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Following the terror attacks in Paris last week, news reports indicated that one of the men entered Europe posing as a refugee from Syria. Now, more than half the nation’s governors say they object to resettling Syrian refugees in their states. Some of these governors have signed executive orders banning them altogether. They say the screening process for refugees isn’t rigorous enough to prevent potential terrorists from getting into the country. But critics say refugee resettlement is a federal decision and that governors are overreacting and spreading fear. Guest host Susan Page and guests discuss the debate over resettlement of Syrian refugees in the states.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back tomorrow. In the wake of the Paris attacks, more than half the nation's governors now say they don't want Syrian refugees in their states. Tomorrow, Speaker Paul Ryan says the House will vote on a bill that would halt the State Department's refugee resettlement program.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me in the studio to discuss efforts by governors to block Syrian refugees and the legal, political and security implications, Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute, David Welna of NPR News and Mark Krikorian of the Center For Immigration Studies. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. DAVID WELNAThank you.
MR. MARK KRIKORIANHi.
MS. KATHLEEN NEWLANDThank you.
PAGEJoining us by phone later in the program will be the former U.S. counterterrorism director, Michael Leiter. But first, joining us from the Republican Governor's Conference in Las Vegas is Pat McCrory. He's the Republican governor of North Carolina. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show," Governor.
GOV. PAT MCCRORYThank you very much for having me.
PAGEGovernor McCrory, you are one of more than two dozen governors who have come out in recent days to oppose admitting refugees from Syria to your state. Why are you doing that?
MCCRORYWell, I think we have very legitimate concerns. In fact, these are concerns that have been expressed by the FBI director during a House committee and Homeland Security in which he basically stated that the federal government does not have the ability to conduct thorough background checks on all of the 10,000 Syrian refugees that the Obama administration says will be allowed to come to the United States.
MCCRORYThat raises red flags for us. We've raised very serious red flags with the White House and the very lack of communications with governors who have their own homeland security teams. We have our own SBIs. We are commanders of our guards in which we are not being told who is coming to our state, when they're coming to our state. Those communications are basically with third party nonprofit organizations who's primarily interested in legitimate needs of helping these people, but not in public security needs and the governors are responsible for the public security and the safety of our citizens.
MCCRORYAnd myself and many other governors, both Republican and Democrat, on the recent phone call, basically have stated very strongly to the White House that there is not enough coordination or collaboration with what the state needs in monitoring potential activity in our states.
PAGENow, you mentioned this conference call. There was a conference call last night with White House officials and lots of governors, I think, 34 governors. You were among the governors on that call. What did they tell you?
MCCRORYMy chairman of public safety, my public safety secretary was on the call and the call was very -- it was a good first step forward by the administration because during the last 48 hours, we've gotten lectures from the president as opposed to collaboration so I'm very pleased that at least the White House staff is communicating with our staffs and our governors regarding our concerns.
MCCRORYThese are concerns we're hearing from our citizens. There's a lot of anxiety out there and there are concerns coming from my public safety officials in which we do not know who is entering our state. We do not have checkpoint Charlies in our states. So we have to have -- be very trusting and have a good relationship with the federal government right now. And based upon the FBI and other public comments, they have then said that Syria doesn't have a working embassy.
MCCRORYIt's very difficult to get the legitimate background checks and those raise concern for us in a nation where there's a civil war.
PAGEWell, at this conference call last night, was there any indication the White House would heed your request, would make changes in how they're proceeding because of the concerns you and others have expressed?
MCCRORYI think they said they're listening to us. They did not initiate any action items, but at least the phone call was initiated and I think that was due to the very strong feedback. By the way, on the telephone call were many Democratic governors. And I'm not gonna -- because the phone call was -- I'm not gonna speak for them, but believe me, some major Democratic governors expressed very serious concerns about the lack of communication and coordination with state officials.
MCCRORYAnd as governor of the ninth most populous state in the United States, that's North Carolina, we share those concerns. There are current potential terrorist activity in all 100 states, according to the FBI and the FBI cannot say for certain whether any of those potential activity being reviewed had to deal with any potential refugees that have come to our states.
MCCRORYWe just need more communications and cooperation and reassurance so we can reassure our citizens that everything's okay.
