By Yingxu Jane Hao
The House stopped short of imposing a religious test for Syrian refugees, but the vote two weeks ago to intensify the screening of Syrians seeking to enter the United States drew criticism from Christian and Muslim supporters of refugee resettlement.
“ISIS terrorists want Muslims to feel like they are unwelcomed in America,” said Robert McCaw, Government Affairs Department Manager at the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “They want division, and that’s what we are giving them.”
At a time when President Obama favors admitting 10,000 Syrians through a vetting process that typically takes 18 to 24 months, McCaw warned that the new bill would make it harder for any Syrian refugees to resettle in the U.S., whether they are Christians or Muslims.
Under the bill, no refugees from Syria or Iraq could enter the United States until the applicants are verified to pose no threat by the director of the F.B.I., the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence.
“No director of any agency is willing to take that political risk involved in affirming to the country that no incident with a refugee will occur, even though refugees have a low rate of committing crimes,” said McCaw, an American Muslim. “Politically it just makes it very unfeasible.”
Andreas Feldmann, a former adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said the bill is “not convincing or meaningful.” Nor, he believes, does it improve security.
“It’s much easier for ISIS to send people from anywhere to the United States with a European passport for example,” said Feldmann, associate professor of political science at the University of Illinois Chicago. “Why would they send someone through a very thorough vetting process that takes years?”
If the bill becomes law, “It’s doing nothing other than harming refugees who are the main victims of ISIS. And most of them are women, elderly and children,” said Feldmann.
Matthew Soerens, spokesman for World Relief, one of nine nonprofit organizations authorized by the federal government to help resettle refugees in the U.S., said, “The bill is more politically motivated than based on the facts of actual process involved.”
According to Soerens, Syrian refugees are vetted for at least 18 months prior to entering to the U.S., a thorough process in which Soerens has “a lot of confidence” that makes the admission much less risky.
“World Relief received more than 250,000 refugees during the last 35 years,” said Soerens. “None was involved in a terrorist attack perpetrated by refugees.”
Nevertheless, the public is concerned. A Bloomberg poll taken immediately after the Paris attacks shows that 53 percent of U.S. adults want to halt resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S. This was an eight percent increase in people opposed to the government’s decision to accept more refugees, compared to the results of a poll by the Pew Research Center in September.
“They (ISIS) want division, and that’s what we are giving them.”
– Robert McCaw, Council on American-Islamic Relations
The Bloomberg poll also shows that 11 percent of Americans approve of admitting only Christian refugees. But World Relief, affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals, doesn’t give preference to Christian refugees, according to Soerens.
“Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbors,’” said Soerens, noting the parable of the Good Samaritan. “Our neighbors are not just people of the same background, but of all backgrounds.”
The bill is facing an uncertain future in the Senate, but McCaw believes that America, as a nation of immigrants and refugees, “should promote legislation that reflects the ideal of our nation; not legislation that is based on fear not truth, and Islamophobia.”