One common argument in defense of refugee restrictions is that allowing more refugees increases terrorism risks because terrorists could be hidden among the refugee flows.
There are a few critical problems with this argument.
First, refugees are heavily and extensively vetted – in other words, they are thoroughly checked out to make sure they do not present any security risks before entering the US.
Connecticut Rep. Elizabeth Esty, August 21, 2018, Connecticut Delegation Urges Secretary Pompeo To Reject Refugee Proposals, https://www.murphy.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/connecticut-delegation-urges-secretary-pompeo-to-reject-reprehensible-refugee-proposals
The Administration additionally overstates the potential threat posed by refugees resettled in the United States. Refugees are already among the most extensively vetted individuals to enter the United States and alleged security concerns are no reason to cap the USRAP. These baseless justifications must be countered with policies that will preserve the United States’ moral integrity and humanitarian tradition.
Congressional Documents and Publications, August 31, 2018 With the Number of Refugees Permitted to Come to the U.S. on Pace for Lowest Number on Record, Senators Call on Trump Administration to Step Up Efforts and Honor America’s Legacy as a Safe Haven for Families Fleeing Persecution;
Among all travelers to the United States, refugees are the most carefully and thoroughly vetted. Prior to traveling, refugees must clear extensive biometric, biographic, intelligence, medical, and law enforcement checks, involving multiple agencies and extensive interviews. While we must continue to screen refugee applicants thoroughly, we must also conduct the vetting and interviews in a timelier manner and address the root causes of mass displacement abroad
Second, refugee restrictions reduce counter-terrorism cooperation and intelligence sharing, destabilize vital allies, and make terrorist recruiting more effective
Acer, 17 – director of Human Rights First’s Refugee Protection program (Eleanor, “U.S. Leadership Forsaken Six Months of the Trump Refugee Bans” July, Human Rights First, https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/HRF-US-Leadership-Forsaken-FINAL.pdf
.As detailed above, the refugee bans and their cuts to resettlement have impacted U.S. allies and undercut U.S. support for nations whose stability is key to U.S. foreign policy and national security interests. For example, refugee resettlement from Jordan fell by 64 percent in the first five months of 2017 and resettlement from Lebanon fell by 35 percent. Resettlement to the United States from Turkey has dropped by 79 percent in recent months. Former national security officials and military leaders who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations have repeatedly expressed concerns that the derailment of resettlement undermines our ability to support the stability of strategically important nations, including U.S. allies.83 For example: n In the wake of the March 6 order, former officials with national security expertise wrote that “resettlement initiatives advance U.S. national security interests by protecting the stability of U.S. allies and partners struggling to host large numbers of refugees,” that the ban is “harmful to U.S. national security” and that “the order’s drastic reduction in the number of refugees to be resettled … weakens this country’s ability to provide global leadership and jeopardizes our national security interests by failing to support the stability of our allies that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees.”84 n These concerns have been raised repeatedly over the last year and half. For example, Former CIA Director Hayden and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis wrote last year in the Miami Herald, “The global refugee crisis is straining the resources and infrastructures of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, which are hosting the vast majority of Syrian refugees. By doing more to host and help refugees, the United States would safeguard the stability of these nations and thereby advance its own national security interests.” In a letter sent to Congress in December 2015, former national security and military leaders, including former CIA Directors General David Petraeus and General Michael V. Hayden; former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff; former Secretaries of Defense William S. Cohen, William J. Perry, Chuck Hagel, and Leon Panetta; former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; and former National Security Advisors Stephen Hadley and General James L. Jones, wrote that accepting refugees “support[s] the stability of our allies and partners that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees,” and warned that restricting acceptance of refugees would “undermine our core objective of combating terrorism.”85 The cuts, suspension, and derailment of U.S. resettlement instigated by the executive orders, along with their targeting of Syrian and Muslim refugees and travelers, has harmed national security interests in other ways as well. Some former national security, intelligence and military officials have reported that the orders are damaging counter-terrorism cooperation and related intelligence sharing: n In a January 30, 2017 letter, former officials, diplomats, military leaders, and intelligence professionals who served in both the G.W. Bush and Obama Administrations wrote that the January 27 order “will harm our national security” and reported that “Partner countries in Europe and the Middle East, on whom we rely for vital counterterrorism cooperation, are already objecting to this action and distancing themselves from the United States, shredding years of effort to bring them close to us.”86 n In early February 2017, a group of former officials with national security expertise concluded that the January 27 order “will disrupt key counterterrorism, foreign policy, and national security partnerships that are critical to our obtaining the necessary information sharing and collaboration in intelligence, law enforcement, military and diplomatic channels to address the threat posed by terrorist groups such as ISIL.” They reported that the executive order “has alienated U.S. allies” and concluded that the order “will strain our relationship with partner countries in Europe and the Middle East, on whom we rely for vital counterterrorism cooperation, undermining years of effort to bring them closer.” 