PAGEYou know, you mentioned President Obama's comments yesterday. He said that the governors who have tried to block the Syrian refugees are fear-mongering. He says they're playing on fear to score political points. What did you think of the president's comments?
MCCRORYIt was very unproductive and disrespectful to governors who have a job. These are the executives of the 50 states and we have a responsibility to protect our citizens and I don't think the president, at this point in time, quite understands the anxiety, especially after the French attacks, of potential attacks on the United States and the need for cooperation and collaboration.
MCCRORYI just want to say we're all on the same team. We want to work with the president. We want to cooperate with the president. We cannot afford to be the federal government have one silo and all 50 states have their own 50 silos because, frankly, most terrorist activity is learned from state and local officials, not from the federal government. It's state and local closest to the ground who communicate information to the federal government and we've got to have a two-way communication link.
MCCRORYAnd we hear -- we read in the newspaper, including your own newspaper of the governor announcing 10,000 more refugees coming into our states. I think we need to have that coordination and cooperation and that's the message, in a bipartisan way, from governors on that phone call.
PAGEIf the United States federal government decides to go ahead with refugee resettlement, is there really anything you can do to keep these refugees out of North Carolina?
MCCRORYI don't think there is, except -- my letter to the president in the last 48 hours was expressing a request to cease this until -- only from Syria at this point in time and do a review from the other potential states where they do have ISIS at this point in time. Give us some assurance that -- and communication links with our own local homeland security. But I do not have a checkpoint Charlie at the state of North Carolina. And by the way, once they come in, they can go immediately to anywhere in our nation and we don't know where they're going at this point in time.
MCCRORYAnd we've learned with ISIS is very unique. These are pros. They're very patient. They hid their activities even from their own families as we've learned from the Paris attacks. These are pros. There's no doubt about it.
PAGEGovernor, just one last question. I know that a small number of Syria refugees already have been resettled in North Carolina. How has that gone?
MCCRORYWe don't -- there are 59 numbers that we do not know where they are. We don't -- our homeland security is not communicated to. We only hear from -- where they're located from third party charity agencies. And in homeland security matters, especially in this very unique war which the president of France has said, this is a war and who's a NATO ally and so forth, we ought to have more types of communication of what type of security background checks have been done on these people and that communications ought to be forwarded to my own homeland security people who have, by the way, security confidentiality checks.
MCCRORYAt a minimum, that should be being done and that’s what we request. But I don’t know of any power I have as governor of the ninth largest state to say we will not accept them, because they come regardless of whether we accept them. The feds drop them off at the third party nonprofit agencies, which then bill the states for the financing of any help that these refugees need. By the way, I empathize with these refugees that have been terrorized by ISIS, but we just want to make, as we have not found out, that one of ISIS's goal is to infiltrate the refugee population and possibly cause havoc across all countries, including the United States of America.
MCCRORYAnd we have to be aware of that. So these are very legitimate and respectful concerns by this governor, that I'm expressing and I cannot express more that we are all on the same team and we want to work with the president. And the phone call yesterday was a first step, but I think there needs to be much more directly from the president and the vice president directly to the governors, especially through our homeland security people in each state.
PAGEAll right. Governor McCrory, thank you so much for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
MCCRORYThank you very much. I appreciate it.
PAGEThat was Governor Pat McCrory, the Republican governor of North Carolina. David Welna, what do you make of what we heard from the governor just now?
WELNAWell, I think there are a couple of things. One is his comments about FBI Director James Comey telling Congress that we don't know about some of these people who are applying for refugee status. I covered that hearing. And he did say, at the hearing, he was asked about the fact that there are no criminal records on some of these people and he said you can query the database until the cows come home, but if you don't have records, you're not gonna find anything.
WELNAThat's true. At the same time, I think there's a lot of misinformation about these people coming here and there's also a lot of ignorance about how the system works. In fact, the people who come here, about half of them have been actually rejected. I think if Homeland Security had no information about somebody, that it's probably less likely that that person would be one of the people admitted. There's also the makeup of the refugees coming here.
WELNAHalf of them are minors, children and only 2 percent of them are men of so-called combat age. So I think with that information, there may be less maybe anxiety about these people coming in.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break and when we come back, we'll continue our conversation about the debate over resettling Syrian refugees in the United States. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking about the proposed resettlement of thousands of Syrian refugees here in the United States, the concerns that's raised from some governors. Our phone lines are now open. You can give us a call, 800-433-8850. You can always send us an email at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter.
