Yesterday Governor Bruce Rauner added Illinois to a growing list of states—including Midwestern neighbors Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin—that have said they will temporarily stop accepting Syrian refugees in the wake of last week’s attacks in Paris and Beirut.
States can’t technically block approved refugees, but that point is moot in the big picture. Instead, the fear and rhetoric driving these state-level announcements raises larger, more important humanitarian issues, with significant implications for local economies and national security.
The threat of terrorism is real—the attacks in Paris have claimed an estimated 129 lives, with another 43 victims in Beirut.
But refugees aren’t the source of violence.
Instead, turning away refugees actually turns away would-be allies in the fight against terrorism, driving them back towards the very forces they are fleeing. It also compromises an important source of human capital in the economically and demographically stagnant Midwest, where cities like Chicago, Dayton, Detroit, Minneapolis, and St. Louis had previously called on President Obama to expand the cap on the number of Syrian refugees. Mayors of these cities—many the economic anchors of states now calling for bans—cited the “economic, social, and cultural” contributions of refugees. And it wasn’t long ago that Michigan Governor Rick Synder said he was considering welcoming more Syrian refugees to the state, calling it “part of being a good Michigander.”
The United States has long understood the importance of resettling refugees, and has a long history of successfully doing so, even in times of conflict. Over the past 30 years, our government has resettled some three million refugees, including 207,000 Vietnamese and 125,000 Cubans in 1980 alone. Since 2001, only two refugees have been accused of terrorist-related activities—incidents related to the war in Iraq that posed no immediate threat to the United States.
Most recently, the United States has safely opened its doors to Syrians. Since October 2011, we’ve taken in over 2,100 Syrian refugees without incident. Of these, just 94 have been resettled in Illinois, hardly justifying a block—even a temporary one—on resettling more.
Refugees are subject to the highest levels of scrutiny and background checks of any group admitted to the United States. In fact, the full vetting process—which includes health checks, biometric identity verification, biographical and background screenings, and in-person interviews—can take an average of two years to complete. Screenings are conducted via coordination amongst multiple security agencies, including the FBI, State Department, DHS, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Defense.
Also worth noting is that any refugee who has arrived in the United States for resettlement has been fully vetted by the United Nations in its own separate, detailed process.
Pre-Paris, public opinion reflected an understanding that refugees pose minimal threat to the United States. The 2014 Chicago Council Survey recorded a 20-year low in perceived threat from refugees and immigrants last spring, down 33 points from a high of 72 percent in 1994. (To be fair, the 2015 survey registered a slight uptick in concern, but overall levels remain low.)
Post-Paris, the challenge facing the Obama administration is to ensure that escalating anti-refugee rhetoric doesn’t compromise what is currently a safe and sound refugee resettlement system.
It also can’t let calls for a “temporary” stop to refugee resettlement devolve into a permanent block on this important source of humanitarian relief—and of human capital, especially in the Midwest.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.
UChicago's Rochelle Terman and Paul Poast join Deep Dish to debate the two competing options when it comes to the United States supporting democracy movements abroad.
Last week, President Vladimir Putin announced sweeping plans widely viewed as a means to extend his political power after his current presidential term ends in 2024.
Deep Dish: Strange Bedfellows — Anti-Immigrant Conservatives and Environmentalists Join Forces in Europe
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria, the young head of a conservative party deeply opposed to immigration, has just formed a coalition government with Austria’s Green party. The odd pairing holds lessons for the larger realignment of left-right politics across Europe.
Following the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani last week, Iraq’s parliament voted to ask the prime minister to oust US forces from the country. It comes after violent protests in Iraq against both the Iraqi government and the US embassy in Baghdad.
In retaliation for the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, Iran fired a dozen missiles on two bases in Iraq housing US troops. After, President Trump said Iran "appears to be standing down." But is it?
Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, joins Deep Dish to examine why changes in the nature of war have complicated the way international law governs humanitarian crises and urban conflict.
The Diplomat senior editor Ankit Panda takes a minute to discuss North Korea's nuclear program, the range and size of its arsenal, and denuclearization.
Ever since the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and its meddling in US elections in 2016, relations between Moscow and Washington have gone from bad to worse. Should the United States actively work to improve relations or not?
Paul A. Volcker, chairman of the Federal Reserve under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, died earlier this week. The Council's Michael H. Moskow shares his insights on why Volcker is an 'American hero' for his work in monetary policy and public service.
The US-China trade war rolls on, Congress has not yet passed the USMCA, and the WTO’s appeals panel is in peril. But the US jobs market is booming. Austan Goolsbee and Soumaya Keynes discuss whether it's a moment for optimism or concern about the US economy.
Elisabeth Braw, director of the Royal United Services Institute’s Modern Deterrence Project, takes a minute to examine which countries are best at cybersecurity and whether a cyberattack is an act of war.
A centerpiece of US strategy during the Trump administration has been the idea of the "Indo-Pacific," a massive single region stretching across both the Pacific and Indian Oceans. One of the goals in this strategy is to link up India with US allies in East Asia as a counterbalance to a rising China.
Kathryn Koob, a former American Embassy employee held hostage in Iran, takes a minute to answer questions about Tehran in 1979, what helped her most during her 444 days of captivity, and her advice for future diplomats on the 40th anniversary of the US Embassy hostage crisis.