USviewer: Our new president and secretary of State must take a leadership role in a world that faces unprecedented threats while simultaneously confronting the greatest global refugee crisis since World War II. Across the globe, from Syria to Central America, we see a fast-shifting tableau of turmoil, brutality and human suffering. Each situation demands a nuanced understanding of the warring factions, the root causes, and the right diplomatic or military approach that places America’s interests first.
As new vetting and refugee standards are debated, it is important that our new administration understands that refugees live at the forefront in the battle against extremism. Indeed, having the vision, the will and the courage to lend a hand to fellow human beings in their hour of greatest need is the mark of real leadership and a vital component of — not a risk to — genuine and durable U.S. national security.
In this age of extremism and terrorist acts, there are understandable concerns. However, in order for policymakers and the public to have productive debates about the president’s actions, it is important to lay out the facts about the refugee vetting process.
1. No refugee sets foot in the United States before undergoing comprehensive and coordinated screening and evaluation at facilities based overseas by a number of U.S. security agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and the intelligence community. This task cannot be delegated, and stringent vetting of every individual refugee under consideration for resettlement to America (and before any receives a visa for travel to the USA) must include extensive collection and cross-checking of identifying information, including biometric data such as DNA samples and iris scans.
2. By the time the screening process is complete, the United States must have a thorough knowledge, compiled and verified repeatedly over time, of the identity of each individual ultimately considered for refugee status in America. We should not waver in maintaining the highest screening standards for refugees and also ensure there is equal vigilance applied to all who seek to enter the USA.
3. It is critical to distinguish between lawful refugees and all other foreign entrants into America. Of the 77.5 million foreign citizens who entered the United States legally last year on various types of visas, less than 0.09% were refugees. For example, of the nearly 46,000 U.S. entry visas issued to Syrians from 2013 through 2015, just 4% of them were given to refugees. The rest were issued other types of entry permits with far lower security thresholds than the rigorous process required of refugees. Similar statistics apply with respect to U.S. arrivals from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
Debates over refugee policy will always be passionate. As Americans, we all share a deep and legitimate interest in keeping our families, communities and homeland safe. The origin of our republic goes back to the pilgrims — European refugees — who fled persecution in their homelands in the 17th century. As President Eisenhower wrote when he signed the Refugee Relief Act of 1953, refugees “are men and women of the same character and integrity as our ancestors who, generation upon generation, have come to America to find peace and work, to build for themselves new homes in freedom.”
The United States remains the global leader on protecting the persecuted and oppressed. This is no time to turn away from that noble calling. We must trust but verify, and once again be the beacon of liberty for the world. This is the real formula for American security and American greatness.