PAGEAnd now we're joined in the studio by Kathleen Newland. She's a senior fellow and co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute, by Mark Krikorian, he's executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, by David Welna, national security correspondent for NPR News. And we're joined by phone by Michael Leiter. He's executive vice president of Leidos, a national security technology company. He served as director if the U.S. national Counter-terrorism Center under Presidents George W. Bush and President Obama. Michael Leiter, welcome to the show.
MR. MICHAEL LEITERGood to be here, Susan, thanks.
PAGEYou oversaw the nation's counterterrorism efforts for years. Are the governors right to be worried about the screening of Syrian refugees in light of what we saw just happen in Paris?
LEITERWell, I think they're certainly right to have concerns, and they're certainly right to demand good communications between the federal government and state Homeland Security advisors. That's something that's gotten much better since 9/11, but it's still imperfect, and it's not that surprising to me that it hasn't been excellent on this topic. We have seen, over the past 10 years, extremist groups look at and try to exploit refugee flows, most notably al-Qaeda in Iraq.
LEITERBut these have been very, very small in number. Now, small in number is not zero, and in that sense, again, I think they have a right to be concerned. They have a right to understand what the processes are and how stringent they are. And we also, as I think Jim Comey, the director of the FBI, said in testimony, as Jim Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has said in testimony, we have to accept that as stringent as the procedures are and how many of the lessons we've learned from previous refugee crises in screening people, there is absolutely no guarantee that it will 100 percent perfect.
LEITERAll that being said, I think that we have to look at the broader ISIS threat not just through the refugee lens but look at all of the populations and all of the sub-populations that are susceptible to radicalization, and then we have to make good risk assessments about where we want to put our screening, surveillance and the like.
PAGEYou made the point that you can't be 100 percent sure. Does that -- is this, then, a risk that you think is worth taking to resettle Syrian refugees here, even though you cannot be 100 percent guaranteed that you'll prevent any terrorists from coming in with them?
LEITERWell, that's a real policy choice, and it's a real choice about what we represent as a nation, well beyond the counterterrorism challenge. As the son of a Jewish refugee just before World War II, I had very strong personal feelings about the need for the U.S. to welcome refugees. I do think this is a manageable risk, and people should understand the extent to which we only get a subcategory of people who apply from the U.N., how that is then analyzed, how the data on these individuals is compared against a variety of biographic and biometric sources.
LEITERAnd again, I think we can get the risk of any penetration by ISIS in this refugee flow down to a very, very, very small percentage. I would never say that that percentage is zero.
PAGEKathleen Newland, walk us through what happens when a refugee from Syria applies to be resettled in the United States or wants to be resettled here. What happens then?
NEWLANDWell first of all, the U.N. Refugee Agency would consider which country would be most suitable for a refugee to be resettled in. So far they've referred about 19,000 or 20,000 to the U.S. And then the U.S. government would decide which of those cases they're willing to consider for settlement. So far we've resettled about -- a little more than 2,100 Syrian refugees in the U.S. But after a case is accepted, the case, the person or the family, then goes through five layers of security screening.
NEWLANDThey will be screened by the Department of State. They will be screened by the FBI. They will be screened by the Department of Homeland Security, which cooperates with the Department of Defense in using one of their databases, and then they will be screened by the National Counter-terrorism Center. In addition, there's an extra layer of screening for Syrian refugees. On top of all those screenings based on biometric data collected from the refugees and their biographical data, each refugee is required to have a face-to-face interview with the Department of Homeland Security officer.
NEWLANDSo that will -- all of those will take place before any refugee moves to the United States.
PAGEBut if you fled Syria with just the clothes on your back and maybe a passport, how is it possible to do effective screening about your past?
NEWLANDWell, the United Nations Refugee Agency has decades of experience in sorting who is a refugee, who is not, who is excludable because of their military or terrorist affiliations. And I think we also have to think about who Syrian refugees are. They're primarily Shiite Muslims, many of them fleeing from the depredations of their own government, indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, and also increasingly now fleeing from a Sunni Islamist uprising, which targets Shiite Muslims, including Syrians.
