Security Concerns Should Not Derail the Iraqi Refugee Program – Here’s Why

by Jason Dzubow on July 26, 2011

in Asylees and Refugees, National Security

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In the wake of revelations that two Iraqi refugees turned out to be former insurgents, the U.S. government is re-checking more than 58,000 Iraqi refugees against newly available data bases.  The Los Angeles Times reports:

The investigation was given added urgency after U.S. intelligence agencies warned that Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq and Yemen had tried to target the U.S. refugee stream, or exploit other immigration loopholes, in an attempt to infiltrate the country with operatives.

Would you believe we have to re-check all 58,000 Iraqi refugees?

The Times article continues:

So far, immigration authorities have given the FBI about 300 names of Iraqi refugees for further investigation.  The FBI won’t say whether any have been arrested or pose a potential threat.  The individuals may have only tenuous links to known or suspected terrorists.  The names were identified when authorities rechecked phone numbers, email addresses, fingerprints, iris scans and other data in immigration files of Iraqis given asylum since the war began in 2003.  They checked the data against military, law enforcement and intelligence databases that were not available or were not utilized during the initial screening process, or were not searched using sufficient Arabic spelling and name variations.

It addition to the Iraqis, authorities have re-screened a smaller number of refugees from Yemen, Somalia and other countries where terrorist groups are active.

Of course, this begs the question: Why are we admitting refugees from these countries in the first place?  Some commentators, including Mark Krikorian from the Center for Immigration Studies, argue that we should reduce or completely stop resettling refugees from Iraq.  It’s a fair point, but let me give my reasons why I believe we should continue to bring such refugees to our country.

First, I think there is an important foreign policy benefit that accrues to us by demonstrating our loyalty to people who risked their lives to help our cause.  It certainly would not serve our interest to be known as a country that uses people and then abandons them.  A few months ago, Esquire magazine did an article about one of my clients who captured or killed dozens of terrorists in Iraq.  Now, despite our best efforts (and an approved immigration petition), he and his family are stuck in Iraq, where they face a very real possibility of being killed.  Such stories do not inspire others to stick their necks out for us.

Second, I think we have a moral obligation to assist people who face danger on account of our actions.  The right thing to do is to take responsibility for our actions, and to correct problems we helped to create.  As the leader of the free world, we need to set an example and do the right thing.

Third, millions of foreigners come to the U.S. every year (for example, in 2009, according to DHS, over 160 million foreigners came to the U.S. for one reason or another).  If a terrorist or a criminal wants to come to the United States, entering as a refugee is probably one of the least effective ways to get here.  The security screenings and other hurdles to entry are more difficult for a refugee than for almost any other category of entrant.  If we close the door to refugees because we fear they might harm us, we should close the door to all other non-citizens (and the billions of dollars they contribute to our economy).   Such an isolationist path seems impractical and undesirable.

Finally, to give up on our humanitarian ideals because we fear terrorism seems to me a response unworthy of our nation.  Sometimes, compromise is necessary.  And sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor.  However, to give up on our refugee program because we fear terrorism would be a victory for the terrorists.  

We certainly need to be vigilant, and we need to do a better job of screening refugees.  We also need to re-check anyone who might be a security risk.  But we should not end our assistance to refugees because we fear terrorism.  We should not let the terrorists win.  

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