Neighboring countries have taken in a few million refugees from the Syrian civil war. Another several hundred thousand have fled into Europe. Canada proposes to take in 25,000, and President Obama is planning to allow 10,000 more into the United States over the next year. So far, however, the U.S. has let in fewer than 2000.
Some Americans are understandably worried that Syrian refugees might include terrorists affiliated with the self-declared "Islamic State" (ISIL), and politicians and pundits have been trying to take advantage of those fears for reasons of politics and ratings. These concerns have taken off following the terrorist attacks in France and some evidence that one of the murderers might have come from Syria (all the rest were European).
On the other hand, some have suggested that the Syrian passport found at the site of one of the attacks is a plant. One of ISIL's known strategic goals is to turn the West against Syrian refugees, as explained by Adam Taylor in this article from The Washington Post.
In any case, the United States already has in place what is very likely the strongest security screening in the world for refugees, a process that typically takes 18 months to two years to complete. This is outlined in Taylor's piece and in this one, and yet another describes what's involved from the perspective of one family, who made it through more quickly than average, in about a year.
Also worth a look is this mid-October essay from The Economist, a magazine usually considered moderate to conservative in its politics, which laments how few refugees are being taken in by the U.S. in comparison with other countries.
There's a description of the vetting process in this a five-minute interview shown on MSNBC November 16.
If you don't like MSNBC, here's Fox News anchor Shep Smith very succinctly arguing that the United States should been guided more by its principles than by un-American fright:
In a speech November 16 in Alabama, former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice similarly said that while she understood why people were nervous, she hoped the U.S. can remain "open and welcoming" to refugees. "What the United States has done is to be open to people who are fleeing tyranny, who are fleeing danger, but we have done it in a very careful way that has worked for us." She noted that during her service as Secretary of State, when security concerns were every bit as high as they are today, the U.S. admitted around 67,000 refugees from various countries without problem.
As mentioned in the first paragraph above, vastly larger number of refugees have fled to Europe and to Syria's immediate neighbors. For more on that, see these earlier posts, all of which include informative short videos on the subject:
- From John Green (9 minutes)
- From John Oliver (18 minutes and well worth your time)
- From "In a Nutshell", a YouTube channel that specializes in explanatory videos (6 minutes)
Finally, we've seen reluctance to admit refugees before. In 1939, the merchant ship SS St Louis attempted to bring 900-some refugees, almost all of them German Jews, to Cuba. When Cuba would allow only a handful into the country, the ship tried to come to the U.S. but was denied permission. There was at the time widespread public opposition to relaxing immigration quotas, and Republican isolationists had made gains in the 1948 election. The politically environment probably discouraged FDR from admitting refugees by executive order.
Unable to find a country that would accept them, the refugees were forced to return to Europe. Some were admitted to Britain and all but one survived the war. Of the remainder, about half perished in the Holocaust. The SS St Louis passengers were a small fraction of the refugees unable to escape because no country would take them, but it was a particularly dramatic example. The United State Holocaust Memorial Museum has an article about it here.