Should the US Accept Syrian Refugees?

By Andrew Vitelli
 unsplash / AnnaKate Auten
*Updated 2019
Since the civil war in Syria began in 2011, around 6 million Syrians have escaped the country as refugees. In September 2015, President Obama announced that the US would play its part in alleviating the Syrian refugee crisis by taking in at least 10,000 refugees from the war-torn country in the following fiscal year. Since President Trump has been in office, the number of refugees from all over the world allowed into the US has been slashed to 45,000 a year. However, four months before the end of fiscal 2017, less than 15,00 refugees had been admitted into the US, and of those, only 46 had been from Syria. This is the most restrictive limit set by the US in its refugee resettlement history.
As the US begins pulling its troops out of Syria, the country and its refugee crisis may fall farther down on the list of Americans’ interests. This article looks at three arguments in favor of the US accepting Syrian refugees and three arguments against doing so.


The US Should Not Accept Syrian Refugees


Terrorists will slip into the country

In 2015, polling showed that 13 percent of Syrian refugees held a positive view of ISIS. That is a low percentage, and may have decreased further since then, but is it worth taking the risk? Out of 10,000 Syrian refugees, even if America’s rigorous vetting process proves effective, hundreds entering the US could be sympathetic towards the terror group. After all, it took just 19 terrorists to carry out the 9/11 attacks, killing thousands of Americans and launching two decades of war. Even a single terrorist can do horrific damage, as the recent terrorist attack in Strasbourg, France, proved, among a long list of other terror attacks linked to ISIS supporters.

ISIS certainly will look to take advantage of any opportunity to infiltrate the US. Former CIA director John Brennan, the commander of NATO, and German intelligence officials have all warned in the past of ISIS fighters disguised as refugees entering western countries. Not to mention, even if US military strikes seemingly defeat ISIS, history shows that terrorist groups tend to resurface in different forms but with the same destructive intent.


The money could be spent helping Americans  

Resettling refugees is not cheap – one think tank estimates that a Middle Eastern refugee resettled in the US costs more than $60,000. (Some other organizations estimate the costs at nearly $80,000.) The Office of Refugee Resettlement spends upwards of $1.5 billion a year, and adding more refugees will likely drive these costs up. Also, refugees are likely to need government assistance, at least in the first years after their arrival in the country.

Were the US flush with cash, this kind of spending may be reasonable. But with over $21 trillion in debt, every dollar spent on refugee resettlement is a dollar that is not going to help Americans in need. With almost 40 million Americans living in poverty, the US is not in a position to spend billions of dollars on refugee resettlement. Our primary moral responsibility – and the opinion of many Americans – is to take care of Americans already in the country; to spend billions on refugees while veterans sleep in the streets would be unconscionable.


Syria’s neighbors should bear the responsibility

While countries like Lebanon and Jordan have taken in their fair share of refugees, and even Israel is providing medical care for Syrian refugees, others in the region  can do much more. Saudi Arabia, for example, is ten times Syria’s size and has a GDP per capita comparable to the US.

This is preferable for more than just reasons of American self-preservation. While Syrians would likely experience differences in Arabic dialects and local traditions if they were to be settled in neighboring Arab countries, the culture shock would be minor when compared to the vast changes they would experience in America’s Westernized culture. They could be much more easily absorbed and have a greater chance of success in other Arab countries.



The US Should Accept Syrian Refugees


Refugees are incredibly unlikely to be terrorists

Fears of terrorist groups like ISIS infiltrating America through a refugee resettlement program are overblown. In fact, Syrian refugees are less likely to commit a terrorist attack than non-refugee immigrants or native-born Americans. For starters, the US has accepted around 3 million refugees from throughout the world since 1980, and none of them have carried out acts of terrorism. Terrorists have preferred other means of entering the country – the 9/11 hijackers, for example, entered on student or tourist visas.

Syrian refugees have a particularly intensive vetting process, lasting up to two years and including interviews with the UN, US State Department and US Department of Homeland Security. These and several other agencies run extensive background checks. As one Homeland Security analyst wrote in commentary published by the conservative Heritage Foundation, “The U.S. refugee system can be, should be, and is being picky at who we allow to enter the U.S. as a refugee.”


The US must play its part in alleviating the refugee crisis

The Syrian civil war has forced around 6 million people to flee the country and more than 13 million people to flee their homes within Syria.  Though Europe has not seen the same kind of influx, backlash against immigration has led to the rise of nationalist parties in several countries. The US clearly has both a moral responsibility and a vested interest in ensuring a coherent and effective response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

The US contribution to any refugee resettlement plan will be relatively small compared to that of its European and Middle Eastern allies (even, despite some reports, the Saudis). But even allowing a token number of Syrian refugees to settle in the US would be a measure of good faith in convincing world leaders that the US is doing its part in responding to the crisis.


Refugees can make American stronger

Welcoming refugees into the US isn’t simply a matter of good will. Refugees can make America a stronger country – culturally and economically. The latter point has been the conclusion of several studies on the economic impact of refugees worldwide. With America’s population aging, and Baby Boomers hitting retirement, absorbing working-age Syrians will, in the long run, be a net positive. Adding young people to the labor force will add to GDP and avoid the kind of stagnation seen in countries like Japan, as a report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded.

Just as previous generations of immigrants from around the world have helped the US become an economic superpower, the contributions made by Syrian immigrants could also strengthen the America of the 21st century.


The Bottom Line: America’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis evokes questions of American ideals, security, and the country’s place in the world. With the Syrian civil war showing no sign of ending any time soon, should the President stand by his restrictions on Syrian refugees, or should he allow more into the US after intensive vetting? What do you think?

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