Claim: The U.S. refugee vetting system is thorough, a terrorist couldn’t get in if he tried.
Response: According to a memo by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), “The refugee system, like all immigration programs, is vulnerable to exploitation from extremist groups seeking to send operatives to the West.”
This popular argument, frequently advocated by left-of-center magazines, wrongly confuses the length of the vetting process with its effectiveness. While the refugee resettlement process can take months or even years, it does not mean that all refugees are being screened thoroughly. As FBI Director James Comey noted, there are significant gaps in the vetting process, due to the breakdown in information gathering systems in a refugee’s homeland. Before the House Committee on Homeland Security, he stated: “If someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home, but there will be nothing show up because we have no record of them.”
The fact is that terrorists have entered the United States through the refugee system before. In 2009, it was discovered that two insurgents from Iraq had made it through the screening system and been placed in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This prompted the Department of Homeland Security to stop processing Iraqi refugee requests for 6 months in 2011, after it was discovered that several dozen additional terrorists may also have slipped in through the refugee system.
Claim: Refugees are victims, not perpetrators, of terrorism.
Response: The situation in Syria is incredibly complex, as are the allegiances of those seeking refuge. While the majority of Syrian refugees are not sympathetic to terrorism, a significant minority is sympathetic to ISIS’s cause. A November 2014 study by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies noted that 13% of Syrian refugees have a view of ISIS that is at least “positive to some extent” (4% were simply “positive”). Given that aggressve online recruitment strategy employed by ISIS to target recruits in the west, and that current intelligence agencies are ill-equipped to discern sympathies towards ISIS, this is cause for serious concern. Congress has the responsibility to ensure that more rigorous screening procedures are intact before allowing additional refugees to enter the United States.
Claim: There has never been an act of terror committed by a refugee in the United States.
Response: This is not because terrorists have not entered the United States through the refugee system. As the Bowling Green incident illustrated, insurgents from Iraq have been successful in gaining access to the United States through the refugee process.
Furthermore, the Tsarnaev brothers, the terrorists responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, radicalized in the United States after having been granted asylum. This radicalization threat is becoming more pressing, as ISIS is using online propaganda techniques to target refugees disaffected by the current refugee resettlement industry.
Claim: Most refugees are women and children.
Response: It’s true that many refugees are women and children, but that does not mean that many are not cause for concern. Women and children are frequently used in terrorist operations. Since the 1980s, women have accounted for nearly a quarter of attacks in several countries, including Iraq, Egypt, and Syria. Research indicates that women have carried out half of the suicide attacks in Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Chechnya between 2002 and 2012.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times called “Terror’s ‘invisible women,’” “a younger generation of female jihadists has come to believe that acts of violence can be just as liberating politically and spiritually for women as for men. A religious woman can deflect her parents’ or husband’s objections by invoking the name of religion, which trumps all. The new mantra is ‘even women must fight.’” Furthermore, ISIS has also been training children for suicide bombing operations.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, The New York Times reported that intelligence agencies have failed to appreciate the role women play in terror. Now, as political lines have been drawn over the Syrian refugee debate, conservatives are being accused of being cold-hearted towards women and children. The left cannot have it both ways.