NEWLANDSo the ISIS cadres are primarily from countries other than Syria, and they are targeting Shiites.
PAGESo Mark Krikorian, five layers of screening sounds pretty rigorous. What do you think?
KRIKORIANThere's an old joke about a drunk loses his keys in the park, but then he looks for them under the streetlight, and when somebody asks him why is he doing that, he says, well, the light is better there. We're searching where the light is better. The fact is we have no idea who these people are and no way of knowing not just who Syrian refugees are but really people from any failed state, whether it's Somalia or Yemen or Libya or Afghanistan.
KRIKORIANThe ability to -- the trail, the kind of electronic trail that people in a modern society would leave as they lead -- as they lead their way through life, birth certificates, marriage certificates, all of that sort of stuff, either it doesn't exist, or it never existed, or it's completely unreliable so that we have -- I mean, it's not just that if we threw more money at it and had more commitment or something we could do a better job of screening people, it's impossible. It's literally impossible, literally in the real word of literally, not the Joe Biden meaning of literally. In other words, it can't be done properly.
KRIKORIANAnd the reason we don't have a lot of terrorists among the refugees, and there have actually been some from Iraq, from Uzbekistan and others who were admitted as refugees, is because obviously a relatively small share of any large population is going to be refugees.
PAGESo would you block all refugees from Syria from being resettled here?
KRIKORIANI think the whole concept of refugee resettlement has to be rethought.
PAGESo you would block all refugees from any country.
KRIKORIANExcept in the most extreme cases because the best way to help protect refugees is help them in the region they're in. It costs 12 times as much to resettle a refugee in the United States as it does to care for them in their region, and what it means is every refugee that we resettle from Syria represent 11 other people whom we are not helping.
PAGEMichael Leiter, what do you think about that, the idea of blocking all refugees from everywhere?
LEITERWell, frankly I'm not qualified to speak as to the best place to relocate refugees, the cost and the like. I really strongly disagree with Mark's view that they simply cannot be screened, and I think historically that's been proven untrue. First of all, the population coming out of Syria actually in many cases do have fairly extensive records. You know, we may not be able to do a records check against Syrian databases, but we have lots of different ways of correlating to see if the data they're providing is accurate.
LEITERSecond, really since the Iraqi refugee crisis and also through the underwear bomber, where we enhanced screening of people coming to the United States, we have relatively sophisticated ways of examining non-obvious connections that people may have. And we do require...
PAGELike what's non-obvious connection that somebody might have?
LEITERWell, we can look at things like who they've been talking to on phones. We can look at various records and emails and addresses and look at where those have appeared in various global databases. And that's been quite effective in screening people not just in refugee populations but those who apply for regular tourist visas and the like. So I think it's really mistaken to say we can't. Again, I do want to say it is correct to say we can't 100 percent of the time, but that is quite different.
LEITEROn the refugee front, the last thing I would say is in fact, we do a significant amount of more screening, and we have much more time to screen refugees, than we do in other cases, for example travelers coming from visa waiver countries, most notably Western Europe and some other close allies. In fact, we do similar screening against that population, but it is less intensive than the refugee population, and in many ways I think we have to equally, if not more, concerned with some of those because we obviously know that ISIS has a reach through radicalization, Internet and social media into those populations, as well. It is not simply people coming out of Syria.
PAGEDavid, politically speaking, is there -- where are the -- where is the public, do you think? I mean, we don't have a lot of polling since the Paris attacks of course, they occurred so recently, but where do you think voters are when it comes to this issue of whether we should accept refugees from Syria, from Iraq, from elsewhere around the world?
WELNAI think it probably breaks down, as it does among the politicians, along political lines. Democratic officials seem far more inclined to accommodate refugees. Republican officials seem far less inclined. That probably would show up in polling of the general population.
PAGEAnd I wonder, Kathleen, if you could tell us, what's the record in terms of refugees who have become involved in crimes, and especially in terrorism?
NEWLANDWell, in terms of terrorism, I think we have -- the record has -- gives us confidence that our screening procedures and law enforcement are very effective. Since 9/11, when the security protocols were significantly ramped up, the United States has resettled 784,000 refugees, approximately, and in that time there have been three arrests of resettled refugees who have plotted terrorist-related activities. And those activities were never brought to fruition. They were interrupted by FBI and local law enforcement before they could carry out plans.