87 n In March 2017, following the March 6 order, a group of former officials with national security expertise who had worked under both Democratic and Republican administrations concluded that “the revised executive order will jeopardize our relationships with allies and partners on whom we rely for vital counterterrorism operation and informationsharing.”88 n In April 2017, a group of former officials reported that the March 6 order would disrupt national security partnerships critical to addressing the ISIL threat and in particular that the order had already “alienated allies and partners” and that “[c]ountries in the Middle East expressed disapproval and even threatened and engaged in reciprocity in response to the January 27 Order, jeopardizing years of diplomatic outreach.”89 Former U.S. national security and intelligence officials have also concluded that the executive orders undermine U.S. national security by feeding into ISIS’s narratives: n The January 27 order “has already sent exactly the wrong message to the Muslim community here at home and all over the world: that the U.S. government is at war with them based on their religion. We may even endanger Christian communities, by handing ISIL a recruiting tool and propaganda victory that spreads their horrific message the United States is engaged in a religious war.”90 n The January 27 order “will aid ISIL’s propaganda effort and serve its recruitment message by feeding into the narrative that the United States is at war with Islam.”91 n The bipartisan group of former officials who wrote to President Trump in March 2017 explained that “To Muslims—including those victimized by or fighting against ISIS—it [the March 6 revised executive order] will send a message that reinforces the propaganda of ISIS and other extremist groups that falsely claim the United States is at war with Islam. Welcoming Muslim refugees and travelers, by contrast exposes the lies of terrorists and counters their warped visions.” n A group of former government officials pointed out that “less than a day after President Trump signed the January 27 Order, jihadist groups began citing its contents in recruiting messages online.”92 Former military leaders, veterans, and former national security officials have detailed concerns that the refugee bans, and the resulting cuts and further delays in resettlement, will endanger U.S. troops in the field: n In early February 2017, a group of former officials with national security expertise concluded that the January 27 order “could do long-term damage to our national security and foreign policy interests” and “endanger U.S. troops in the field.” n In April 2017 a group of former officials stated that the order “will endanger troops in the field.” Pointing to the refugee ban’s impact on the resettlement of interpreters and others who have assisted U.S. troops at great risk to their lives, the former officials concluded that “[b]y discouraging future assistance and cooperation from these and other affected military allies and partners, the Order will jeopardize the safety and effectiveness of our Service Members.”93 n Veterans themselves have explained that the refugee ban harms U.S. national security by abandoning the interpreters the military relies on to successfully carry out its missions around the world, stressing that “our mission, and sometimes our lives, depended on the interpreters, translators, and other local allies.”94 Conclusion In a Statement on America’s Commitment to Refugees, released on World Refugee Day in 2016, a group of former officials and retired military leaders—who had served under both Democratic and Republican administrations— joined together to emphasize this country’s strong commitment to protecting the persecuted: For more than two centuries, the idea of America has pulled toward our shores those seeking liberty, and it has ensured that they arrive in the open arms of our citizens. That is why the Statue of Liberty welcomes the world’s ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ and why President Reagan stressed the United States as ‘a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness.’ The statement’s signatories included: Former Secretary of Defense and U.S. Senator William S. Cohen; Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel; Former Director of the CIA General Michael V. Hayden, U.S. Air Force (Ret.); Former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Michael E. Leiter; Former U.S. Senator Carl M. Levin; Former Commander of U.S. Army Europe General David M. Maddox, U.S. Army (Ret.); Former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matthew G. Olsen; Former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry; Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James G. Stavridis, U.S. Navy (Ret.); Former Homeland Security Advisor Frances F. Townsend; and, Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. The damage done by President Trump’s refugee bans has been devastating to refugees, to refugee-hosting nations, to American allies and partners, to U.S. national security interests and to U.S. global leadership. The Trump Administration must change course, rescind the bans and launch a renewed and robust effort to lead the world’s nations in assisting, protecting, and resettling refugees. While this country has at times faltered, the U.S. commitment to protecting the persecuted has deep and strong roots. By restoring America’s role as a beacon to those searching for freedom, this country will not only safeguard its own national security and foreign policy interests, it will demonstrate that its guiding ideals are powerful and at the heart of what makes this nation strong. As U.S. Army veteran Adam Babiker, a former refugee who fled the genocide in Darfur, recently wrote: “We are a beacon, a force for good, and a symbol to the rest of the world. We help the oppressed and welcome the victims of war.”95
Third, admitting more refugees takes pressure of other host nations where many refugees currently live in camps. In many instances, there are millions of refugees living in these host nations, generating instability in these countries and terrorism risks.
