5 Awful Myths About Refugees And Terrorism — Debunked

Governors in the U.S. have taken a horrible new stance against immigration by targeting the most vulnerable group imaginable — refugees.

More than two dozen Republican governors and politicians
are crying out that the Obama administration cannot guarantee that people fleeing Syria are not security risks, and that they refuse to have any refugees housed in their states until the administration can be certain that “terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population,” as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said. CNN reported that governors of 31 states, almost all Republicans, have accused the government of not properly vetting refugees applying for asylum in the United States.

New York Rep. Peter King, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said, “As a practical matter, there is no vetting” of refugees. John Kasich, the governor of Ohio and a Republican presidential candidate, said via a spokesman that he “doesn't believe the U.S. should accept additional Syrian refugees because security and safety issues cannot be adequately addressed.”

Part of the fuel for this distrust of Syrian refugees comes from the Syrian passport found near the body of a suicide bomber in Paris. The Guardian reported soon after the attack that the passport may be stolen, and on Monday a man with a passport bearing the same information, but with a different photograph, was arrested by Serbian police, who believe both passports are fakes.

Is there really a risk from allowing refugees fleeing violence into our borders? The answer, despite what politicians would have you believe, is no. Here's the truth behind the five biggest myths you've heard about immigrants and refugees.
Myth: Immigrants are more likely to be terrorists.
As a matter of fact, America has more to fear from attacks by the radical right. According to a study by Washington research center New America Foundation, there have been 48 people killed by domestic right-wing terrorists since 9/11, and 26 by homegrown Muslim extremists. The Southern Poverty Law Center has a list of 112 documented radical right-wing terrorist plots since 1995, an average of five-and-a-half a year. The plots included “plans to bomb government buildings, banks, refineries, utilities, clinics, synagogues, mosques, memorials, and bridges; to assassinate police officers, judges, politicians, civil-rights figures, and others; to rob banks, armored cars, and other criminals; and to amass illegal machine guns, missiles, explosives, and biological and chemical weapons.” One plot was designed to kill as many as 30,000 people — 10 times the number of people killed on September 11.

The National Abortion Federation found there have been more than 200 bombings or arsons of abortion clinics since 1976. Additionally, there have been eight murders and numerous attempted murders of doctors and clinic staff.

When it comes to crime in general, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. The American Immigration Council reports that immigrants are not only less likely to end up in prison, they’re less likely to engage in criminal behavior at all. “A variety of different studies using different methodologies have found that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to engage in either violent or nonviolent ‘antisocial’ behaviors; that immigrants are less likely than the native-born to be repeat offenders among ‘high risk’ adolescents; and that immigrant youth who were students in U.S. middle and high schools in the mid-1990s and are now young adults have among the lowest delinquency rates of all young people.”

Myth: Syrian refugees are not being thoroughly screened before they enter the U.S.
In a press conference held in mid-September, a State Department official outlined all the ways that refugees are checked for possible threats to the United States. They include a screening by the UNHCR, compilation of personal data for the Department of Homeland Security, an in-person interview, a name check, and a medical exam.

The process can take 18-24 months — or longer — from beginning to end. Part of the reason the process is so long is the in-person interview. This crucial step can’t be waived, so potential immigrants must wait for a U.S. official to be able to travel to them in person, and because it’s more cost-effective to send interviewers to speak with a group rather than an individual, refugees must wait until there are enough of them trying to enter the United States for it to be worth it for the State Department to send an interviewer.

Stacie Blake, the director of government and community relations for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, spoke to Refinery29 about the thoroughness of the process. “Refugees are the most vetted individuals who enter the United States. [More than] 70 million tourists enter the U.S. every year, for example, and I’m not sure that there is a background-screening procedure for them. But with regard to refugees, there are only 70,000 entering in a year, and they have a screening process that takes on average two years, which means that for some people it takes three years.”

“For someone who is intent on causing harm, there are easier ways to enter the United States,” Blake says. Biometric data and personal information are vetted at every step of the application process, she says, “so it’s very comprehensive. It also includes people identifying their family tree, and so, for example, if I say that I have two sisters, et cetera, and then another woman who says she’s my sister says she only has one sister, now there’s a discrepancy. That type of discrepancy could throw us both out of the program.”

Diagram: Courtesy of The US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.
Myth: Governors can prevent immigrants from relocating to their state.
It’s simply not up to governors to decide immigration policy — that right remains strictly at the federal level. The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution lays out that federal laws take precedence over state laws, meaning that governors cannot decide that they won’t take refugees if that’s what the federal government wants.

The Supreme Court reiterated this in its 2012 decision in Arizona v. United States: “The Federal Government's broad, undoubted power over immigration and alien status rests, in part, on its constitutional power to ‘establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization,’ and on its inherent sovereign power to control and conduct foreign relations.” The president has discretion to decide how many refugees to accept in any given year, and even to decide what sort of humanitarian crisis justifies a large influx of refugees.

Admittedly, the governors can make it harder for refugees to resettle in their states by denying then access to state-controlled resources and funds, but they can’t forbid them from entering their borders.

Myth: Hundreds of thousands of refugees will flood into the United States.
According to The New York Times, the United States admitted a paltry 1,854 refugees from Syria since 2012. In the same amount of time, Germany admitted more than 92,000. In the 2016 fiscal year, Obama has pledged to bring in a mere 10,000. There are more than 4 million refugees fleeing violence in Syria, more than half of whom are children. In the meantime, the United States is getting referrals for refugees at a rate of 500 to 1,000 per month.

As it is, the U.S. already takes in about 70,000 refugees per year. The proposed increase would bring only 85,000 people into the U.S. in 2016, and possibly 100,000 in 2017. That’s about the population of Woodbridge, NJ.

Myth: We have never faced a situation like this before.
In May 1939, the transatlantic liner the St. Louis attempted to enter Cuba. It was carrying 937 passengers, many of whom were waiting for American visas. Most of the passengers were European Jewish refugees, fleeing the rise of the Nazis. When Cuba refused to let them in, the passengers appealed to the United States directly — but the U.S. also refused to admit them. In early June, the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe, where many of its passengers died in the Holocaust.

Although many modern-day refugees may not be fleeing a targeted genocide, there are enough similarities regarding the refusal by nations to treat refugees humanely or provide aid that the comparison has been drawn repeatedly. Between immigration quotas, refugee camps, and the distrust and hostility that are often aimed at refugees, the crisis is eerily familiar.

Refugees are fleeing violence, uncertainty, and threats to their safety. Stacie Blake decried the effect on refugee families.

“Refugee families are scared. They have fled persecution, and now they have governors — who are important individuals — saying that they’re not welcome in their state,” she says. “It’s just so difficult for me to imagine surviving all that you would have to survive to have the opportunity to come here, after losing everything that you owned, that was important to you, that mattered to you, and then have someone say you’re not welcome here. It’s just not who we are as Americans.”

Refinery29 is committed to telling the human story behind the headlines of the Syrian refugee crisis. To read the story of three Syrian women forced to flee violence and civil war, and how they have rebuilt their lives in Turkey, read “Daughters of Paradise” here. For full coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis, read more here.

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