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“The Reality Of Refugee Admissions”: Yes, The Government Vets Them

The political panic over the admission of Syrian refugees into the United States, following the terrorist attacks in Paris, has unleashed a wave of fear-mongering, bolstered by a notion being propagated by the right wing, that Americans couldn’t possibly know who is being let into our country. Thirty-one U.S. governors have said they won’t accept any Syrian refugees into their state, many of them claiming there’s a large inherent risk in doing so.

Of course, there’s a serious fallacy at work here: By the time any Syrian refugee actually arrives in the United States, we do know who that person is. Very well.

There is a clear difference between refugees in the United States and refugees in Europe, namely that refugees can’t simply walk or use small boats in order to get to the U.S. By contrast, Europe has a flood of humanity getting displaced into their borders, who may enter one of the countries without getting screened — thus creating the danger that even one ISIS terrorist can disguise himself among the people fleeing his cohorts, as French officials believe did occur with at least one attacker.

But the U.S. actually has the advantages of distance and time to pick and choose before anyone from such a faraway land can set foot over here.

That process involves a multitude of complex steps, starting with an initial screening by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which possibly leads to a referral to the United States and a gauntlet of security checks, personal interviews, medical screening, and matching with a sponsor agency in the U.S. itself. It is far from the mysterious influx of unknown people that the many governors and Republican presidential candidates are making it sound like.

As noted by defense policy researcher Josh Hampson in The Hill: “In fact, there have been no recorded terrorist attacks committed by refugees. The U.S. has admitted 1.5 million refugees from the Middle East since September 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks that have occurred since 9/11 have been committed either by American natives or non-refugee immigrants.”

A State Department spokesperson told The National Memo in an emailed statement:

The United States remains deeply committed to safeguarding the American public from terrorists, just as we are committed to providing refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. We do not believe these goals are mutually exclusive, or that either has to be pursued at the expense of the other. To that end the refugee security screening and vetting process has been significantly enhanced over the past few years. Today, all refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States, including the involvement of the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. All refugees, including Syrians, are admitted only after successful completion of this stringent security screening regime.

On a conference call Tuesday, an unnamed senior administration official confirmed to the press that the average time for processing a person through that entire gamut of interviews and background checks takes an average of 18 to 24 months. “As you know, we are trying to look at the process and see if we can make it more efficient without cutting corners on security.”

And yet at a congressional hearing Tuesday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch still had to explain to House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) — who had seized upon recent comments by FBI Director James Comey about the difficulties of the vetting process — that the Justice Department and others in the government do have a “significant and robust screening process in place,” which Europe has not been able to set up.

On Tuesday, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump posted a message to Instagram, with The Donald shouting to the camera with his typical bombast: “Refugees are pouring into our great country from Syria! We don’t even know who they are! They could be ISIS, they could be anybody! What’s our president doing — is he insane?”

And in the Louisiana gubernatorial race, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter is running this ad — complete with clips of panic in the streets of Paris — ahead of the election this weekend: “One of the Paris ISIS terrorists entered France posing as a Syrian refugee. Now, Obama’s sending Syrian refugees to Louisiana.”

Newly-crowned House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is trying to be a bit more low-key, although catering to the same doubts, as he told reporters Tuesday: “This is a moment where it is better to be safe than sorry. So we think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population.”

One can perhaps “forgive” Trump for being utterly clueless, and simply expect that Vitter, in the homestretch phase of his campaign, would act like a demagogue. But shouldn’t the Speaker of the House act like he already knows the government has vigorous vetting procedures in place? And for that matter, what does a “pause” even mean when it comes to admitting in refugees who have taken up to two years to be screened?

 

By: Eric Kleefeld, The National Memo, November 17, 2015

November 19, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Refugees, Terrorists | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Ted Cruz Leads GOP To Disaster (Again)”: Marketing And Posturing To Drive The Base Crazier Than Usual:

Ted Cruz (R-TX), cast in the mold of a spotlight-grabbing Sarah Palin on the way to a reality show, was accurately described by Rachel Maddow as a “brand on legs.” This explains why he has gone after the most uncontroversial program Obama passed unilaterally in wake of the failure of legislation to pass; that is, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

As far as ethics goes, using asylum-seeking children “warehoused” in facilities that look like part Katrina shelter/part dog kennel, as an excuse to attack DACA, falls somewhere between heartlessly passing by the desperate victim robbed in The Good Samaritan, and Frank Underwood sociopathically throwing a reporter in front of a subway car… if both victims were dehydrated little girls desperately trying to escape sex traffickers.

Women and children fleeing violence is nothing new: while some of the stories of how my family came here are likely tall tales, the truth seems to be that my great, great grandmother and great grandfather came here, fleeing Northern Ireland. I had family on both sides of the Ulster Plantation divide, which meant my cousins were likely killing each other in alleys: a condition that would continue for years to come.