PAGESo Mark, three out of 784,000 over a period of about a decade and a half?
KRIKORIANThere's a couple of issues here. First of all, large numbers of Somalis Kathleen is not counting. We have -- Minneapolis has become a major, both a recruiting area and an arms and funding supporting area for Somali terrorists abroad, both in Somalia and now fighting for ISIS. The second point I'd make is that why take the risk. We shouldn't be resettling large numbers of refugees, period, because every refugee that we resettle represents a significant number, 12, 11 or 12 other people, that we're not helping.
KRIKORIANIn effect, what we're doing by resettling refugees is that if you were faced with, say, 12 people who were drowning, would you send them one well-appointed boat that holds a single person, or would you through them 12 lifejackets. We are doing refugee resettlement because it makes us feel good. It's a kind of moral exhibitionism that doesn't take into account how to maximize the resources to help people.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. So Kathleen, let me pose to you Mark's question. Why should we take the risk?
NEWLANDWell first of all, the refugee resettlement program is -- represents for refugees a solution, a new life, hope for the future, whereas being stuck in a refugee camp or in an urban slum in Lebanon, where, you know, people are -- refugees are living in chicken coops and selling their food rations in order to pay rent, they are in a state of limbo in real misery. And the humanitarian assistance we provide can't overwhelm the fact that their kids can't get education, that they're not allowed to work in Jordan and Lebanon and that they are stuck in this liminal state where they can't do anything.
NEWLANDPeople are leaving those countries for Europe not because they're starving but because they're in despair, because they can't bear to see their kids grow up without education and not able to work.
PAGELet's go to a caller, Monica. She's calling us from Canton, Michigan. Monica, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MONICAHi, thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to say, I'm a college teacher, and in my class last night, the topic of course of Syrian refugees came up. And in our class, we have a refugee from Iraq. She has been here for five years, and she just became a citizen a couple of weeks ago. And the students expressed that they were ashamed, ashamed of this discussion of wanting to reject Syrian refugees. And, I mean, they were totally confused as to why people would be inhumane because that's what it is.
MONICAThe man, the other gentleman you had speaking, was talking about how it makes us feel good. It is humanity. It is humanity to help others. Otherwise why are we here? I -- the student is an excellent student. She and her family came. They were from Baghdad. They obviously were in a community where it was lots of fighting, lots of terrorism activity. And one of students asked her and said, why don't you wear a hijab. And she said because I don't have to. And I just thought that was a perfect explanation of why she is here in America, because there is freedom, and they appreciate that freedom.
PAGEAll right, Monica, thank you so much for your call. David?
WELNAYes, I think it's also worth pointing out that the U.S. has dropped bombs on countries and later accepted refugees from them. We had 800,000 Vietnamese refugees who came here. There have been 120,000 or more Iraqis who have come here. And there is a real sense, I think among a lot of people here, who welcome this program, that there's a moral obligation to take these people in.
PAGEAnd Michael Leiter, I know you're just about -- you need to sign off from this show, and so I wanted just to give you a brief moment to say, how different is the screening now from how it was, say, a decade ago? You mentioned lessons learned from the experience with Iraqi refugees and others. What's been changed?
LEITERIt is much better. It was really quite fractured in the early days of Iraq. And this is no different from many of the challenges we've had on information-sharing. Many organizations, Department of Defense, CIA, FBI, collect different biographic information about an individual and biometric information, which may or may not be associated with someone. And in the early days of screening Iraqi refugees, these were not combined in a cohesive way so you could really hit against all of these, as well as international partners data.
LEITERThat has changed, and it's much better. Technology has been improved. And that helps us on refugee populations, it helps us on visa waiver program screening, and overall, it clearly has led to some very significant counterterrorism successes to include, you know, stopping the transatlantic airline plot of 2006, numerous domestic plots, helping the Germans defeat plots. So the overall information-sharing piece has improved. That has been applied specifically to the refugee flow, and it has most undoubtedly helped our ability to detect extremists.
