Immigration

America shouldn't play 'refugee roulette' taking in thousands of settlers

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees estimates that an unprecedented 65 million people around the globe have been forced from their homes, for reasons ranging from war to environmental cataclysm. Among them are nearly 23 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

Clearly, for most of the world's displaced, chances of finding a permanent safe harbor in a Western nation are still slim to none. The reality of the situation is that the overwhelming majority of them will need to find a temporary refuge close to their home countries where their needs can be met until it's safe for them to return.

The Trump administration recently announced that up to 45,000 refugees may be admitted into the U.S. this fiscal year, a ceiling that is not only in line with recent norms, but also designed to accommodate additional vetting procedures to ensure the safety of the American public. It is a prudent approach to the refugee crisis, showing that the U.S. is capable of acting with both with its heart and its head.

Ignore the manufactured hysteria in response to the president's decision and consider the following: During the Bush administration, the U.S. regularly admitted fewer than 50,000 refugees annually. For example, 26,785 refugees were admitted in 2001; 28,286 refugees in 2002; and 41,223 refugees in 2006. After taking office in 2008, President Obama admitted numbers on par with President Bush until the last two years of his term, when he increased the cap to an unprecedented 110,000 refugees per year. In comparison, Trump's determination represents a return to recent norms.

Instead of focusing on how many refugees to resettle here, efforts should focus on helping displaced populations take temporary shelter as close to their home countries as possible. The Center for Immigration Studies has estimated that for the cost of permanently resettling one refugee in the U.S., the government could provide temporary shelter for 12 refugees in safe havens overseas, closer to their home countries. Thus, assisting displaced individuals abroad, rather than admitting them to the U.S. for permanent resettlement, allows us to protect and assist far more people.

Refugee resettlement is also not without risk. ISIS has vowed to use refugee flows to infiltrate terrorists into Western nations, and has demonstrated the ability to provide them with the documentation they need to successfully obtain refugee status. Just a few weeks ago, a bomb exploded on a packed London subway injuring 30. The culprits? Two refugees - one from Iraq, one from Syria. The only thing standing between what ISIS has planned and innocent Americans is a robust and thorough vetting system that can't be rushed.

While the results in Europe have been especially lethal, the U.S. is not immune to these threats. In fact, as of last March, more than 300 refugees were under FBI investigation for potential terrorist ties. Even more outrageously, since 9/11, approximately two dozen refugees have been removed or arrested and convicted of terrorism-related offenses. By allowing a mass resettlement of refugees, particularly those from places where religious or political violence is endemic, we open ourselves up to possible terrorist threats.

Despite the cautionary tale of Western Europe's tragic experiences with terrorists who have exploited the refugee vetting process, the usual suspects here in the U.S. are on their soapbox bemoaning President Trump's move as a "betrayal" of our values. These self-righteous politicians, celebrities, and media figures who likely never interact with resettled refugees are not being intellectually honest.

If minimizing suffering and demonstrating virtue were the priorities, then everyone should applaud an approach that allows us to help a larger number of people closer to their homes. Instead, these elitists are endorsing a dangerous game of refugee roulette where only a select few win the lottery of resettlement in the U.S. Everyone else is left trying to survive another year until the next spin of the refugee roulette wheel.

RJ Hauman is government relations manager at the nonprofit Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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