Practically every security professional in the U.S. has warned that Syrian refugees cannot be safely vetted, and warn that Islamic State (IS) and other terrorists may attempt to exploit that vulnerability. Despite this, refugee resettlement advocates insist that fears about vetting of Syrian refugees are “stupid”. First, they argue, refugees are among the most exhaustively vetted immigrants of all. Second, refugees don’t get to decide what country they will be resettled to; that is a decision made by the resettlement bureaucracy. Finally, they chuckle, why would any self-respecting terrorist wait many months or even years in a muddy, stinking refugee camp, without adequate food and water, to run the gauntlet of U.S. security screening to be accepted as a possible refugee for resettlement to the U.S.?
One is tempted to agree. At first blush, it doesn’t seem logical that a terrorist would go through all that trouble on the off chance that he/she might ultimately join the refugee flow to America. There are many other ways to enter the U.S. that are easier.
The visa waiver program allows anyone with a passport from any of the 38 participating countries to enter the U.S. without a visa and remain here for 90 days. IS has created a fake passport manufacturing industry, and over 150,000 VWP entrants overstayed last year.
With forged passports and other documents, IS members can enter the U.S. “legally” as tourists, students, workers or other temporary visitors. In total, almost 500,000 people overstayed their visas in 2015 and an estimated 40 percent of all illegal aliens in the U.S. are visa overstays.
Alternatively, terrorists can simply cross the border as illegal aliens. Some smuggling routes even have signs in Arabic. 916 individuals from terror-linked countries were apprehended along the Southwest Border in 2014 and 2015. Terrorists posing as Syrians could also enter the U.S. at a border crossing and request asylum. They fill out an application form, receive an interview and wait for a decision. If a terrorist crosses the border illegally and is caught, he can also request asylum. The approval rate for Syrian asylees was 83 percent in 2015.
Syrians in the U.S. legally or illegally can be granted Temporary Protected Status. TPS was created in 1990 to accommodate individuals fleeing wars and natural disasters. TPS individuals obtain temporary legal residence for from 6 to 18 months and can reapply endlessly – de facto amnesty. Many granted TPS in the 1990s are still here. Currently, approximately 5,800 Syrians have TPS status.
So why all the concern about Syrian refugees and vetting?
On October 29, 2015, Antonio Guterres, then U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (now U.N. Secretary General), spoke at an immigration forum in DC. He ridiculed fears about IS exploiting the refugee program, saying no terrorist would be “so stupid” as to endure the U.S. vetting process when they could easily just fly here. Similarly, he said they would not be “so stupid” as to follow the arduous refugee path to Europe.
Two weeks after Guterres’ speech, nine IS terrorists murdered 130 people and injured another 368 in Paris, France. Two of the terrorists, used forged Syrian passports, and “slipped into Europe with a flood of Syrian refugees…”
No one is laughing about the “stupid” terrorists now.
It made perfect sense for the terrorists to hide among refugees, because they achieved total anonymity. Furthermore, they could choose when and where to join the flow because IS controls refugee smuggling routes. Since Paris, “refugees” who entered Germany and elsewhere have launched multiple attacks.
So is it really “stupid” to worry about vetting Syrians?
There are good reasons a terrorist organization might insert terrorists through the refugee program, despite the “vetting”. First, it is not that difficult. IS can forge counterfeit passports and doubtless other documents presenting a compelling appearance of legitimacy.
Corruption is endemic in the Middle East. U.N. camp officials and many others can easily be bribed. Even resettlement contractors have been corrupted. Also, with covert sympathizers and agents helping, it is not difficult to imagine terrorists finagling their way to the front of the refugee line.
Besides the lack of data on Syrians and others, we have our own data problems. A recent DHS Inspector General report found that 1,982 aliens from countries known for immigration fraud or terror-links, who were scheduled for deportation, were granted citizenship using false identities because fingerprint records were missing. In total, the IG report found 148,000 fingerprint files missing for fugitive criminals and others facing deportation.
Furthermore, our vetting process isn’t that good. An internal Inspections and Customs Enforcement (ICE) memo states:
Refugee fraud is easy to commit, yet not easy to investigate [because] [r]efugee laws purposefully contain relaxed evidentiary requirements…, Refugee applications do not require sponsorship of a third party, such as a relative or employer, [and] Refugee claims are typically made in areas of the world where it is difficult to investigate the veracity of the claim.
Finally, the Obama administration reduced the processing time for Syrian refugees from 18 to 3 months to ensure Obama met his FY 2016 resettlement target of 10,000 Syrians. In immigration matters, Obama has consistently placed expediency over security.
There are good reasons to enter through the refugee program: 1. It establishes legitimacy. Any terrorist who enters this way has no fear of further scrutiny from law enforcement. He or she can move anywhere within the U.S. as a legal permanent resident, get a job, collect welfare, even vote after a while. Such “vetted refugee” terrorists could establish secure bases of operations and develop networks for future attacks. 2. It probes our vulnerabilities. Our enemies constantly probe detection systems so they can avoid or overcome them.
With just a little thought, it becomes plain that there is reason for concern. IS and other terrorist groups have said they will exploit the refugee program. The State Department now admits they are attempting to do so, as they already have in Europe.
12,587 Syrians were resettled in FY 2016, including 12,486 Muslims (99.2%), but only 64 Christians (0.5%). Why not more? Christians fear entering the refugee camps where most applications are taken.
The biggest untold secret however, is that at least 100,000 Syrians have entered the U.S. under various immigrant and non-immigrant programs since the Syrian civil war began.
Despite these facts, Hillary Clinton publicly supports resettling 65,000 Syrians, and the resettlement industry advocates even more. A Hillary Clinton presidency would metastasize Obama’s lax policies that have facilitated a flood of unvetted potential jihadis to the U.S.
So much for national security.
James Simpson is the author of The Red Green Axis: Refugees, Immigration and the Agenda to Erase America. Follow Jim on Twitter & Facebook.