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.
"It seems as if batteries, more specifically lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, are everywhere," J. Thomas Chapin, vice president of research at UL, explained at the 2019 Pritzker Forum on Global Cities in Chicago
Sudan is careening towards a crisis. Armed groups are fighting for control and Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, and the United States are each vying for influence.
Jess Fanzo, professor of food policy and ethics and editor-in-chief of Global Food Security Journal, takes a minute to answer questions on why obesity is rising across the globe and what can be done about it.
Despite the vast amount of research and data available, it shouldn’t be surprising that large gaps in urban knowledge persist. After all, there are many cities—according to the IPCC and UN data, there are around 1000 urban agglomerations with populations of 500,000 or greater—and cities remain difficult to know.
For each bold move abroad, China seems confronted with new vulnerabilities at home, including the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
As the UK Conservative Party prepares to select its new leader, Council President Ivo Daalder answers a question about whether the next prime minister can deliver a Brexit deal.
President Donald Trump has touted a new agreement with Mexico to stem the flow of migrants into the United States. But Mexican officials claimed both sides were still evaluating the situation.
Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), takes a minute to answer questions about the fourth industrial revolution and what it means for globalization and equality.
NATO is facing "the most severe crisis in the security environment in Europe since the end of the Cold War and perhaps ever," warn two former US ambassadors to the alliance.
Cities are critical both to understanding our future and to solving the shared problems facing humanity, from climate change and violence to health challenges and inequality.
Futurist Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute and NYU professor, takes a minute to answer questions about artificial intelligence and whether its advancement is in the long-term interest of humanity.
As cities grow in size and power, and as technology and globalization further lower the cost of connecting across distances, local governments are increasingly shaping their own diplomatic agendas independent from national governments.
City governments now represent more people than at any other time in history, and local leaders are increasingly taking center stage in global affairs.
President Trump has just ended tariffs that had been levied on Canada last year in the name of national security. But where do US-Canada relations go from here?
It's been a full year since President Trump ended US participation in the Iran nuclear deal, but in just the last few days, tensions between Tehran and Washington have ramped up considerably.