The effect of the Paris terror attack upon the debate over Syrian refugees in the United States was swift and dramatic.
By Monday afternoon, nearly a dozen states had declared they would accept no more Syrians until their security concerns had been addressed. The speed and scope of this response suggests state governors have been receiving a loud and clear message from their constituents.
President Obama apparently isn’t hearing that message, because he insists it’s full steam ahead on large-scale Syrian resettlement in the United States, and resistance to his agenda is “shameful” and “un-American.”
“Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” Obama said from the G-20 summit in Turkey on Monday.
American “values” are not a suicide pact, and the concerns about security from Obama’s reckless refugee policy are not illogical. First and foremost, the Obama talking point about “vetting” these refugees is the greatest insult to the intelligence of American voters since the promise that illegal aliens who receive amnesty will pay back taxes, plus a fine for breaking U.S. immigration law.
There will be no meaningful vetting of the Syrian migratory tide, as our own Homeland Security apparatus has admitted to Congress. In fact, we’ll be lucky if the majority of them are Syrians. False claims of Syrian origin are the hottest ticket in Europe right now, backed up by a thriving black market in forged and stolen identity papers.
It is by no means clear that even something as basic as genuine Syrian origin could be verified for the number of migrants Obama wants to import to the United States, on the timetable he envisions.
Even if we can at least limit ourselves to refugees who are of guaranteed Syrian origin, the notion of conducting elaborate background checks on them is absurd on its face. They come from a nation in the grip of a savage civil war that has been raging for years. Even before the war began, the Syrian government was not noted for the high quality of its civic institutions. The remaining government infrastructure of the Assad regime has little incentive to cooperate with Americans seeking to validate the credentials of fleeing Syrians.
There is no way to come up with the number of refugees Obama wants, as quickly as he demands, if we limit ourselves to only those asylum-seekers with good paperwork. Even if we could, would the Europeans welcome American authorities skimming the “cream of the crop” and leaving them with the least well-documented Syrians? It’s more likely that American officials would accept questionable vetting from the Europeans and wave through everyone they vouch for.
The demographic reality of the Syrian migration is another consideration. Western media labored mightily to hide the truth for as long as possible, but the vast majority of the Syrian refugees are single military-age males. Not only is this the riskiest possible refugee profile, but many of those military-age males will soon attempt to bring their dependents over, multiplying the number of refugees ultimately accepted in the U.S. far beyond the number we think we’re agreeing to now. Those additional migrants won’t be vetted any more carefully than the original arrivals.
We don’t have to speculate on the security risks posed by refugees, because recent history provides many unfortunate examples – most notably the Boston Marathon bombers, the Tsarnaev family, which could not be described as grateful to the nation that granted them refuge. It’s also notable that the Tsarnaevs made frequent visits back to the region they sought refuge from. Our immigration system isn’t exactly good at identifying desperate people whose very lives depend on fleeing to the United States.
The Somali refugee community in Minnesota has produced a distressing number of recruits for terrorist organizations like ISIS and al-Shabaab. The Washington Times wrote earlier this year that the effort to resettle Somalis in the U.S. had the “unintended consequence of creating an enclave of immigrants with high unemployment that is both stressing the state’s safety net and creating a rich pool of potential recruiting targets for Islamist terror groups.”
While many recruits from this community travel overseas to fight with terrorist organizations, some remain behind, such as “Christmas tree bomber” Mohamed Osman Mohamud, taken into custody in 2010 while hammering a button on his cellphone that he thought would detonate a truck bomb in Portand. Fortunately, his bomb was a phony, because his arms dealers were undercover FBI agents.
Another Somali who became a naturalized U.S. citizen, Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, traveled to Syria for training in terrorist camps – evidently the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front – and came home eager to use his skills to attack a U.S. military base, aspiring to “kill three or four American soldiers execution-style,” according to a federal indictment.
Only about 1,100 Somali refugees arrived in Minnesota last year. The proposed influx of Syrian migrants will be over sixty times that size, just for starters. Even in the unlikely event the incoming wave is carefully screened to keep out terrorists, the Somali example shows how alienated refugee populations provide fertile recruiting ground for extremists, and even create terrorist recruiting opportunities among native-born residents of refugee enclaves.
Just such an enclave appears to have formed in Belgium, where the government actually admits to losing control of the neighborhood from which the alleged mastermind of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud – the twentysomething son of Moroccan immigrants – and several other members of the conspiracy hail. Deliberately creating more alienated communities with a rush of poorly-controlled refugee resettlement is unwise.
The list of immigrants arrested for involvement with terrorist activity over the past few years is dismaying. There was Moroccan national El Mehdi Semlali Fathi, arrested in April 2014 for plotting to use toy airplanes as drone bombs. Two Pakistani brothers, Raees and Sherheryar Qazi, were recently sentenced for a 2012 plot to bomb New York City.
Immigrants from Syria have been involved in domestic terrorism investigations. A 16-year-old of Syrian extraction was charged in April with joining ISIS and conspiring with another Muslim militant to steal weapons from a gun store, so they could attack soldiers stationed in North Carolina. Although prosecutors described him as “wholeheartedly sincere in his beliefs” and said he had “embraced the ideology of ISIS,” he was charged with only a fairly minor weapons offense, and will spend only a few years in juvenile prison.
Another plot to attack American troops on homeland soil was hatched by Mufid Elfgeeh, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Yemen. He was arrested in May 2014 after attempting to purchase silenced handguns from an undercover FBI informant. He also tried to recruit people to fight for ISIS in Syria, and raise money for the terror state.
Not all immigrant terrorist suspects originate from hot spots like Syria and Somalia. Immigrants from Bosnia, Ghana, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have also been charged with providing material support to ISIS and al-Qaeda over the past year.
The point is not that safe immigration is impossible, but rather that it is difficult, and takes time. Even sophisticated nations with huge civil-service bureaucracies and advanced data processing equipment, such as the United States, have trouble keeping track of troublesome individuals. Tumultuous nations with poor infrastructure have an even harder time keeping track of extremists. Terror gangs have grown very adept at recruiting from refugee populations. Refugees sometimes turn out to have much stronger links back to the old country than their image of desperation would suggest.
Syria is arguably one of the worst places on Earth to accept a mass migration from, because its populace is so fragmented between warring extremists groups that a $500 million program to recruit politically acceptable “moderate” Syrian rebels could only come up with a handful of them, after years of effort… and quite a few of those expensively vetted rebels promptly went AWOL.
An immigration system designed with the best interests of existing citizens at heart would not be in a mad rush to usher tens of thousands of people from such a dicey region into the country, or questioning the very patriotism of those who raise objections.
The growing revolt among state governors suggests the American people want to slam on the brakes. It remains to be seen if this will be more than a temporary pause in the project, if indeed the Administration can be persuaded or coerced into slowing down at all… or if we’ll get some theatrical expressions of concern, followed by the quiet resumption of Syrian migration, as soon as public attention drifts from the Paris massacre.