The Continuing Battle On Who Can Or Can’t Block Refugees

The battle to block refugees has been raging for months, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. There are arguments on both sides of the debate, but the issues being debated have morphed somewhat from when they first began. At first, the focus wavered more between assisting those in need versus space to fit them. Now, it is more an issue of how many are genuine “refugees” and how many are camouflaged terrorists? And who can or can’t block refugees from coming into our country and individual states?

The most recent move in the push to block Syrian (in particular) refugees came from U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt when she ruled yesterday against Indiana Governor Mike Pence. As NBC News reported, Gov. Pence had issued an order back in November restricting assistance from state agencies for Syrian refugees. His order did not outright “block refugees” from entering the state, but instead blocked financial assistance to them from state programs once they had entered the state.

Activists protest Texas governor Greg Abbott in Austin
AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 22: Members of The Syrian People Solidarity Group protest on November 22, 2015 in Austin, Texas. The group was protesting Texas governor Greg Abbott's refusal to allow Syrian refugees in the state. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)

The fight against these “resettlement programs” is not exclusive to Gov. Pence. So far, 29 governors have expressed opposition to letting Syrian refugees settle in their states, and taken action toward that end. The reason repeatedly cited is what happened in the recent Paris attacks, when a passport belonging to one of the suicide bombers was found to have been registered as one belonging to a refugee.

This begs the question, how can anyone truly know whether any refugee is a person who genuinely needs assistance to find a new place to live for their own safety’s sake, or whether they are really someone who is claiming refugee status for more nefarious reasons, whether coming to the United States or to Europe?

Europe received over a million migrants and refugees in 2015, and several countries are facing crises of limited space and resources for all of these people, regardless of their potential “terrorist” status. Even though war-time situations in multiple countries have forced these refugees from their homeland, Syria is by far the largest producer of refugees.

The screening process for Syrian refugees is allegedly one of the strictest in place. The criteria that must be met involves a number of interviews, background checks, home checks, even iris scans. Once they pass that part (as only about 50 percent do), Time reports that “multiple law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies” perform even more stringent screening. This whole process takes approximately 18 to 24 months.

The problem, however, is that the United States, or even European countries, can have an excellent intelligence system in place, but that system only works once the refugees are in our country. Because U.S. presence is limited in Syria, intelligence from there is incomplete. If someone isn’t in any type of criminal database from an act committed in Syria, their name will not pop up no matter how many searches are done of it. There is no way to gather complete information on people there like there is here.

And that is a problem.

Once they get here, all kinds of information is taken from them from even more in-depth interviews to fingerprints, and all types of biographical and biometric information. But that still does not fill in any gaps that might be present from their time “over there,” from wherever they originated. NPR reported that even FBI Director James Comey worries about missing information in the vetting process related to these refugees.

And it’s not like officials can ask a potential refugee if they are friends with or members of a terrorist organization. As if they would get an honest answer to that one anyway.

As it currently stands, with tens of thousands of refugees still needing new homes, no matter how many governors have taken action to prevent funding for resettlement agencies to settle Syrian refugees in their states, the law says they can’t block refugees from coming into their state. The debate is heating up, however, or at least is continuing at its present temperature. We can only wait and see what might happen next.

[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]