Are 10,000 Syrian Refugees Just the Opening Bid?

By Dan Cadman on September 14, 2015

President Obama no sooner indicated that he will exercise his "executive authorities" to increase established refugee ceilings to permit admission of an additional 10,000 refugees in 2016 — contrary to the expressed concerns of many in Congress over how the federal government can possibly adequately vet such a flow to interdict potential terrorists — and already the drumbeat has begun to substantially increase that number. This is not unexpected. How could it be, given the big-numbers-and-open-borders tenor of this administration over the past several years?

Interviewed on CNN this weekend, Sarah Margon, director of Human Rights Watch in Washington, D.C., suggested that the president's decision represented just a step in the right direction. Who can doubt that, in drips and drops over the next several months, the last months of the Obama White House, dramatically increasing the number of refugee admissions is exactly what this lame duck president will do in a final nose-thumbing gesture at Congress, the American people, and national security?

Meantime, Gulf Arab countries, which share language, culture, and religion with almost all of the Syrian refugees, will accept none of them. Neither will Russia or China, despite Russia overtly sending military advisers and aid to Bashar al Assad, president of what's left of the Syrian government, and China hosting its second annual China-Arab States Expo in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region whose native people are predominantly Muslim.

When Margon was asked by CNN anchor Christi Paul how the United States can protect itself against the possibility of infiltration by ISIS or other Islamic radicals, she spoke of the "rigorous" review process in place, involving personal interviews by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers, background checks, etc., describing it as "heavily bureaucratic".

The process is heavily bureaucratic; it's just not necessarily very good at detecting national security threats. And those interviewing DHS officers she referred to? They're members of the asylum corps who, by both disposition and training, are sympathetic to intended refugees. They won't be the steely eyed and ever-suspicious intelligence officers or law enforcement agents one might be tempted to think of in this context. What's more, DHS security vetting almost completely consists of reliance on federal databases. If an Islamist has never come to U.S. attention, he most assuredly is not in those databases. Even when suspected radicals are known to other Western governments, the United States isn't always aware of them, as became evident after the recent attempted train attack in Europe.

So how, exactly, can the American public have confidence that the refugees admitted won't be extremists? How can we even be sure they will be Syrians? News reports are already describing the many documents dumped along Eastern European roadways by migrants of other nationalities, hoping to cash in on the outpouring of support for Syrian refugees. Few, if any, of our asylum officers speak Arabic, probably none fluently, nor are they likely to be well-versed enough in cultural nuance as to be able to discern, for example, the difference between a Syrian or a Lebanese — leaving open the possibility of infiltration of the refugee population not only by Sunni extremists, but also by Shiite extremists from groups such as Hezbollah, which heavily populate the region.

Going back to Margon's assurances of vetting rigor, one wonders: Is it so easy to conflate "rigorous" with "heavily bureaucratic"? I should think the answer is no, even for a professional nongovernmental human rights advocate; in today's troubled world, we should not be so foolish as to think of them as wide-eyed naifs, whatever their philosophical leanings.

Rather, her statement seems to me an example of spin of the type usually used by politicos. It's meant to keep the American people somnolent so they can rest assured that everything's hunky-dory until the next bombs go off courtesy of disaffected refugees (a la the Boston Marathon), at which point anyone in officialdom or a refugee resettlement agency says "Whoops! Didn't see that coming!" and then blithely continues doing exactly what was done before, proving conclusively that the public-private complex consisting of our government and refugee relief agencies has reached the stage that it is institutionally incapable of connecting the dots and understanding the nexus between flawed immigration policies and terrorism even in the ordinary course of affairs, let alone when confronting the unusual or extraordinary.

But by that time the administration will have changed and someone else will have to take the heat for decisions made on this president's watch, and he can continue to rest on the laurels of his legacy, supremely self-assured that he has steered the nation away from the "wrong side of history".