PAGEMichael Leiter, thanks so much for joining us.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation. We'll go back to the phones, and we'll read some of your emails. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Joining me in the studio, Mark Krikorian from the Center for Immigration Studies. Kathleen Newland, from the Migration Policy Institute. And David Welna from NPR News. Well David, we've heard Governor McCrory earlier in this hour say there's no checkpoint Charlie to get into North Carolina. His state, so there are limits to what he can actually do to prevent Syrian refugees from being resettled in the state. What can Governors do, and what could Congress do?
WELNAWell, some Governors, other Republican Governors have already directed their state agencies that work with refugees not to facilitate the settlement of Syrian refugees in their states. And while federal money can continue to flow to their states for that purpose, it makes it difficult to settle families. In fact, a Syrian family that has been in Jordan and has waited three years to come into the country was supposed to be going to Indiana this week and instead, because Governor Mike Pence of Indiana directed his state agencies not to facilitate this settlement, this family ended up going to Connecticut.
PAGESo, it doesn't actually prevent them from being resettled there, it just makes life harder.
WELNAThey are not made welcome, I guess, by state officials. Now, Congress, on the other hand, has the power of the purse. And while we may have the House voting tomorrow on a measure that says that Syrian refugees should not be admitted to the US, that's something that President Obama could veto and it's quite likely that his veto would be -- would not be overridden. However, we have a tremendous spending bill coming up in December, a big omnibus bill, to which a rider could be attached that would say that there will be no money spent on resettling Syrian refugees.
WELNAAnd that would become a choice for President Obama, then, to decide whether he is going to veto that huge spending bill over an issue like that. Make a stand on that, have a possible government shutdown over that. And being election season, there are all kinds of people who might want to see that happen.
PAGEMark, you said during the break, you see a political uprising going on here.
KRIKORIANYeah. I mean, specifically, on this refugee issue, the resentment at the local and state level has been building for years. The State Department and its paid agents have been essentially, really, been quite high handed in sending people without really any meaningful consultation, to local areas. And they're just kind of stuck with it. And in fact, the Office of Refugee Resettlement came up with a label for these communities that are balking. They call them pockets of resistance.
KRIKORIANAnd the communities have actually adopted that as their name and these pockets of resistance are now spreading and we're now talking, you know, 30 states or more at this point have become pockets of resistance. My point is, this isn't something that just started on Friday. This has been building for years because of the State Departments' imperial behavior.
PAGERight. A majority of governors are backing this effort, including one governor, one Democratic Governor, the Governor of New Hampshire. Let's go to Weirs, New Hampshire and talk to Steve. Steve, hi, you're on the air.
STEVEYes. Hi, how are you doing?
STEVEI was watching the President at the G20 Summit the other day, and he said something that really struck me to the core. He said it was shameful for us to screen Syrian refugees based on their Muslim beliefs. Okay? What I think is disgraceful is that a President, a US President who's currently in office, would risk the lives of one US citizen to help these people. Okay? That's disgusting. And that's shameful.
PAGESteve, thanks so much for your call. You know, we have an alternative point of view. Also, I want to catch another voice. James, calling us from Cleveland, Ohio. James, hi.
JAMESHow are you today?
JAMESThanks for having me on.
JAMESYes, actually, I'm a little taken back by his perspective and here's what I mean. We should all be concerned, yet the problem here is a few, it's possible a few terrorists could come in with the refugees. It's been pointed out that only two percent of the people coming will be, I believe it was males that can serve in the military. Yet, there are many ways into our country, where if someone really wanted to harm us, they should just start at the Canadian border.
JAMESThen, where the gentleman, where I think his perspective is amiss is that if you look at the history of the War on Terror, now I want to be short as possible, the first person we caught was a white male from southern California. Then, sometime later, three black males were caught in Seattle. And these are all American citizens. Remember Jihad James? And then there was a Hispanic male from Illinois and a Hispanic male from Florida. All this is is hand-wringing people to worry about Muslims, specifically Arabs, who are also Christians and I forgot -- I'm sorry. I'm nervous. I forgot the other religion.
JAMESAnd this is racist. I'm not calling the gentleman who was just on racist. I'm just saying the perspective is racist, not even the governor. And like I said, we all have the right to be concerned, but there are too many ways to get in this country to harm us to view it from that standpoint. Thank you.
