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Charlotte Observer (Op-Ed): Don't Politicize Refugee Resettlement

November 19, 2015
Op-Ed & Article
Charlotte Observer (Op-Ed): Don't Politicize Refugee Resettlement

November 18, 2015 by Congressman David E. Price

In the aftermath of the horrific attacks on Paris, Americans are understandably reassessing our nation’s response to the threat posed by the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS. This is one of the most serious foreign policy challenges we have faced since the attacks of 9/11, and in many ways it is even more complex, involving a tragic civil war in Syria, a state on the brink of failure in Iraq, and a transnational network of extremists willing to kill indiscriminately.

Unfortunately, instead of offering serious policy alternatives, critics of President Obama’s strategy in the Middle East have resorted to fear-mongering and scapegoating. Earlier this week, Governor Pat McCrory joined a growing number of his fellow governors in demanding that President Obama cease resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states, asserting that the federal government’s refugee screening process is deficient and might be exploited by terrorists entering the United States. And now it appears likely that congressional Republicans will use the refugee issue to hold funding bills hostage and threaten another government shutdown.

The notion that refugee resettlement poses a national security threat may resonate politically, but it’s deeply misleading.

Syrian refugees undergo a more extensive screening than any other visitors or immigrants to the United States. They must first interview in-person with representatives of the United Nations, who conduct an extensive initial background check that is verified by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. They are then interviewed and their cases reviewed by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the State Department, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, Customs and Border Protection, and the federal government’s intelligence agencies.

If all of these agencies approve a refugee’s resettlement request, he or she is able to travel to the United States, with another thorough screening by Department of Homeland Security officials at the port of entry and continued surveillance and oversight by other federal agencies. This process is so intensive that it takes a long time – an average of 15 months, and often as long as three years.

As the former Chairman and current senior member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, I am confident that this multi-layered vetting process minimizes any risk refugees who are resettled in our communities pose to our national security. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Governor McCrory’s irresponsible proposal to shut the door to additional refugees, who in this case are mainly women and children.

Stopping refugee resettlement would contradict our country’s deepest values. It would also undermine the very national security priorities that Republicans claim to defend. It would lend credibility to ISIS’s recruiting and propaganda efforts, play into their narrative that the United States is an enemy to all Muslims, further destabilize the Middle East, and worsen the burden for a European immigration system that is already in crisis. Each of these outcomes risks exacerbating the threat posed by ISIS and further weakening our ability to mount an effective response.

Our greatest strength in combating extremism is that we lead from the moral high ground. The United States that we are all fighting to protect is a refuge for the oppressed and the desperate, a nation founded on expansive notions of freedom and strength in diversity. We are also a confident and determined nation, which in the present instance requires us to relentlessly pursue those who would do us harm, while refusing to give in to anxiety, suspicion and fear.

U.S. Rep. David E. Price, a Democrat, represents North Carolina’s 4th congressional district.