When my Protestant great, great grandfather disappeared one day, my Catholic great, great grandmother and my then-12-year-old great grandfather were left to both go through Ellis Island, and find jobs in a New York City that was not happy with it’s current influx of immigrants: they faced openly-bigoted laws and hiring practices. The headwinds they faced, however, seem modest compared to what the border children face today.

The child refugees and asylum-seekers of today, unfortunately, fall perfectly into a difficult, complicated and heated political narrative at a time when everyone is already at each other’s throats: after much delay, Obama finally announced that he would be giving additional unilateral relief around the end of the summer. Everything we see now from Ted Cruz is just marketing and posturing to drive the base crazier than usual:

“The staggering conditions that children are being subjected to are a direct result of the amnesty that President Obama illegally and unilaterally enacted in 2012 [DACA],” said Cruz.

It is hard to believe an Ivy-League Senator would be so ignorant, so I really do think he’s simply knowingly lying: the influx is caused by the highest murder rate in the world in these Central American countries, where people flee areas where gangs murder and rape with impunity; the DACA program will not benefit a single child at the border because you must have been in the country continuously since 2007 to qualify; a president’s administration is not responsible for the lies told by the drug cartels often murdering and raping the desperate children they lure into the desert like a giant windowless van full of candy; they aren’t being drawn by the American Dream, they’re fleeing the Central American nightmare as best they can, and other countries have seen large increases in asylum applications as those fleeing Guatamala, Honduras and El Salvador jump up as much as 700 percent.

While the anger on the Left has been slow in coming, it is still coming: the visuals of children in those horrible shelters aren’t leaving any time soon. The harsh rhetoric around this issue is more of the short-sighted politics we have come to expect of the GOP — they do whatever they can to get through the week, and a lot of it makes absolutely no sense from the outside, i.e. the government shutdown.

The big problem that the GOP either isn’t registering, or it’s very independently-minded characters like Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) don’t care about, is that the GOP brand is being burned to the ground for them to send out another fundraising letter, or for Rick Perry to take another Putin-esque photo op at the border — with many Latinos believing “there but for the grace of God goes me” as the immigration narrative is very much a Latino one, both in popular perceptions as well as in the surge of asylum-seekers, saying things that boil down to “these kennels are too good for these people” isn’t the way to go.

While the course that the Ted Cruz-controlled portion of the GOP is heading down toward is a predictable one, the results are not. During the last big controversy, he led the GOP-controlled House into the street and encouraged them to play in traffic, and I expect more of the same. What kind of car will blindside the more ambitious, less savvy members of the House is anyone’s guess.

 

By: Ryan Campbell, The Huffington Post Blog, July 28, 2014

 

 

July 29, 2014 Posted by | Immigrants, Refugees, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why The Border Crisis Is A Myth”: Another Justification To Play To Anti-Immigrant Voters In The Fall Elections

To hear the national news media tell the story, you would think my city, El Paso, and others along the Texas-Mexico border were being overrun by children — tens of thousands of them, some with their mothers, arriving from Central America in recent months, exploiting an immigration loophole to avoid deportation and putting a fatal strain on border state resources.

There’s no denying the impact of this latest immigration wave or the need for more resources. But there’s no crisis. Local communities like mine have done an amazing job of assisting these migrants.

Rather, the myth of a “crisis” is being used by politicians to justify ever-tighter restrictions on immigration, play to anti-immigrant voters in the fall elections and ignore the reasons so many children are coming here in the first place.

In the last month, about 2,500 refugees have been brought to El Paso after crossing the border elsewhere. The community quickly came together to support the women and children and Annunciation House, the organization coordinating the effort.

Contrary to the heated pronouncements, this is nothing we haven’t seen before. Groups of refugees arrive by plane and are processed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. When they are released, Annunciation House takes them to a shelter where they get a shower, a place to sleep, meals and even health care — all provided by volunteers and private donations.

The families of the refugees also help, often paying for travel costs and taking them into their homes. The refugees then move on, to Florida, Georgia, New York or elsewhere.

While the numbers of refugees arriving in El Paso are a fraction of the number arriving in McAllen, in southern Texas, the chain of events is generally the same. Like El Paso, South Texas is not the permanent destination for these refugees. And the response from McAllen’s citizens has been generous, too.

The same can’t be said of our politicians. What we are hearing from Austin and Washington is an almost Pavlovian response to immigration concerns. My governor, Rick Perry, a Republican, announced this week that he was sending 1,000 National Guard soldiers, at a cost of $12 million a month, to bolster the border.

And despite President Obama’s efforts to work with Central American leaders to address the root causes of the migration, his recently announced request for $3.7 billion, supposedly to deal with these new migrants, contains yet more border security measures: Almost $40 million would go to drone surveillance, and nearly 30 percent of it is for transportation and detention.

In Texas, state legislators and the Department of Public Safety are planning to spend an additional $30 million over six months to create a “surge” of state law enforcement resources, an expenditure that some in our state’s Capitol would like to see made permanent.

