Don't Fear the Refugees

Americans are skeptical and afraid of allowing Middle East refugees into this country. Should they be?


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Two deadly attacks, one in Paris, France, another in San Bernardino, California, have rattled the American people. They are skeptical and afraid of allowing refugees from the Middle East into this country.

GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has fed the fear with vivid descriptions of a secret invasion.

"But when I look at these people, the migration, to so many young, strong men. We're going to take them? It could be the all-time great — it probably isn't. But it could be the all-time great Trojan Horse," Trump told Fox News' Brett Baeir in October.

Many Americans are afraid. 51% of voters oppose allowing Syrian refugees into the United States, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. The fear persists even though we now know the attackers in Paris and San Bernardino weren't refugees. It's the belief that we are better safe than sorry.

But how many refugees are actually "young, strong men"? And what exactly is the government's vetting process? As it turns out, most of that information is public:

A refugee begins his or her journey to America in a different country. This is opposed to an asylee, who must physically come to the U.S. in order to seek asylum.

The first agency most refugees will encounter is the United Nations High Refugee Commissioner, which provides health, education, and other services to refugees around the world and is heavily involved in helping refugees transition out of temporary camps into more permanent homes.

The U.S. State Dept. describes the UNHRC as the "initial filter." The small number of cases that pass through this filter then conduct an interview at a Resettlement Support Center contracted by the government.

They then face scrutiny by the Department of Homeland Security, which reviews the compiled information and conducts its own interviews with the potential refugees and then tries to corroborate the details with the help of various other intelligence and military agencies, including the FBI and the Defense Department, both of which run separate background checks.

A little more than 50 percent of the refugees that have made it this far pass this multiple agency screening process.

Syrian Refugees go through an additional layer of screening called the Syria Enhanced Review.

Next, there's a health screening to check for any communicable diseases, and then cultural orientation classes to give refugees an idea of what to expect in America.

Finally, there's one more round of security checks to verify that no new information was unearthed before the refugee may finally board a plane to the United States.

Upon arrival, a Customs and Border Patrol agent will check the paperwork to verify that the refugee is the person she claims to be before releasing her to a volunteer agency like Voice of the Refugees.

The entire process takes an average of 18 to 24 months.

Half the Syrian refugees taken into the U.S. so far have been children, and another quarter are older than 60. Only 2 percent are single males of combat age.

Learn more about the Syrian refugees by watching the above Reason TV video, which explores the refugee settlement process through the eyes of two faith-based nonprofits, one Muslim and one Christian, that provide refugees with the basics of life, and hear the testimony of a Syrian refugee who left her war-torn country behind to start a new life with her family in America.

Watch the video above, or scroll down for downloadable versions. Approximately 9 minutes. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Music by Roofer's Nest, Hayvanlar Alemi, and Blue Gene Tyranny.