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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

U.S. Divided On Taking In Syrian Refugees

After the ISIS attacks in Paris, some U.S. governors say they won't take in refugees.

As the world recovers from the terrorist attacks that left more than 129 Parisians dead Nov. 13, the United States is divided on how the country should handle the 10,000 refugees set to enter America next year. 

“I’ve issued an executive order directing state agency heads to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees in GA,” tweeted Gov. Nathan Deal. 

The governor’s tweet is part of the pushback from U.S. governors who say allowing refugees into America poses a security threat for the nation. Governors showing opposition to the Obama administration’s refugee plan include Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, among others.

Syrian refugees wave Turkish and Syrian Independence Flags at a protest against Assad in April 2012. (Freedom House)
Syrian refugees wave Turkish and Syrian Independence Flags at a protest against Assad in April 2012. (Freedom House)

The backlash came after reports surfaced an individual involved in the Paris attacks possibly entered Europe with refugees. 

But, some American organizations believe Syrian refugees should not be grouped with terrorists. One such organization is the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group headquartered on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. 

Robert McCaw, government affairs department manager for CAIR, said state governors’ and federal lawmakers’ opposition to the resettlement of Syrian refugees is based on a false premise. 

“Syrian refugees are fleeing the same violence that took place in Paris,” said McCaw. “We should be supporting these refugees, not opposing their resettlement.”

The European Union reported individuals involved in the Paris attacks –who have been caught - have all been identified as European Nationals. 

Under U.S. law, governors lack the power to ban refugees from entering their respective states after the federal government has granted the refugees entrance. But, McCaw said a new bill in Congress is threatening the migration of asylum seekers. 

The refugee bill, expected to be voted on by Thursday, will strengthen policies governing the entrance of Syrians and Iraqis into America. The legislation would force the FBI to certify that Syrian and Iraqi refugees are of no threat to the United States. 

“Certification in itself is not an issue,” McCaw said. “But this is a special condition just for Syrians and Iraqis. We’ve seen in past certification requirements that this will immediately halt, if not finish, the resettlement process for the time being.”

The government affairs manager said he thinks the backlash is a political move for the election season and governors and Congress are misusing the tragedy in Paris to spread doubt about the U.S. government’s ability to process Syrian refugees. 

Syrian refugees take part in a demonstration against Assad in April 2012. (Freedom House)
Syrian refugees take part in a demonstration against Assad in April 2012. (Freedom House)

While the Paris attacks have stirred security concerns, a U.S. official said America remains as secure after the attacks as it was before. 

Erroll Southers, associate director of the DHS National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, said the government has policies, procedures and technology in place to protect against terrorists entering the U.S. under false pretenses. He said it is because of America’s intensive screening process that so few refugees have been admitted into the states. 

“We need to understand that we have to have an immigration process that can be very robust to ensure that the persons we are providing access to our country are who they say they are,” said Southers. 

He said the American government pays particular attention to what they call “military aged males” when undergoing the screening process. He also said most of the males who gain entrance are husbands and fathers of families, individuals who are extremely young and seniors. 

He said terrorism is a global challenge and not an isolated phenomena. Though the U.S. government can reduce the country’s risk of being attacked, there’s no 100 percent solution to avoiding terrorist attacks and Southers said it is not just Syrian refugees who could pose a threat. “We have refugees who enter the United States from all over the world, every day,” said Southers. “It could have easily been a refugee from one of the African nations, Asian countries, or one of the Middle Eastern countries other than Syria.”

It is reported that 1,500 refugees have entered the U.S. since 2011. To date, there are no documented terrorist attacks attributed to the refugees and McCaw thinks that should speak for itself. 

“I think what we need to do as a nation is continue to trust in our ability to screen thoroughly refugees that are coming into the United States and we need to make sure that our state department and our resettlement programs are being well funded and not hindered by state governors or Congress,” said McCaw. 

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