The costs are significant. Every day we detain an undocumented child immigrant, it costs Immigration and Customs Enforcement — i.e., the taxpayer — $259 per person, significantly more than we spend to educate a child in a middle-class school district.

The irony is that this cash-intensive strategy comes from leaders who consistently underfund health care, transportation and education. And they ignore the crucial fact that children crossing our borders aren’t trying to sneak around law enforcement: They are running to law enforcement.

What is most alarming, however, is the attempt to erode rights and protections created by intelligent, humane legislation.

The debate is centered on the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, a law signed by President George W. Bush to provide legal and humanitarian protections to unaccompanied migrant children from countries other than Mexico or Canada. The act passed with bipartisan support, yet the “crisis” is now being cited by some of the same legislators who supported the law as a reason to repeal or change it.

This effort to take away rights that were granted when there was significantly less anti-immigrant fervor isn’t just shortsighted and expensive, it’s un-American. We can debate the wisdom of providing greater protection to Central American children than to Mexican children, but there can be no doubt that giving safe haven to a child facing violence in a country that cannot protect its most vulnerable citizens is what a civilized country, with the resources we possess, should do.

Our border communities understand this. I hope the rest of the country, including our leaders in Austin and Washington, can follow our lead.

 

By: Veronica Escobar, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, July 25, 2014

July 28, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, Humanitarian Crisis, Immigration, Refugees | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Matter Of Human Conscience”: The Backlash To The Backlash On Border Children

Perhaps not since that fleeting moment of national unity in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy nearly 13 years ago have so many diverse faith traditions, from Catholic bishops to Quakers, from evangelical Christians to liberal Jews, come together with such genuine fervor on any public issue.

The “backlash to the backlash” on the U.S. border crisis has now begun.

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America have recently slipped into the United States seeking refuge in a horrific storm. This many young kids don’t leave home on a long, desperate, parentless journey for no reason. Many are escaping gang brutality, instigated partly by hard-core drug lords, who’ve left U.S. prisons and returned home to stir up more trouble and intimidation.

It’s difficult to imagine what these children anticipated upon entering the United States. Almost no new arrival is ever really prepared for the whirlwind and sheer crassness of American culture.

But they can’t have been expecting the visceral vitriol that greeted some of these young refugees. The boiling-over rage that coarses through so much of our debate on public issues abruptly confronted these frightened children — unsophisticated strangers in a strange land. Anti-immigration activists angrily opposed even establishing shelters for vulnerable kids far from home.

There was an apparent inability to distinguish legitimate public discourse over immigration policy (long ginned up on all sides for political gain) from an actual humanitarian crisis involving children draped under Red Cross blankets, right here, right now. Emma Lazarus’ torch seemed to be temporarily extinguished.

But a different view was expressed last week by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who got audibly choked up delivering a public announcement that his state would shelter hundreds of children while they’re being processed. A military base on Cape Cod is one venue being considered.

A state homeland security official later said he anticipated the children would be between six- and 17-years-old staying an average of 35 days. Most would likely be released to relatives in the United States, he explained, while others would eventually face deportation.

Said Governor Patrick: “My faith teaches that if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him but rather love him as yourself.” And this was from a publicly secular governor, hardly known for wearing his private beliefs on his sleeve. For Deval Patrick, nearing the end of his eight years in office, it appears to be simply a matter of human conscience. “It bears remembering they’re children and they’re alone.”

Yet his proposal has met with a roar of protest from some quarters — including residents of towns neighboring the base, who attended a meeting of Bourne, Massachusetts local officials this week. One woman, living in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, held a banner that read: “Send them back. They broke the law.”

At Patrick’s public statement, he was flanked by Boston-area clergy. The faith community nationwide, which should be the natural habitat for discussion of basic decency and human compassion, is now speaking up with remarkable unity over how the United States should handle the refugee crisis.

Last week, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote: “I watched with shame as an angry mob in southern California surrounded buses filled with frightened, hungry, homeless immigrants, shaking fists, and shouting for them to “get out!'”

As reported yesterday in The New York Times: “‘We’re talking about whether we’re going to stand at the border and tell children who are fleeing a burning building to go back inside,’ said Rabbi Asher Knight of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, who said leaders of more than 100 faith organizations in his city had met last week to discuss how to help.”

Believers as diverse as Unitarians and Lutherans are coming together on this moral question. “The anger directed toward vulnerable children is deplorable and disgusting,” said Russell Moore, an official of the Southern Baptist Convention, who this week accompanied fellow churchmen to visit refugee centers in Texas.

“The first thing is to make sure we understand these are not issues, these are persons. These children are made in the image of God, and we ought to respond to them with compassion, not with fear.”

 

By: David Freudberg, The Huffington Post Blog, July 24, 2014

July 25, 2014 Posted by | Faith, Humanitarian Crisis, Refugees | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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