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.
Ivo Daalder and James M. Lindsay discuss their new book "The Empty Throne: America's Abdication of Global Leadership" with Brian Hanson.
In this episode, historian and author Michael Beschloss answers questions on presidential history, the system of checks and balances, and offers advice for President Trump and Congress.
Both the United States and Germany are seeing evolving economies in their respective “rust belts,” formerly robust engines of the industrial era. Both are developing strategies to address these challenges but, unlike President Trump's approach, Germany is focused on accelerating change so the region will thrive in the future.
Jair Bolsonaro won Brazil's presidency with a far-right populism that drew comparisons to President Donald Trump.
It has been a month since journalist Jamal Khashoggi died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. But answers about his murder have not been forthcoming.
Will ties stay strong between Washington and Riyadh? Find out what Council President Ivo Daalder thinks in the latest #AskIvo.
With midterm elections fast-approaching, professor and author Francis Fukuyama answers questions on the rise in identity politics, its effects on democracy, and how countries can build inclusive identities.
Britain is slated to exit the European Union in March 2019. No one yet knows whether a deal will be reached or what happens if negotiations fail.
The burgeoning US-China trade war has dominated headlines. But the larger story of China’s economy is just as intriguing—and is the subject of this week's Deep Dish podcast.
Since its creation, the Women, Peace, and Sercurity agenda has driven the UN to be increasingly concerned with women’s empowerment as well as inclusive policymaking and implementation. Grasping the agenda’s scope can shed light on ways that different stakeholders can work to advance the agenda.
If you attended the unveiling of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s new On To 2050 plan earlier this month, you might think it an audacious effort to solve the region’s extraordinary problems in transformational fashion. The plan itself tells a more modest story.
America is abdicating its global leadership role, as Ivo Daalder and James M. Lindsay explain in a new book out this week.
This often overlooked but important geopolitical trio, Iran, Russia, and China, is the subject of a new book by this week's Deep Dish podcast guests.
Two distinguished public opinion surveys reveal how American foreign policy is perceived at home and abroad.
In this episode, Time's Up leader and former Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama, Tina Tchen, shares her favorite thing about working with the former First Lady, the challenges of building Time's Up, and advice for young women starting their careers.