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.
"The bottom line is that NATO today remains an essential tool in advancing both American and transatlantic interests” writes Council President Ivo Daalder. “The challenge moving forward is to ensure that the trust that underpins the alliance is not unraveled by mixed messages and uncertainty coming out of Washington." This Weeks’ Reads explores the current state of the transatlantic Alliance and some of the internal and external challenges it confronts.
Mayors have to take care of their populations, and sometimes that means going to other countries. A delegation of Mexican mayors from Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Juarez came to Chicago to conduct city-to-city diplomacy during an "emergency time" in US-Mexico relations. Salomón Chertorivski, secretary of economic development of Mexico City, sat down with the Council's Brian Hanson to discuss what they hoped to achieve.
US-Mexico relations have been turbulent, but tensions at the national level need not dictate relationships at the local level. In fact, as a recent visit by the Mexico City mayor to Chicago shows, the ties between these two global cities are as strong as ever.
Syria, Libya, and Iraq are the latest in a series of contentious US interventions. Forced to choose between leaving other countries alone or trying to run the world—Americans choose both, says author and journalist Stephen Kinzer. On this week's Deep Dish, Kinzer and career diplomat Cécile Shea discuss intervention done well, done poorly, and how the intervention debate has endured since the Spanish-American war. Subscribe now.
The resignation of Michael Flynn as national security advisor "reveals an important truth, which all Presidents learn sooner or later, namely that when it comes to policy, process matters," says Council President Ivo Daalder. This Weeks Reads take a look at the major security issues facing the United States and provide some insights into the Trump administration’s approach to managing them.
A flare-up of violence in eastern Ukraine following a call between presidents Putin and Trump has many wondering what’s next in the highly combustible situation. On this week's Deep Dish podcast, former US Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst joins Russia expert Samuel Charap to analyze Putin’s goals and the likely outcome of a shift in Eurasian geopolitics.
In the early 1990's, famous political scientist Samuel Huntington posited a thesis that the major source of conflict in the post-Cold War world would not occur over ideological or economic fault lines, but cultural ones. Indeed, today we are beset with crises in the West and around the world—but to what degree is culture the cause? This Weeks Reads from Council President Ivo Daalder explores the ways in which culture is influencing our new era of global politics.
The walled city once symbolized security. In these globalized times, leaders may build airports rather than walls, yet cities – not nations – once again increasingly stand on the front line of security.
The coming months are likely to be a volatile and unpredictable time for US-China relations and for each country’s position within the global world order. This Week’s Reads shed light on the issues and dynamics at play in China’s potential rise.
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says the world is entering an era of disarray. We asked him how he saw the role of think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs
President Trump’s executive order suspending new refugee admissions and blocking travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries has sparked protests across the United States and shocked the world. Ian Tuttle says Trump’s order is mostly right on substance but wrong on rollout, while Robert Pape says Trump is making ISIS great again. Listen to this episode of Deep Dish to hear two leading voices describe what’s at stake.
International trade was a centerpiece of President Trump’s campaign. This week's Deep Dish podcast discusses what powers Trump has to change trade policy and what it would look like if he or another nation initiated a true trade war.
On both sides of the Atlantic, we have entered a new and uncertain era – one of nationalism and populism in power. This Week's Reads examine major speeches by President Trump and UK Prime Minister May and provide some perspectives on the shifting roles of United States and Britain in global politics.
Globe and Mail columnist Sarah Kendzior joined an expert panel at the Council on January 19 to discuss media and democracy in a post-truth era. We asked her for the best and worst case scenarios on how the media landscape may evolve—watch her response.
On the eve of the inauguration, This Week's Reads provide some perspective on how President-elect Trump will differ from President Obama.