Many Americans are understandably alarmed because of the ISIS attack on Paris the other week, and reacting especially to the possibility that one or more attackers were among the throngs of asylum seekers pouring into Europe in recent months with worry about the 10,000 Syrians slated for entry to the US. While a number of Americans have reasonably pointed out that more needs to be done to protect millions of internally displaced and threatened people on the ground in Syria, before they seek outside asylum, some politicians have made headlines with demagogic fear-mongering demands that the United States accept no Syrian refugees, or even to expel those few who are currently here.
We Jews in particular should note that similar concerns blocked Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis in World War II. For example, the territorial government of the US Virgin Islands offered to take in about 1,000 refugees — a proposal shot down by the US military on the grounds that there might be Nazi spies or saboteurs among them.
This is from the transcript of a broadcast segment of NPR’s Morning Edition program, Nov. 23, on the vetting process for Syrian refugees:
Refugees are screened by several different agencies:
Their first point of a refugee’s contact is with the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. The UNHCR refers people to countries based on whether they have any family members there and where resettlement makes the most sense, say U.S. officials. If that’s the U.S., then refugees are vetted by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, and the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security. Fingerprints are taken, biographical information is collected. They are then each individually interviewed by U.S. officials trained to verify that they’re bona fide refugees.
Refugees from Syria are then subject to additional screening that looks at where they came from and what caused them to flee their home, stories that are checked out. All of this occurs before a refugee is allowed to set foot in the country.
It’s a lengthy process:
As you might imagine, all of the vetting, from interviews to fingerprinting, takes a while. On average, officials say it’s 18 to 24 months before a refugee is approved for admission to the U.S.
The U.S. has admitted some 1,800 Syrian refugees in the past two years, and President Obama wants to allow 10,000 more. The administration says half of those who have been admitted are children and about a quarter of them are adults over 60. Officials say 2 percent are single males of combat age.
There’s also an informative three and a half-minute segment featuring Anne Richard of the State Department on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday program. To listen, click on this embedded web link.