New Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., joined other GOP lawmakers calling for a pause in U.S. plans to allow more Syrian refugees into the country over the next year. Nearly every Republican presidential candidate called for a halt to all or most Syrian refugees entering the country.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said it’s difficult to learn if a few Syrian refugees among hundreds could be ISIS terrorists: “There’s no background check system in the world that allows us to find that out because who do you call in Syria to background check them?”
That’s a worthy question, but it leads to another: Whom do we call about refugees from Iraq or Somalia?
The intense discussion about refugees since Friday’s attacks in Paris has focused on Syrians, but it hasn’t touched on a broader reality: Every year the United States accepts far more refugees from other Islamist nations with terror networks.
Consider the numbers: The United States has accepted fewer than 1,900 Syrian refugees since 2012. In August, President Barack Obama announced plans to accept another 10,000 Syrian refugees next year, though it’s unclear if his administration will reach that number.
Meanwhile, the United States has accepted 12,676 Iraqi refugees in 2015 alone. In 2013, the United States admitted 19,488 Iraqi refugees. Currently, Iraq is the second largest group of refugees (after Burma) coming into the United States.
Millions of Iraqis have fled their homeland since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, including military translators who risked their lives by serving as contractors for the U.S. military. As ISIS filled the vacuum created by the hasty withdrawal of American troops, seizing a swath of Iraqi territory the size of Indiana, many others have had to flee or die, including entire Christian communities.
The United States has also accepted 8,858 Somali refugees so far this year. Somalia, now a chaotic country and home to the deadly Islamist terror group al-Shabaab, is the third highest source of refugees coming into the United States. Some of these refugees are Christians fleeing Islamist persecution.
Vetting all refugees, especially ones from Islamist countries, is essential. But the stats from other countries show Syrians aren’t the only refugees flowing from countries with terror networks. If we halt all Syrian refugees, should we halt all Iraqi and Somali refugees as well? And what about the many thousands of Muslims who come here on visas, not as refugees?
Halting acceptance of Syrian refugees is an easy response to a terrible attack, and it’s possible such a halt could stop a terrorist from entering the country. But if we halt Syrian refugees, we’d also have to reconsider admitting refugees and legal migrants from plenty of other nations as well.
In the meantime, amid heated rhetoric, we need to consider both vigilance and compassion: Not everyone concerned about security is heartless. Not everyone concerned about refugees is spineless.
Plenty of people are concerned for both.