PAGEAll right. James, thanks so much for your call. You know, it's similar to an email we got from Carolyn who's writing us from North Carolina. She wrote, I live in North Carolina, and I am more worried about home grown terrorists. None of the terrorists in Paris were refugees. They were from France and Belgium. I'm not sure that's correct, because I think the one thing that started this -- we don't know.
KRIKORIANA Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the assailants outside the soccer stadium. And I guess a fingerprint that matched his body was found on the passport. Whether that passport was fake or not, we don't know. We don't know the real identity of this person.
PAGEJames does make the point, though, that we have homegrown terrorists that have been a threat here.
WELNASure we do. And we have to deal with homegrown terrorists, but why would -- why would we make the problem worse? And, you know, his point about there being multiple ways of entering the country, that's true. We did a report after 9/11 looking at the 48 different Al Qaeda related terrorists from '93 through the hijackers. And they used every aspect of our immigrations. They did cross the Canadian border. They came in as tourists, they came in as students. They came in on green cards.
WELNASo, I mean, this, the weaknesses in our refugee system are one part, or the need for security in our refugee system is one part of the need for security in our immigration system overall.
NEWLANDWell, I think that the refugee resettlement program is the most secure of any of those channels that people have used, and that's one of the reasons it's been the least used for terrorists. Hardly, you know, used only in two or three cases. But at the same time, I think that the federal government does need to improve its communication with people at the state and local level. I think many people don't really understand the multiple layers of scrutiny that refugees go through before they're resettled.
NEWLANDAnd they don't understand the difference between people who go through this resettlement process and people who come in under their own power as tourists or business visitors or students. Or come in and seek asylum. Now, asylum seekers don't go through the same process, although they do go through a rigorous process.
PAGELet's go to Inverness, Florida and talk to Pete. Pete, thanks for joining us on the Diane Rehm Show.
PETEThank you. This is a privilege. I'd like to remind everybody about the two brothers that committed the horrific Boston bombing. They were granted asylum from the war torn region that they came from. Now, they might not fit the exact bureaucratic definition of a refugee as it is in 2015, but they were granted asylum as part of a group. They were given assistance. They were provided with benefits. And look what they did. And I think it's grossly inaccurate to say that refugees do not pose a threat to the United States of America.
PAGEAll right Pete, thanks for your call.
NEWLANDThe Tsarnaev Brothers, as you correctly say, were the family was admitted -- came to the United States and then applied for asylum. Applied for refugee status, which they were granted. I think it's also important to remember that at the time, when they were granted asylum, the brothers were children. So, they fall much more into the category, in my view, of home grown terrorists. They were not -- they did not grow up in a radical family. They were much more akin to the people James was talking about earlier.
KRIKORIANAnd in a sense, thought, this cuts, I mean, I'm not sure how much that helps, because this is similar to what we've seen with a lot of the Somalis, where refugee -- where children in refugee families become radicalized here. But that's a consequence of refugee resettlement. That isn't some kind of accident. We're seeing that in Europe very, you know, quite extensively. So, the question again is, is it sensible to be moving people to the other side of the world, to a radically different society when there are other options we should be using?
KRIKORIANWhich are less desirable for those people, no question about it, but enable us to help many more people. It's the one person yacht verses the 12 life jackets.
PAGEDavid, you cover national security, generally. When you talk to national security officials, how big a concern is the resettlement of refugees to them on the scale of things?
WELNAI have not heard a single official worry about the possibility of a terrorist attack because of the Refugee Resettlement Program. There are many, many far easier ways for would-be terrorists to enter the country than to get into a program that takes two to three years of scrubbing of every record they know, of that person. It's just such a tiny, tiny chance that one of them would even be admitted into the refugee program. And then, beyond that, a gigantic wait before they can actually enter the country. It's just not a top concern.
PAGEWell, we know that the screening of refugees takes a year or two, usually, and we have a question from Monica, who posted on Facebook, the Syrian refugees are fleeing now. Where do they go while they're being vetted for 18 to 24 months? Kathleen, where do they go?
NEWLANDWell, they are mostly in the countries of first asylum surrounding Syria.
NEWLANDThat is Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, northern Iraq and some of them, a small proportion are in refugee camps. But most of them are just surviving in urban slums, in rural areas and small towns.
PAGEAnd do they go to the US Embassy and apply for refugee status or how does that go? How does that happen?
