The world is still mourning the tragic loss of life that took place in Paris last Friday night. The rampage of ISIS terrorists left at least 129 people dead, with hundreds more injured. The horror has penetrated the American psyche. But the pain we feel offers us a harrowing window into life in Syria and the reason that so many are fleeing. Friday in Paris, unbelievably, happens every single day in Syria.
Since 2011, more than 210,000 people have been killed in Syria, and over 800,000 injured. Daily horror has become commonplace. Syria is like hell on earth—and no statistic can reveal the mental anguish caused when one’s country becomes a war zone.
The death toll means that about 140 people die each day. It’s essentially a Paris attack every single day over the past four years. Understandably, four million Syrians have left their country as a result. More than eight million have left their homes and live in other parts of Syria. Syrian refugees have left Syria to escape exactly what happened in Paris.
Now more than ever, it is critical that we take in refugees. The U.S. must showcase moral courage, humanitarian strength, and global leadership in accepting these vulnerable people. Like us, the Syrian refugees fear terrorism and want to protect their children and families. Let’s recognize their pain and welcome them into safety on American soil.
Those calling for a moratorium on Syrian admissions due to security concerns must recognize the stark differences between the U.S. refugee screening process and that of the European Union. It’s true that the EU system may be susceptible to extremists, but the U.S. system is vastly more difficult to infiltrate. It’s so difficult that since the launch of the program in its current form in 1980, no terrorist has acquired refugee status and carried out a successful attack.
No traveler to the U.S. is more carefully screened than a refugee, the state department said this year. U.S. refugee screening includes multi-layer and multi-agency federal intelligence databases including the Department of Defense, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, State Department, National Counterterrorism Center, and more.
The process, which takes up to three years to complete, and involves in-person interviewing via specifically trained DHS officers. The Paris attacker with his fake passport would not receive refugee status if he applied in the U.S.
In the U.S., a potential terrorist would have to pass through the multitude of screening layers to arrive in the U.S. In Europe, a potential terrorist could arrive via boat in Greece and make their way through the EU. There is a substantial difference.
So how should the U.S. react to the horrible events of last week?
First, we should not close the borders for both humanitarian and strategic reasoning. The price of closing ourselves off to the world is a much more dangerous proposition than accepting Syrian refugees. One of the easiest ways to disenfranchise Syrians who want to come live in the U.S. is to reject their families and leave them in harm’s way. Nor is it a viable option to stick them in a squalid and underfunded refugee camp for years.
These two options do more to produce radicalization then bringing them to the U.S. to experience and contribute to the world’s largest economy and most open society. We only embolden the terrorists when we reject Syrians, turning potential allies into possible extremists.
Second, the UNHCR has referred more than 20,000 Syrians to the U.S. for resettlement. We should accept every single one of them — Muslims included, of course. The U.S. should welcome refugees fleeing radical Islam and ISIS with open arms. In the fight against ISIS, recruiting allies should be paramount. There is no better way than to accept the very people they seek to kill every day in Syria.
Let’s remember how we accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees from Cubans that were fleeing the evils of communism. Or the Vietnamese. Or the Iraqis. Or the Soviets. Or we can remember when we rejected a ship of Jewish Germans who traveled back to the Nazis where half of the passengers were killed. We can be on the right or wrong side of history. It’s entirely our choice right now.
The Paris attacks happen every single day in Syria. Millions are fleeing because of it. The U.S. must remain the humanitarian leader it claims to be by accepting refugees and trusting our multi-layered, multi-agency, multi-year refugee vetting process. We can both ensure safety and welcome refugees. Despite our natural fears over terror, anything short of significant Syrian refugee resettlement is to abandon the American way.
Op-ed by Matthew La Corte; originally published in the Huffington Post