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The Bogus Security Concerns Driving American Paralysis on Syrian Refugees

America's loss is Germany's gain.

Fifteen years after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, another powerful symbol of American exceptionalism lies in ruins: the U.S. asylum system. Once an example for the civilized world because of its strong commitment to Syrian Refugee WomenUNHCR Photo Download / Foter / CC BY-NChelp those escaping tyranny and violence, it is now a complete disaster. It has become so consumed with keeping Islamic jihadis out that it won't even let their victims in.

Nowhere is this clearer than America's response to the refugee crisis in Syria, arguably the gravest of its kind since World War II.

Some quarter million Syrians have died and 11 million, literally half the country, have been displaced since civil war broke out five years ago. Over four million have fled. But the West had largely turned a blind eye because these folks have been warehoused in countries neighboring Syria, such as Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey. However, after years of living in a political limbo, often in sordid camps, waiting to be permanently resettled, desperate refugees have started undertaking the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Europe. Even before the latest disasters, more than 1,600 Middle Eastern migrants have died this year trying to get to European shores.

But heartbreaking pictures last week of the lifeless body of Aylan, a Syrian toddler, dressed neatly in shorts, shirt and sneakers, lying facedown on a Turkish beach, finally shocked the world. (Aylan, along with his mother and brother, drowned within minutes of embarking when their boat capsized and the captain fled, leaving his grieving dad, a Syrian barber, as the sole survivor.)

Germany, which was already making arrangements to receive thousands of refugees trying to make their way to it via Hungary, has emerged as the unexpected hero of the situation. It is preparing to absorb 800,000 refugees, about 1 percent of its population. France has pledged to take in 24,000. Canada will accept 11,000. Even Britain and Australia, both in the grips of a nativist spasm, have each been shamed into taking 20,000 and 15,000 respectively.

How many is the U.S. taking in? As per a recent announcement by the Obama administration, a pathetic 10,000 next year.

This might seem like an act of courage given that GOP presidential hopeful Scott Walker has flat out said that America shouldn't admit more Syrian refugees—never mind that this will run afoul of both domestic and international law, under which America is obligated to give anyone fleeing persecution or torture the right to obtain asylum. But thanks to fears that ISIS or other Islamist terrorists will abuse the asylum system to infiltrate the United States, America has been making Syrians jump through impossible hoops.

It admitted 36 Syrian refugees in 2013, 105 in 2014, and 350 till March of this year—when the Obama administration upped its pace to admit a grand total of 1,500. This is pathetic compared to the 17,000 of the registered refugees that the U.N. High Commission has already referred to the United States, let alone the millions who are dispossessed and destitute. (Usually, America absorbs at least half of UN referrals.)

Human rights agencies—along with 14 senators—have urged him to admit 65,000 Syrians in 2016 in addition to the 70,000 others that the U.S. admits worldwide every year. But Obama is way short of that goal because he is deathly afraid of a political backlash from the likes of anti-immigration Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). King has held congressional hearings to play up the threat of terrorists allegedly attempting to "take advantage" of America's "safe haven." But how credible are King's fears? Not very.

Asylum seekers have always been subject to the most rigorous screening of all prospective immigrants (partly because they get instant permanent residency if their applications are approved), making this route a particularly bad bet for terrorists trying to sneak in. Middle Eastern refugees face extra burdens and extra layers of multi-agency scrutiny. For example, until recently, Syrians who had so much as inadvertently served a sandwich to a jihadi were denied admission for violating America's rule against providing "material support" to a terrorist. It would be far easier for terrorists to enter as tourists—or via smuggling networks.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that there aren't very many examples of refugees-turned-terrorists in America.

The most oft-cited example involves two Iraqi refugees resettled in Bowling Green, Kentucky, who were indicted in 2011 for providing arms to al Qaeda. Then there are the Tsarnaev brothers who perpetrated the Boston blasts. But they didn't receive asylum, their parents did. Other than that, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, invited by Rep. King to offer Congressional testimony, could find only three examples... from 1993.

