Should we welcome Syrian refugees?

Moderated by Rick Badie

Syrian refugees are seeking shelter. Should Georgia allow them to resettle here as the state has done in the past for ethnic groups fleeing persecution and war-torn regions? Our lead writer suggests we should welcome the Syrians and calls current security screening rigorous and demanding. Another author begs to differ and echoes concerns Gov. Nathan Deal recently expressed in a letter to President Barack Obama.

Congress must act to bar Syrian refugees

By Phil Kent

President Barack Obama’s foreign policy failures, especially his refusal to take the lead in wiping out the Muslim ISIS terror base in Syria and Iraq, have dangerous consequences. An immediate concern is that Obama’s State Department, in coordination with United Nations “recommendations,” accepted 10,000 Syrians for distribution to various states. It defies common sense.

The administration claims it can vet each “refugee” using written questionnaires, interviews, fingerprints and iris scans. Yet this “vetting” argument is either foolish or dishonest.

FBI Director James Comey states: “We can only query against that which we have collected. And so if someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our data base, we can query our database till the cows come home, but we’re not going to, there’ll be nothing to show up because we have no record on that person.”

FBI Deputy Assistant Director Michael Steinbach adds that we have no “footprint on the ground” in Syria and therefore “databases won’t have the information we need. So it’s not that we have a lack of process. There’s a lack of information.”

Islamic terrorists openly say they are going to use the wave of fleeing Mideast refugees as cover to embed and infiltrate their own terrorists to kill Europeans and Americans. Why shouldn’t we believe them, especially in light of the Paris attacks?

It must be noted that multimillions of U.S. taxpayer dollars over the past decade have already been poured into refugee resettlement — and Georgia has one of the highest influx rates. DeKalb County is a particular dumping ground, with Third Worlders swamping everything from health-care services to the school system. More than 150 languages are spoken in the DeKalb County school system, forcing taxpayers to spend extra on everything from translators to additional buildings and personnel.

When does this compassion turn into blindness?

Charitable groups are paid to house refugees and find them services, but after 90 days they can travel anywhere. All too many end up in squalid places like the gang-plagued Brannon Hill condo complex that I toured with a DeKalb County commissioner and a police officer. Squatters live in burned-out homes, crime is rampant, trash and debris litter the area, too many refugee residents are dependent on welfare and health and code enforcement is non-existent.

It’s a stark example of how we have simply imported poverty. Now we add to the mix a serious national security concern.

The bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives only adds extra layers of scrutiny for refugees from Syria and Iraq and calls for “certification” by the administration. But what about refugees from other countries that have been infiltrated by ISIS? The legislation, unless amended, does nothing to block Obama’s request to increase the refugee influx.

Congress would be better served to add Rep. Brian Babin’s H.R. 3314, which would pause the entire refugee resettlement program. Let’s redirect funds from the resettlement program to help refugees closer to their home regions. (Also, why move refugees out of the safety of internationally supervised camps in their own region so they can get lifetime work permits and take scarce jobs in the United States?)

More than 40 percent of illegal immigrants arrive legally but, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, they overstay their visas and melt into society. Since law enforcement authorities cannot locate them, how is this nation going to be able to keep track of a new wave of mainly Muslim refugees? Since the president won’t address this homeland security issue, Congress must.

Phil Kent is a member of the state Immigration Enforcement Review Board.

Welcome persecuted Syrian refugees

By J.D. McCrary

The recent barbaric attacks in Paris are horrific and inexcusable. Unfortunately, there is a vocal minority who will misinterpret and use this tragic event to accelerate their misguided attempts to close the U.S. border permanently to everyone not born here. Those who would do so are effectively renouncing one of the key tenets of our country’s founding and ignoring one of the primary contributions to our nation’s success: That of welcoming the immigrant and providing a safe haven for those fleeing the exact types of violence as was perpetrated in Paris.

Refugees, by definition, are innocents who are fleeing persecution and war. In the case of Syrian refugees, they themselves are victims of a war they didn’t want, forced to flee ISIS and other armed actors. They are the victims of terror, fleeing precisely the brutality that innocents in Paris suffered a few weeks ago. Unsupported security fears must not be used to limit or eliminate the welcoming of refugees to Georgia.

What most do not realize is that refugees are the most security-vetted individuals to arrive in the United States. Security screenings are extremely rigorous and involve every national security, intelligence and federal law enforcement agency in the U.S. government, including the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense. Being cleared for resettlement includes multiple in-person interviews by trained officials. Even after a refugee’s first year in the U.S., they must undergo another round of checks (at the refugee’s expense) to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of President Jimmy Carter signing the Refugee Act into law. Refugees are a minority of overall immigration to the U.S., but since 198, more than 1.8 million individuals and families facing persecution have found a safe home in America. Today, only 1 percent of refugees globally are resettled each year, leaving 99 percent in desperate limbo in neighboring countries or languishing in refugee camps.

The global statistics are staggering and overwhelming, almost paralyzing, for those of us attempting to alleviate this suffering. But we must remember every one of the current 60 million people in the world who have been forced from their homes are individual human beings with their own personal story of struggle and survival. The only difference between them and us is they have been forced to flee their homes through no fault of their own.

What would we or our families do when faced with the unimaginable terror of persecution? Where would we go for help? Would we want to find a welcoming community to restart our lives? Those who have the ability to help also have the responsibility to help. The U.S. and Georgia have a moral obligation to continue welcoming refugees to our communities.

In addition to primarily being a humanitarian program, refugee resettlement is also an economic investment in our state’s future. Almost 90 percent of adult refugees in Georgia are gainfully employed within six months of arrival. This includes paying property tax, sales tax and the same payroll deductions we all contribute to the greater good. A recent survey by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute found that refugees were, in fact, more likely to be employed in the medium-term than the American-born population, and refugees and immigrants are well-known for creating jobs by starting their own businesses.

Georgia has had a tremendously successful 35-year history of hospitality towards the world’s most-persecuted people. Refugees are human beings who have persevered and survived the worst atrocities humans do to one another. At the very least, their homes and communities have been taken away. Yet the refugees we are fortunate to have as neighbors have maintained their human dignity and commitment to succeeding despite seemingly insurmountable challenges. Refugees and immigrants are a model of resilience we should all emulate.

J.D. McCrary is executive director of the International Rescue Committee.

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