are then investigated by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, and the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security. Biometric data, such as fingerprints and eye iris scans, along with entire family trees and biographical information is collected.

If all the checks and investigations come back supporting the refugees claims, an official from the Department of Homeland Security, trained specifically to determine presence or lack of security risks, travels to the country the refugee is in for interviews. Refugees from Syria are subject to further scrutiny, the Syrian Enhanced Review. All of this takes place before admittance to the US. The entire process takes 1 ½ to 2 years to complete.

It is worth noting the Tsarnaev brothers who carried out the Boston bombing arrived in the US on tourist visas and were later granted asylum, a process consisting of far less investigation. It is also worth noting the the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks in the US over the last 30 years have been carried out by American citizens who committed violent acts for various reasons including environmental, pro-life, white supremacy, and against the "new world order."

3. Not Accepting Refugees Is A Greater Terror Risk

A 2013 study by Daniel Milton, Megan Spencer, and Michael Findley titled Radicalism of the Hopeless: Refugee Flows and Transnational Terrorism and published in the journal International Relations concluded that the horrible conditions of refugee camps are ripe for radicalization. The conditions of the camps can provide confirmation of terrorist propaganda while allowing free movement of terrorist recruiters. This is especially true in countries closer to the conflict, in this case Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, who are currently hosting the majority of Syrian refugees.

In interviews with Lydia Wilson for The Nation, one of the few journalists to have spoken with captured ISIS fighters, those who had fought for ISIS showed little loyalty to ISIS, the idea of a caliphate, or ISIS's ideas on Islam. Many had joined because they felt there were no other options to protect and support their family. Some had joined because they felt ISIS offered them an opportunity to regain dignity and an ability to defend themselves. They had no love for America, whom they blamed for starting the civil wars, but they had no love for ISIS either.

Removing refugees from these situations removes the possibilities they might turn to terror, while simultaneously prevents ISIS from creating more terrorists.

4. Accepting Refugees Is A Blow to ISIS

French investigators have now said the Syrian passport found near the remains of one of the bombers was either fabricated or stolen. The passport bore the name of Ahmad al-Mohammad, a soldier in the Syrian Army who was born in 1990 and died months ago. French police believe ISIS used fake passports from Syria delibrately to breed suspicion towards Syrian refugees. This would also be in line with the stated goals of ISIS.

The feature piece of the 7th issue of ISIS's online magazine Dabiq is titled The Extinction of the Grayzone. In it ISIS lays out their belief that there are only two camps in the world, that of the Islamic State, and that of the "Crusaders," which includes anyone not submissive to the Islamic State. The "Greyzone," they argue, is the area inhabited by the majority of the world's Muslims where one can be loyal both to Islam and their country and culture. They believe these Muslims are hypocrites who must be forced to side with the "Crusaders" or the Islamic State. The terrorist attacks in London, Madrid, Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere are designed to destroy this "greyzone" by increasing the xenophobic and nationalist fears towards Muslims to force them into the hands of the Islamic State. Their ultimate goal is to make the western world hostile and unwelcome to Muslims and to bring about a war between the west and ISIS. They believe that they are succeeding.

The scenes broadcast of Germans welcoming refugees in with applause, flowers, and food at train stations across the country troubled them. There is no doubt that the declarations by many state governors has delighted them.

The US refusing refugees is not only a victory for ISIS, it is a necessary part of their strategy. Accepting refugees is a defeat for ISIS.

Overall, security concerns have been inflated by pundits who may not have all the information. An open letter to the President and Congress signed by a number of former US security and diplomatic officials, former ambassadors to the Middle East, and appointees to both Republican and Democratic administrations, has called on the US to accept more refugees from Syria. The CATO Institute, the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist are further institutions that have argued the security concerns of accepting refugees are minimal, while the benefits will be large.

As Former Ambassador to Syria, Ryan Crocker has stated "As a former ambassador to Syria, I know how highly Syrians value hard work and education. They're precisely the people I'd want living next door to me and attending my children's schools."