Given that America has been admitting 70,000 refugees annually, these examples suggest not a cause for alarm but the opposite. If anything, they prove that refugees are less prone to mass violence than other groups. Indeed, spurning Syrians won't keep terrorists out as much as it will the next Steve Jobs or Jerry Seinfeld—not to mention a source of economic growth. Refugees tend to be more motivated and entrepreneurial than natives, successfully starting businesses at a higher rate, according to a 2012 study conducted by Chumra Economics and Analytics of refugees settled in Cleveland. As The Atlantic's James Fallows notes, Syria is offering a fire-sale of human talent that America shouldn't pass up.

The Obama administration can and should do more to help fleeing Syrians. Holding back for security reasons will truncate America's humanity and economy, not enhance its safety.

This column originally appeared in The Week.

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  • Spinach Chin||

    Umm... wasn't the drowned boy's father the smuggler driving the boat? Even the survivors make that claim.

    Now you see how simpletons like Dalmia fall for these lies. Might want to get caught up, dear.

    Pathetic.

  • Suicidy||

    The truth fucks up their open borders narrative. Because no matter what, immigrantz iz always goode!

  • ||

    Immigration is good. Fucking carting them over on the taxpayer's dime isn't.

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  • Jimbo||

    "The Syrian refugees have nothing to worry about" - Said any Palestinian

  • DJF||

    """"America shouldn't admit more Syrian refugees—never mind that this will run afoul of both domestic and international law, under which America is obligated to give anyone fleeing persecution or torture the right to obtain asylum."""

    No, that is not international law, refugees are suppose to go to the next safe country they can and then they get refugee status. The US is not required to accept them once they get refugee status in another country. The US can do it if it wants but is not required,

    The present system is for the US to tell the UN how many it wants and the UN picks out who comes

  • Suicidy||

    I think zero is a great number.

  • DJF||

    Refugees by international law get full welfare benefits and the so-called charities that handle them are actually government contractors paid for each person they accept. The charities then dump them on the welfare system.

  • DJF||

    From each according to his ability, to each according to his need - Karl Marx

    From the taxpayers of the US, to the refugees of the world - Shikha Dalmia

  • bacon-magic||

    I read the first sentence and regret that even. Shikha, no one would read your articles if Hate was not an emotion.

  • Ranselaer||

    You've got to wonder what the criteria are for becoming a Reason columnist. I'm asking because my cat just lays around the house all day doing nothing, but I bet she has some emotions to share, just like Shikha.

  • Cloudbuster||

    Darn it, Germany, you win. Enjoy your refugees.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    OK, let's be clear here. If we are going to take responsibility for all the people in the world displaced by war, famine, pestilence, and Revolutionary Agitation (the four Bikers of the Modern Apocalypse), then the most efficient and effective way to do it would be to become a fully Imperial nation, and colonize those parts of the Third World that are going down the khazi. This plan has a number of potential benefits. In the first place, as the British demonstrated with India and some other locations, it is possible to turn a profit as a Colonial Power. For another, it would make it simple to offer those Social Justice Warriors a chance to put up of shut up and ship them to parts of the world where they could do something with their loudly proclaimed concerns for the oppressed and downtrodden - and incidentally where they could get themselves crucified, beheaded, and/or eaten.

    Otherwise, oh, HELL no! For once I am in general agreement with the perennial prescription of the Intellectual Left; we should be more like the Europeans. And close the damn borders.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Contd.

    I started out the new century with a far more libertarian position on the border. The similarities between the anti-illegal immigrant diatribes being passed around now, and the ones printed against the Irish at the end of the 19th century bothered me. But the "Open Borders" and "Amnesty" advocates have lied to me a little to blatantly, and a little too often.

    If these people need to live under our rule, then lets us by all means go bring it to them.

  • Milton Devotee||

    I consider myself well informed because I don't seek out echo chambers. I get information on both sides of an issue, and make an informed stance.

    This and the numerous Reason border-less articles have failed to sway me. I'm still a capital C Libertarian [i.e. CONTROL the border].

  • Free Society||

    America's loss is Germany's gain.

    This stupidity would be breathtaking if I wasn't aware of the source.

    Even Britain and Australia, both in the grips of a nativist spasm, have each been shamed into taking 20,000 and 15,000 respectively.

