In Fiscal Year 2015, approximately 1,680 Syrians were admitted to the United States as refugees.  This comprised less than 2.5% of the total number of refugees admitted in that year.  12, 587 Syrian refugees were admitted to the U.S. in FY2016.  This comprised just under 15% of all refugee admissions for last year.

The U.S. breaks down the refugee admission “ceiling” by region rather than by nationality.  Each year the Federal government determines how many individuals it will accept from each geographical region of the world.  For Fiscal Year 2017, the government is slated to admit 110,000 refugees total.  Of those 110,000, approximately 40,000 are projected to be from the “Near East/South Asia”.  This would include refugees from Iraq and Syria, as well Bhutan, Afghanistan, Iran, India, Sri Lanka and other nations.   Current and past refugee arrival numbers can be found at the Refugee Processing Center website.

Yes. In FY2015, around a dozen Syrian families came to Tucson (56 individuals total).  In FY2016, Tucson resettled 228 Syrians, predominantly family units.

The vetting process for all refugees – and especially those coming from countries with extremist ties – is extremely thorough and quite stringent.  The United States has been resettling refugees for a very long time, from World War II to the present day.  Our resettlement system – while not perfect – is based on decades of experience and has adapted as needed with the changing political climate over the years.   The vetting procedures are well thought out and designed specifically to weed out would-be terrorists, criminals, and other individuals harmful to the United States.  Many people fear that a terrorist will “slip through” the net.   No system is completely fool-proof, but there is significantly more reason to put confidence in the current vetting system than to fear it.  You can see an outline of the entire vetting procedure here: Screening Process.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees are innocent victims suffering at the hands of a corrupt government, terrorist organization, and/or self-serving rebel groups.  They have experienced trauma, violence, and loss, and merely seek safety and an opportunity to live as normally as possible.  These people are not terrorists.  They are victims who need our assistance.

The simple answer is that there are more reliant, faster, and easier means for a would-be terrorist to enter the United States than to come as a refugee.  Here’s why:

Long wait time

The process to apply for resettlement is not quick by any means.  An individual must first be granted refugee status by the United Nations after it is proved that they were forced to leave their own country for reasons of persecution.  Being granted refugee status does not happen immediately and many individuals must wait to receive their official paperwork that identifies them as a refugee.  Only after receiving refugee status may an individual then begin the process to apply for resettlement.  Most refugees wait years to be accepted (or denied) for resettlement to a third country.  If they are eventually accepted, they still must go through a detailed vetting process to be admitted into their resettlement country.  For the United States, refugee applicants can expect a minimum of 18-24 months to complete the vetting process alone, but oftentimes it is longer.

Low Chance of being selected

Less than 1% of refugees worldwide are chosen for resettlement to a third country.   Applying for resettlement in no way guarantees a refugee individual that they will actually be chosen.  In fact, most are not.  A terrorist would also face the same poor chances of being selected for resettlement.

No Choice of Resettlement Country

Most refugees do not have a choice of which country the will resettle to.  (A few exceptions might be if they need a specific type of medical care or if they have family members already living in a certain country.  But even then, nothing is guaranteed.)  A terrorist who seeks to plan an attack on the United States would have no guarantee of actually being sent to the United States.  They could instead be assigned to one of the other 25 nations with resettlement programs.

Stringent Vetting Process

If an individual were to make it through the long selection process and also be assigned to resettle in the United States, it is still highly unlikely that he or she would make it through the vetting process.  The vetting process involves much more than just a simple background check.  It includes fingerprinting and oftentimes retinal scans, personal interviews, medical checks, and numerous security re-checks.  Multiple government agencies and security organizations are involved in the process including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, CIA, and Interpol.  Throughout the entire process, a refugee must repeat their story over and over again to multiple sources.  With each re-telling, the story must match what has been already written in their file.

Given the significant wait time, the complete lack of control over where they will be sent, and the vetting process, it is much faster and simpler for a terrorist to enter the United States on a valid visa or to enter illegally.

Tucson Refugee Ministry considers Syrian refugees to be victims of persecution who need safety and protection.  The conflict in Syria has now produced the largest refugee crisis in the world, requiring a significant response from the rest of the world to aid in the preservation of innocent lives caught in the wake of war.  Syrians who are resettled in the United States have undergone a lengthy and thorough vetting process.  They have suffered trauma, loss, and despair.  We believe that these Syrian refugees should be welcomed and loved just like any other refugee population who is resettled within our borders.

Revised 1/20/2017