International Human Rights Organization has issued the following news release, August 7, 2018, , Proposed Refugee Cap Threatens U.S National Security, https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/blog/proposed-refugee-cap-threatens-us-national-security
A new report suggest the Trump Administration plans to decrease the number of admitted refugees to 25,000 or lower for fiscal year 2019–a historic low. This move would be a betrayal of the United States’ historic legacy on refugee protection and would send the wrong signal to U.S allies and other states who are already hosting the majority of the world’s refugees. The reported decrease would also further destabilize refugee-hosting regions and threaten the United States’ national security. The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that 68.5 million people were displaced from their homes last year. Over half are under the age of 18. Another U.N report predicts that the number of refugees who need to be resettled will increase by 17% in 2019. With record numbers of refugees throughout the world, the United States should be increasing its resettlement quota–not lowering it. A refugee admissions cap of 25,000 would be remarkably low given the fact that the world is currently facing the largest refugee crisis since WWII. If the United States doubled its proposed refugee resettlement cap, and included the asylum backlog numbers, the United States would have around 1 refugee per 1,000 inhabitants. This pales in comparison to front-line countries like Lebanon, which hosts 164 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants. This drastic reduction in U.S resettlement may encourage other countries to do the same. Front-line countries–such as Pakistan, Turkey, and Uganda–already host over one million refugees each. And we know that large refugee populations can be taxing on countries with limited capacity. Jordan, for example, recently shut their borders to Syrian refugees due to a lack of help or support from the international community. The United States should relieve the undue burden of front-line countries by increasing its commitment to resettling refugees. An increased refugee cap would help stabilize developing, front-line countries and improve U.S national security interests. Last year, Human Rights First released an analysis on the negative implications that low refugee admissions have on U.S foreign policy. Additionally, former CIA directors, national security advisers, and secretaries of defense, state, and homeland security have explained that resettling refugees advances U.S national security interests. Former National Security Agency director Michael Hayden, for example, stated that halting the U.S refugee program is “dangerous” to the national security interests of the United States. The Trump Administration cited “enormous security challenges” in justifying their attempt to end the refugee resettlement program. The United States’ refugee vetting procedures, however, include extensive and comprehensive interviews as well as multiple rounds of security vetting with a wide array of U.S and international intelligence and law enforcement agencies. They are widely recognized as the most stringent in the world by former U.S military leaders and former U.S national security officials, who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations. The administration also falsely justifies the decrease in refugee resettlement by arguing that the United States has a large backlog of asylum cases. While a lengthy backlog negatively impacts asylum seekers, the Asylum Division–which handles the backlog–is entirely separate from the Refugee Corps. One program need not come at the expense of the other. Rather than rob resources from the Refugee Corps, the Trump Administration should properly fund and staff both the Refugee Corps and the Asylum Division. This would include hiring officers capable of addressing the asylum backlog for which funds are already allocated. Additionally, since the asylum backlog has been exacerbated by the Trump Administration’s decision to send Asylum Division personnel to the border– and away from parts of the country with the greatest need for these resources–the White House is now in a position to point at the mess it helped create as justification for limiting refugee admissions. This reported drastic cut to refugee admissions is unjustifiable. Higher refugee admissions would improve relations between the United States and front-line countries and improve our nation’s safety and security. The Trump Administration must set the refugee admissions cap at a number that reflects the world refugee crisis.
Fourth, reducing the number of refugees makes it difficult to get translators to cooperate in the war on terrorism
Reihan Salman, September 7, 2018 , A Better Way to Absorb Refugees, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/09/the-future-of-the-refugee-act/569359/
But Trump’s efforts to scale back refugee resettlement raise larger questions about the future of the program, and about humanitarian immigration more broadly. Providing tens of thousands of forced migrants with new lives in the U.S. has both a symbolic and strategic purpose. The strategic case for refugee resettlement is straightforward. Military officials have warned that by greatly reducing the resettlement of Iraqi refugees, the Trump administration has made it harder to secure the cooperation of local translators and other personnel in conflict zones. The promise of refugee status is, in other words, a powerful inducement for convincing Iraqis to put their lives at risk. One suspects future presidents will be more receptive to this national-security rationale than Trump, who has been notably skeptical of nation-building efforts.