    That's right Shikha, be proud of your support for the SJW mob.

    As for security concerns, you shouldn't just be looking at the big spectacle terrorist events. Those a re rare by nature. You should also be looking at crime rates, assaults, murder and rape et cetera.

    Syria is offering a fire-sale of human talent that America shouldn't pass up.

    Yes sooooo much talent. That's why their political culture and economy are so damn developed and prosperous.

  • ||

    That's just what this country needs: more syrian barbers. I was just thinking that the other day, looking at photographs from Syria.

  • Suicidy||

    Why is Reason publishing ANYTHING from this bitch?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Reason seems to have swallowed, whole, the narrative that we shouldn't have borders. I have no idea why, and most of what they publish in support is utter drivel.

  • mfckr||

    I'm fine with having no borders if that also means we get to dispense with the social contract narrative of welfare statism. But I know that won't happen, so…

    I do like your idea of resurgent colonialism. If these people really need whatever the 1st world has, might as well bring the 1st world to them.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Seems a lot more sustainable than bringing he third world to us, and still needing first world wealth to run it.

    And, as I said, there's always the lively chance that the SJWs will do some outreach and get screwed, blued, tattooed, and served up with an apple in their mouths.

  • Pan Zagloba||

    Dear Shikha, you know Germany closed its border with Austria, contrary to EU regulations? Apparently they have enough Syrians now, and, shockingly, countries that spent centuries under Muslim occupation (or, like Poland, fighting against it) don't want more of this "talent."

    Not that they are that smart, apparently. Turns out, unlike migrants I keep hearing about, these guys can't cross fences, so they throw away bread and water in a huff until someone lets them in.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Ooooo! The old "Hunger strike" gambit! I know the answer to that one!

    Let 'em starve.

  • Pan Zagloba||

    It was a very dedicated strike:

    An hour later, a crowd right next to the border fence started to move forward. The hunger strikers abandoned their protest to join the bigger crowd - in the hope of finding a way into Hungary. But I didn't see anyone being allowed to cross.

    I honestly think Hungarians should start fucking with them Games Without Frontiers style. Build a ditch behind the fence, then a high wall, followed by a rope obstacle course. Weed out the capable ones!

  • ||

    That's incorrect, EU law allows such measures in exceptional situations, such as this one. Further, the absence of intra-EU borders is premised on the outer borders of the EU being ordered and protected. That's not the case, witness the uncontrolled influx and traversal of immigrants (incl. refugees) through the outer countries into Germany and Sweden. Clausula rebus sic stantibus. Moreover, Germany hasn't closed its borders. If you will, it re-established some border points: apparently it only controls, that means documents and moves people to designated places in its federal states. That's not sending people away. It's merely the opposite to letting them enter undocumented and move as they please.

  • Libertarius||

    "America's loss is Germany's gain."

    Rrrrriiiiight...America is missing out on a wave of ignorant third world mystics in the same manner as when a fat 35 year old single mom says the words, "It's his loss".

  • sasob||

    Mmm - just how fat we talking about? One's perspective can change a good deal by the time one reaches my age. :-)

  • Thimble||

    The Mediterranean is awash in passports... There is some "brain-drain" out of Syria? Yeah, getting glommed and islamicized voluntarily is strong policy. I read a lot of dumb shit all day at work. This shit makes that sound like Popper.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "America's loss is Germany's gain."

    I'm just gonna cry myself to sleep tonight.

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  • Cloudbuster||

    This is how we can employ all the refugees!

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    So, go teach these Syrians.

  • Ceci n'est pas un woodchipper||

    Of all the arguments for mass admission of Syrian "refugees", that they represent some sort of untapped potential that will jump-start the American economy and reinvigorate our society is about the most ridiculous I could imagine without hard drugs.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The thing is, we've taken in worse. But we insisted they be more-or-less healthy, vaguely sanitary, and ready to learn English. And any attempt to import tribal law or blood-feuds was stamped out where possible. Now, not so much.

    When one culture has been in some degree of armed foment or another, except when firmly under some foreign heel, for seven thousand years, I know whose culture I prefer. I thinks Islam is a symptom, not a core issue.

