Exercising Selectivity in Refugee Admissions

By Dan Cadman on November 19, 2015

In a November 17 broadcast on Fox News, Charles Krauthammer floated the possibility of exercising selectivity in admitting Syrian refugees: "Given the new circumstances, you allow the women and the children and the men over 50," he said as a way of providing Americans some security assurances while still accepting some refugees.

It's a noble sentiment, and superficially attractive, but in the end, I think, unworkable. Here's why.

1. Children are no safe bet. How do you define a child? Law and Western tradition suggest those under the age of 18. Does anyone think 15-to-17-year-olds are a safe bet? If you do, you're living in a bubble, and should immediately read a July 21 Foreign Affairs article by Mia Bloom, "Cubs of the Caliphate: The Children of ISIS". By that age, they are not only inculcated mentally, but physically primed and ready to kill. It is only our Western sensibilities that are taken aback by this callous use of "children". As 20th century wars have shown, child fighters can be among the most effective and brutal.

2. Neither are women. While certainly a lower risk than adult males of "fighting age", women also can sign onto jihad. Remember the recent, shocking video of a Palestinian woman talking to a security guard while quietly rummaging through her purse, from which she suddenly takes out a butcher knife to attack and wound the guard before being shot? And then there are female suicide bombers like the one who blew herself up in the pre-dawn, post-Paris-attack raids in Saint-Denis, France, on November 18, rather than be taken into custody by police.

3. Neither are men over 50. Men over the age of 50 are unlikely to be active jihadists in the sense of those who actively pick up guns, grenades, or suicide vests to engage in the acts of terror. Rather, men of that age will more likely be "spiritual" mentors or even members of the shuras (governing councils) of terrorist organizations. It would not be the first time that the United States has inadvertently provided shelter and refuge for senior terrorists who never themselves engage in the physical violence that their groups sponsor, as evidenced by Sami al Arian and his brother-in-law Mazzen al Najjar, both of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who burrowed deeply into the fabric of Tampa, Fla., Islamic and academic circles before the investigative net tightened.

4. The premise overlooks the law on "follow-to-join". Section 207(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1157(c)) governs family refugee admissions, and in the great tradition of chain migration espoused by our laws, it says this, in pertinent part:

(1) A spouse or child ... of any refugee who qualifies for admission under paragraph (1) shall ... be entitled to the same admission status as such refugee if accompanying, or following to join, such refugee. ...

An unmarried alien who seeks to accompany, or follow to join, a parent granted admission as a refugee under this subsection, and who was under 21 years of age on the date on which such parent applied for refugee status under this section, shall continue to be classified as a child for purposes of this paragraph if the alien attained 21 years of age after such application was filed but while it was pending.

What this means is that if a woman presents herself with her child and is admitted as a refugee, once the admission is granted, her adult, fighting-age spouse can appear from out of the woodwork and he is entitled to "follow to join" her even if he himself isn't entitled to refugee status. Under paragraph (2), even the so-called over-21 "child" of a refugee granted admission would be permitted entry under the principle of "follow to join".

In sum, Mr. Krauthamer has put forward a noble sentiment, but, as with so many things in immigration law, the devil is in the details. In the end "family unification" and chain migration would trump considerations of public safety and national security. Best not to go down that path.