Following President Obama’s announcement of intending to allow 10,000 Syrian refuges to resettle in the United States, 72 House Democrats replied by issuing a letter calling for an increase of Obama’s number to 100,000. But there remains opposition.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) views Syrians as a security threat. The threat, as viewed by U.S. agencies, is the inability to confirm the identities of applicants. It is a valid security concern, but one that is over-cited as an excuse to place an extreme limitation on Syrian immigration.
It takes an average of 18 months for a U.S. citizen to secure a visa for a parent, spouse or unmarried child under 18. Given the emergency situation in Syria, this time frame is unacceptable. Surely each applicant can identify their mother or wife. The U.S. not only refused to accept refugees in the last 4 years, but is also placing an extreme hardship on U.S. citizens who want to reunite their families.
This is the logical starting point, assisting in relocating Syrians with relatives in the U.S. The extended families of Syrian Americans could also be considered in the proposed number to be resettled. The Syrian American community are an untapped resource in the vetting process and would be able to confirm the identities of their family members, expanding U.S. agencies’ ability to vet greater numbers of Syrians.
As the refugee crisis intensifies, it is unacceptable for Washington to again falter in taking a leadership role and not increasing the refugee quota to adequate numbers for fiscal year 2016. The current reason given by U.S. agencies and officials for not increasing numbers is ISIS. However, this rhetoric does not hold up to scrutiny. U.S. policy towards Syrian immigration has not changed in three years. The door was always closed. Not taking action on the refugee crisis fuels ISIS, a policy in direct contradiction to U.S. interest.
Last month I attended a Department of Homeland Security threat briefing. ISIS remains the top threat. The main reason given is their successful ability to recruit from European countries. ISIS’s most successful recruiting tool-the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
European Union citizens with sympathies towards ISIS are seen as a security risk due to the visa waiver policy the U.S. extends to European countries. It is a program that is mutually beneficial to U.S. citizens. Yet, Europeans do not face the same discriminatory immigration policies Syrians do.
The Syrian people do not welcome foreign fighters and bear the brunt of ISIS massacres. Syrians view ISIS as a threat, but a threat far behind Assad and his Iranian and Russian handlers. Yet, ISIS is utilizing the lack of intervention on the part of Western nations to alleviate the suffering of refugees as a means to engorge their numbers.
The international community, the state players, failed to act decisively, diplomatically or militarily in Syria. Playing ostrich first allowed Iran and Hezbollah to enter the conflict and caused more displacement and refugees. The continued lackadaisical approach provided a breeding ground for ISIS, adding more refugees and displaced people. Barrel bombs, chemical and conventional weapons and the destruction of the civilian infrastructure made the vast majority of the country uninhabitable. Now the confirmation of Russian boots-on-the-ground will only increase the destruction. This is the cause of the hemorrhaging of Syrians into the surrounding region.
ISIS bred in a power vacuum. Inaction created this security threat and continued feet dragging will only make it worse. Yet, Western nations and their Arab allies fail to address the root cause, the ongoing war crimes committed by the Syrian government.
Washington, the E.U., Canada and Australia need to work together to formulate a plan and see to it that Bashar al Assad meets the same fate as Slobodan Milosevic. Failure to do so only serves ISIS and will continue to produce more refugees.
Abeytia, MA, MS, is the California director for the Syrian American Council and recently returned from a 16-day fact-finding mission to Belgrade, Serbia.