Assuring security in the implementation of immigration laws and procedures is essential, but lost in the current discussion over the suspension of refugee admissions and the issuance of all visas to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries this week – as in the rhetoric of the presidential campaign – are several facts:
- Refugees from Syria, Iraq and other states in violent upheaval are already laboriously and intrusively vetted by U.S. immigration authorities, assisted by U.S. intelligence agencies, in cooperation with other nations’ intelligence services. For those approved, it generally takes 18 to 24 months to gain U.S. admission;
- Refugees from Central America are, almost exclusively, women and children who are at risk of violence, sexual assault, and even death if they are returned to their home countries. They deserve compassion and a fair hearing;
- The terrorist threat attributed to refugees is a cruel and distracting fiction, especially when viewed against the actual incidence of mass violence committed with chilling frequency – in schools, churches, shopping malls and other venues – against Americans by Americans. In the 14 years ending in October 2015, a period in which 784,000 refugees were resettled in the United States, there were exactly three arrests for planning terrorist activities (none of which occurred);
- Since the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, the United States and the international community as a whole have recognized an obligation to assist refugees. For America to close its eyes – and its borders – to even painstakingly vetted refugees contravenes that international treaty.
President Trump, of course, is authorized to assert the sovereign right of the U.S. to assure the integrity of America’s borders and the effective enforcement of the country’s immigration and asylum laws.
Similarly, the President is right, we believe, to insist that refugees fleeing war, persecution and natural disaster, and seeking entry to the U.S., are thoroughly vetted to gain the maximum possible assurance that they pose no security or criminal risk to our fellow citizens.
However, blanket suspensions of visas and refugee admission would suggest guilt by association – targeted primarily at Muslims fleeing violence and oppression. AJC regards such actions, contrary to international perceptions of a compassionate America and reinforcing anti-Muslim stereotypes, as both unjust and unwarranted.