JURIST Digital Scholars
Have Our Fears Engulfed Our Sense of Humanity?
Have Our Fears Engulfed Our Sense of Humanity?

JURIST Guest Columnist Duke M. Truong of the Valparaiso University School of Law, Class of 2017, discusses the issues the US is facing in accepting Syrian refugees in fear of terrorist attack… Eighty-one percent of Americans see a major terrorist attack as likely following the Paris massacres on November 13, 2015. Overcome with fear, Americans are opposed to the Obama Administration’s plan to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. A recent poll shows that 54 percent of Americans are opposed to taking in refugees from Syria and other countries of the Middle East. Governors from 31 states have opposed the resettlement plan.

Governor Mike Pence of Indiana said, “In the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris, effective immediately, I am directing all state agencies to suspend the resettlement of additional Syrian refugees in the state of Indiana pending assurances from the federal government that proper security measures have been achieved.”

Many argue that ISIS jihadists and other terrorists could infiltrate the US by posing as refugees. It is awfully rash to make such an assumption without careful consideration. Should we disregard the facts because we fear our security is threatened? Although fears of a terror strike on American soil is credible, we must know to distinguish fact from fiction.

Americans fear that terrorists may hide among the Syrian refugees who enter the US through the resettlement plan, but America’s fear of viewing Syrian refugees as a security threat is a baseless knee-jerk reaction.

How likely are terrorists to sneak into the US through the Refugee Resettlement Program?

The Refugee Resettlement Program involves our nation’s top security branches. It includes the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and national intelligence agencies.

Refugees must go through a multi-layered security process. This can take between 18 to 24 months to complete. According to the Department of State, the safeguards involves the use of biometrics or fingerprints, biographic checks and lengthy in-person interviews. Also, Syrian refugees must go through added forms of security screenings. The process of which are so stringent that details remain classified. The US has the most rigorous refugee screening process in place. Our multi-layered security process is there to discourage terrorists from posing as refugees.

If we allow our fears to overcome our reasoning, then we are calling into question the security measures that have kept us safe and secured since 9/11. According to the Migration Policy Institute, of the 784,395 refugees the US have welcomed since 9/11, three have been arrested on charges of terrorism. Two of the three arrestees planned to carry out their attacks overseas and the third had no credible plans.

It is unlikely that terrorists will slip into our country given the enhanced security we have in place. If terrorists are inclined on carrying out their attacks, then why would they risk being caught and jeopardize their clandestine enterprise while they wait for 24 months in a refugee camp? We need not fear the Syrian refugees but instead turn our attention to the porous Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP poses a greater threat to America’s security.

Does the Visa Waiver Program pose a greater security threat to America?

There are 38 countries who work in tandem with the US in the practice of waiving visas for short-term visits. France, Belgium and Germany are among the European countries under the visa waiver program. The Paris attackers hailed from Belgium, France and Brussels. The VWP screening process is minimal compared to the Refugee Resettlement Program.

Citizens from the participating countries are permitted to travel to the US either for tourism or business for stays up to 90 days. Terrorists who may come from the participating countries and not yet on any watch list could easily travel to the US under the VWP.

Senators Flake and Feinstein from Arizona and California, respectively, have called for the tightening of the visa waiver program because of the high security threat. The two senators are working to introduce legislation that would prohibit entry for anyone who has visited Syria or Iraq in the past five years. Many lawmakers have agreed that the visa waiver program poses a greater security threat than refugee admissions.

Because some of the Paris attackers were not on a watch list or no-fly list, they could have entered the US with a visa waiver.

Foreign Affairs Chairman Bob Corker declared, “The visa waiver program potentially is the place where there’s greater gaps, possibly, than the refugee program itself.” The visa waiver program is more porous than the refugee resettlement program and terrorists can easily exploit this to their advantage.

Besides tightening our security in the refugee resettlement and visa waiver programs, we must have better intelligence to stay steps ahead of the terrorists. With all the worries over security threats, are we to turn our backs on refugees who face legitimate fears for their lives and well-being?

Have we allowed our fears to engulf our sense of humanity?

The Refugee Act of 1980 authorizes the US to admit refugees. A refugee “is a person fleeing his or her country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

On November 17, 2015, Congressman Bradley Byrne introduced H. R. 4031 to defund the Syrian resettlement program. H.R. 4031 explicitly singles out “any alien who is a national of Syria or whose last habitual residence was in Syria” to make it clear that Syrians are unwelcomed.

Syrian refugees are seeking liberty and safety from an oppressive government. These same refugees H.R. 4031 seeks to keep out share the same fears we harbor and that is the fear of being victims of terrorism. We must separate fact from fiction and not let our fears cloud our reasoning.

The resettlement program is not a conduit for terrorists. America has admitted 2,174 Syrian refugees since 9/11 and none have been involved in any charges relating to terrorism. Refugees are willing to embrace their new country and become naturalized, especially Syrians.

Many refugees in the past have and many in the future will integrate and add to America’s distinct cultural fabric. The Honorable Learned Hand once declared, “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”

The US’ resettlement program is the largest in the world. We must continue to help because welcoming others is the American way. The security threat we are faced with may never end, but we should not allow our fears to engulf our sense of humanity.

Suggested citation: Duke M. Truong, Have our fears engulfed our sense of humanity? , JURIST – Dateline, Dec. 18, 2015, http://jurist.org/dateline/2015/12/Duke-Truong-fears-humanity.php.

This article was prepared for publication by Yuxin Jiang, a Senior Editor for JURIST Commentary service. Please direct any questions or comments to her at commentary@jurist.org

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.