November 17, 2015 | By Sara McElmurry

The Midwest Can't Afford to Close Its Doors to Refugees

Refugees and migrants arrive aboard the passenger ferry Blue Star Patmos from the island of Lesbos at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

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.

About

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.

Archive

One More Question with Moshe Ya'alon

Former Defense Minister of Israel Moshe Ya’alon visited the Council on December 7, 2016. We asked him: What is your priority for US-Israel relations under the next administration? See what he said.


| By Karl Friedhoff

South Korea: Stepping Toward the Wilderness?

With the South Korean president impeached, the potential ascent of the opposition party could portend serious consequences both for US foreign policy in Northeast Asia and for Korea’s relations with the United States and Japan. 


| By Brian Hanson, Craig Kafura

Deep Dish: Bullish on Trump in the China Shop

Anything that surprises people about President-elect Trump shouldn’t surprise them too much, says Chinese entrepreneur and 2016 Scholl Fellow Victor Yuan. In the latest Deep Dish podcast, Yuan talks with Council experts about the potential points of conflict and consensus between the next US administration and China.

 


| By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads - Consecutive Political Earthquakes

Earlier this week, we witnessed the third “Brexit” moment of 2016 with the failure of Matteo Renzi's constitutional reforms in Italy. This Week's Reads focus on the breakdown of the post-World War II liberal order and the emergence of a new global disorder. 



What to Watch in US-China Relations

US-China relations have been remarkably stable for the past four decades, but two recent “firsts” – Trump's Taiwan call and Xi's upcoming visit to Davos – have the potential to shake things up, writes Jon Macha.



One More Question with Laura Alonso

Argentina's Anti-Corruption Officer, Laura Alonso, came to the Council September 22. We asked her what one question she wished she was asked that day. See what she said.


| By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads - Dealing with Russia

Are we headed toward a new détente with Russia? This Week's Reads focus on the challenges posed by Putin’s Russia and show the global political landscape in which these challenges must be dealt.



One More Question with Professors Gordon and Mokyr

Renowned Northwestern Economists Robert Gordon and Joel Mokyr debated the future of the economy at the Council on October 31. We asked them: What is the one question you wish someone would have asked you today?


| By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads – Election Aftermath

This Week’s Reads show how Mr. Trump’s election has already affected the global political landscape, and provide some perspective on what we can expect from American foreign policy in a Trump administration.