NEWLANDNo, the first thing they have to do, after they've left Syria, is to register with the UN Refugee Agency as a refugee. And then, the UN will screen them to make sure that they are refugees so that they can access the very limited benefits that are available to refugees in those countries.
KRIKORIANKathleen is making a good point here. Almost all of these people are not fleeing war, they've already fled war. The most high profile example was that poor toddler who drowned on the beach in Turkey. They had lived in Turkey for quite a while already, for a couple of years. They were no longer, when they stepped into that boat going to Greece, they stopped being refugees. They were regular economic migrants.
NEWLANDThat is not true.
KRIKORIANNow, I understand why people are doing that. It makes perfect sense, but they have already fled the war. They are no longer under the immediate threat of a military conflict.
PAGEKathleen, you disagree?
NEWLANDThey do not stop being refugees until they reach -- until they have achieved a durable solution to their plight. So, they are still refugees if they go to Europe. The only question there is who's responsible for protecting them?
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones and take another caller. We'll go to Miami, Florida, and talk to Laz. Hi, you're on the air.
LAZHey, good -- thanks for having me. You know, I was just sitting here and listening that there's this coalition of Republican Governors who are concerned about the safety and the welfare of their people. However, many of these are the same ones who refuse to provide medical healthcare to their people, the Obamacare program. But more importantly, I just found it extremely ironic that there are these GOP politicians, governors, stating that there aren't enough background checks to protect the safety and welfare of their people.
LAZWhat we should have is we should have enough, sufficient background checks to protect the safety and welfare of the people of this country against those who commit 100 murders a day via gun violence. So, I just found that very ironic and I wanted to share that perspective.
PAGELaz, thanks so much for your call. David Welna.
WELNAYes, you know, I was on Capitol Hill yesterday talking with both Republicans and Democrats about this issue. And one thing I heard from Democrats was well, our Republican colleagues are complaining about insufficient scrutiny of these refugee applicants and that more should be done. But they said also, because sequestration remains the official policy, Homeland Security, the Justice Department, all these agencies that are involved in screening these people are underfunded.
WELNAPlus, there's raft of officials who have been nominated to fill top national security positions, and yet they are not being put through the Senate for approval. And they said, if there's so much concern about the security of the people, why aren't these people in Congress doing something about it on this level?
PAGEKathleen, if the United States were to suspend the program to resettle Syrian refugees here, what would be the impact of that? Would there be an impact on other countries?
NEWLANDI don't think there would be an impact in very many countries to follow the US. In fact, our closest allies and those with whom we have the most in common, in terms of the way we treat refugees, like Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, have increased their quotas of refugees far beyond what we have. And particularly of Syrian refugees. Australia has said they'll take an additional 12,000. Canada, an additional 25,000, Britain an additional 20,000. And these are much smaller countries than the United States.
NEWLANDI think the impact, apart from domestically, this would raise serious Constitutional questions, in my view, of whether we can overtly discriminate on the basis of national origin or religion against a particular group. But I think it would also sacrifice benefits that the United States gets from the refugee program, which are hard to quantify, but have -- are a big part of the US image in the world, of being a leader. Of its -- I think the refugee program and the reputation for welcoming refugees is a significant element in US soft power.
NEWLANDAnd to say nothing of the individuals who come to the United States, whether you're talking about Albert Einstein or Sergey Brin, the founder of Google, one of the co-founders of Google, who came here as refugees.
PAGEMark, we're almost out of time. Let me just give you a moment. Would there be a cost to the US reputation in the world if we suspended this program?
KRIKORIANI'm afraid our reputation probably can't really sink too much lower than it is. I mean, if that's our concern, there's all kinds of other things that are involved here. And let's face it, the responsibility of the United States government is to the interests of the American people, not to what non-governmental organizations in Europe are going to think of us. And that's what this amounts to. And you know, this whole issue really brings to light the deep suspicion that much of the public has about our own political elites.
KRIKORIANThis is just one manifestation of it that the -- that our leaders aren't really interested in the well-being and the best interests of the American people. And they've gotta earn the trust of the public and they're not earning it.
PAGEMark Krikorian from the Center for Immigration Studies. We've also been joined this hour by Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute. And David Welna from NPR News. Thank you so much for joining us this hour.
NEWLANDThank you, Susan.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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