  • XM||

    ISIS has already claimed that they planted agents within the refugees. And many ISIS recruits come from respectable background.

    Even as the German people welcome the refugees (Kudos to them), some of them have got to be nervous. ISIS hits Europe WAY more than the Americas, and their mass shooters acquire guns in the most gun controlled parts of the world.

    Radical Islam can't hit the United States for the same reason we won the revolutionary war - they don't have the resources to play the long distance game, and they don't have numbers in places they need to them. So they'll often rely on proxies, who are usually stopped by the FBI before they can do anything serious.

    Anyway you look at it, accepting a bulk amount of refugees all at once will afford ISIS a small window of opportunity to us. Shikha seems to put undue faith on the government's ability to run background checks. Who cleared Dylan to Roof to buy gun?

    Shikha's heart is in the right place, but the better solution is to invest in a more permanent functioning refugee camps / community and accept a fixed amount of refugees on a case by case basis. Give them a decent makeshift house, feed them and clothe them, and figure out who fits where in a society.

  • Steve-O||

    How many "refugees" are the EU expecting? 1 million? 2 million? More? How many of these are men of military age? What the EU should be doing is arming them up and sending them back to fix their own problems.

  • Ironchef||

    You people keep on saying you're libertarian. I don't think you know what that means.

  • Mr. Flanders||

    People tend not to fit in neat boxes.

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  • ||

    You're wrong. It's not Germany's gain. Each average immigrant receives a transfer of € 79.100 (including costs for public goods) until the day he dies. The average German citizen (incl. public goods) receives a transfer of € 3.000. A cost of 79.100 is no gain. Further, there's no reason to believe that the refugees are more qualified (including psychological health) than the group of immigrants these numbers are based on. (The numbers for people born in Germany in 2012 could turn out much worse, as they measure a full life. Here, each German pays € 112.000, whereas descendants of immigrants receive € 44.000. These are mere estimates, but at the very least they are reason for caution.) The study has been done by the ZEW, professor Bonin. It's been financed by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, a left wing organization.

  • ||

    As for public safety, over the last weeks Germany hasn't been able to document many of those who arrived. They've now temporarily reinstated border controls. The purpose is unclear. As is the basic concept. According to EU law, which binds Germany, immigrants have to apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter. Apart possibly from access by sea and air, that would rule out the possiblity for applicants to pick Germany. Yet this is what's happening and supported by the German government. Of thousands of immigrants who move from Hungary to Austria (and then to Germany) often not even 100 apply for asylum in Austria (not to mention Hungary). So much for safety and the rule of law. One might draw parallels to how the EU handled Greece (no bailout clause, central bank's limited mandate, etc.)

    All of this leaves aside fundamental and philosophical questions, esp. of egalitarianism (versus classical liberalism), utilitarianism, and communitarism. One of them is why those who made it to - for example - Germany should receive the limited resources, while those who can't afford the trip (arguably the more needy) don't receive any of them. Other aspects are moral hazard, externalities, and brain-drain.

    Lastly, one should that once someone applies for asylum, the process on average takes something like 9 months. Once that's done, it's fairly difficult to remove those who've been declined.

  • Chip Woodier||

    OMG. Who keeps letting this idiot write for Reason?

  • Georgia Peach||

    Ugh. I'm not sure who's worse...Chapman or Dalmia.

    I just saw on Bloomberg that the U.S. will be accepting 100,000 Syrian refugees. The federal programs available to them include:

    ∙ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) formerly known as AFDC
    ∙ Medicaid
    ∙ Food Stamps
    ∙ Public Housing
    ∙ Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
    ∙ Social Security Disability Insurance
    ∙ Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) (direct services only)
    ∙ Child Care and Development Fund
    ∙ Independent Living Program
    ∙ Job Opportunities for Low Income Individuals (JOLI)
    ∙ Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
    ∙ Postsecondary Education Loans and Grants
    ∙ Refugee Assistance Programs
    ∙ Title IV Foster Care and Adoption Assistance Payments (if parents are ⌠qualified immigrants – refugees, asylees, etc)
    ∙ Title XX Social Services Block Grant Funds

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