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

| By Iain Whitaker

Podium Notes: Happy Birthday Illinois

Illinois has had an outsize influence on the world, and on the occasion of the bicentennial it seems worthy of a recap.



| By Rory Stewart, Sebastian Mallaby

Deep Dish: Brexit Heads to Parliament

Now that EU leaders have accepted the Brexit deal, it's up to Parliament to decide what happens next. Rory Stewart and Sebastian Mallaby join Phil Levy to discuss.



| By Simon Curtis

Global Cities in the International System: A New Era of Governance

Nation-states need quickly to realize the potential of global cities, and take steps to empower them to meet the global challenges of the twenty-first century. They should allow them more fiscal autonomy and give them a louder, more influential voice in the deliberations of international organizations.


| By Robert Muggah, Sheila Foster

It's Time for Cities to Flex Their Soft Power

Cities, not nation-states, are the dominant unit of human organization in the twenty-first century. Humanity has shifted from a predominantly rural to urban species in a startlingly short period of time. The world today is stitched together by thousands of small, medium, and large cities—including 31 mega-cities, depending on how you define them—that are dramatically transforming our political, social, and economic relations. Yet, despite the centrality of cities in modern life and to resolving critical global challenges, our international affairs are still dominated by nation-states. This status quo is no longer acceptable.



| By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads: The US-China Collision at APEC

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit became a flashpoint in what's now the most significant great power clash since the end of the Cold War. “China and the United States hijacked the APEC spirit,” one diplomat said.


This Week's Reads - A Return to the Interwar Era

French President Emmanuel Macron's speech Sunday sounded more like desperation than hope, afraid that we may have already turned the corner into a world full of nationalism, populism, and competition.





| By Iain Whitaker

Podium Notes: Stoking Brexit From the Council

With Brexit drawing near, this an important moment to note that the Chicago Council on Global Affairs has not been a passive observer of the awkward association between Britain and Europe. On three separate occasions, at critical moments in the UK's relationship with Europe, the Council provided a platform for leading Conservative Party politicians to make waves from across the ocean. From the Council's archive emerges a curious tale of treachery, tantrums, angry editors, and airport pizza.



Wait Just a Minute: Michael Beschloss

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.