The following opinion editorial written by The Advocates for Human Rights’ executive director Robin Phillips was published in the November 20 Star Tribune. Ms. Phillips’s o-ed responded to the Star Tribune’s editorial, “Carefully extend help for Syrian refugees,” November 18.
While the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s recent support for a pause in U.S. refugee processing may appear to be reasonable (“Carefully extend help for Syrian refugees,” Nov. 18) — especially when compared to the hateful rhetoric permeating the current political conversation — the position is based on faulty assumptions. The U.S. refugee system is well-equipped to ensure our safety without compromising our most deeply held American values.
First, the Editorial Board’s position assumes that the European citizens who masterminded recent acts of terror were somehow connected to the flow of refugees. In the search for a promise of security following this tragedy, some have made the leap that the threat lies in the refugees who are trying to escape the same violence that unfolded on the streets of Paris and Beirut. More than 50 percent of Syria’s entire population has been displaced from their homes by bombardment and civil war. Seventy-six percent of these refugees are women and children. Imagine 2 million children who have lost everything.
Second, the board’s position assumes that Europe’s abject failure to process refugees and its reliance on Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon to indefinitely house millions of people with dwindling international support can in any way be equated to the U.S. refugee processing system. Syrian refugees numbering more than 5 million have crowded into countries neighboring their homeland. Faced with a desperate future in limbo, thousands of refugees risk their lives in a perilous journey by boat in search of a stable future in Europe. Already this year, more than 2,500 refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean.
By contrast, the U.S. handpicks those allowed to resettle through the refugee resettlement system. Less than one half of one percent of the global refugee population — no more than 85,000 people out of nearly 20 million refugees — was allowed to resettle in fiscal year 2016.
Third, the board’s view rests on an unsupported notion that the current refugee system somehow is inadequate. Refugees entering the U.S. undergo the most rigorous security screening process of anyone who comes to the this country. They go through multiple layers of security checks involving the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense, intelligence agencies and individual interviews. Refugees cannot enter the U.S. until they are cleared through this daunting process, which typically takes two years.
We understand the fear in the U.S. and in other countries. It is a harrowing time. But our impulse to slam the door in response to this violence will do nothing to make us more secure. Our only hope is in focused actions that address the reasons millions have fled their homelands.
The security of our country and its residents is paramount. Indeed, the U.S. has a duty to ensure the safety and security of those within its borders. But a knee-jerk abandonment of our commitment to refugee protection is not in line with our country’s history and values. No one should exploit horrific events that cause pain and fear to advance political agendas.
We do not want to close our nation off from the very groups of people who are best positioned to help identify those who mean to do us harm. Programs that profile based on ethnicity represent false solutions to real problems.
The U.S. has built a strong, multilayered process to ensure the security of its citizens and we should continue to invest in it, while acting on our responsibility to help address the refugee crisis. Accepting Syrian refugees is not an either/or situation. In the U.S., we can continue to welcome refugees while ensuring our own security. We must do both. Standing with the victims of the attacks in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere, and standing with the refugees, means standing for fundamental human rights.
By: Robin Phillips, Executive Director, The Advocates for Human Rights
(Credit for Syrian refugee photo: Enes Reyhan via Flickr)