Preventing Radicalization is as Important as Vetting Refugees

It has been over a year since President Trump and other GOP politicians began to call for more extreme vetting of refugees entering the US, particularly Syrians. I have been wary of these statements from the beginning, not because I think our vetting process could not be improved, but because I think this rhetoric is based largely on fear, rather than facts. In this article I want to explain why our government policies should focus on preventing radicalization as much as (or more than) beefing up our refugee vetting process.

Evaluating the Risk

Refugee resettlement has been presented by President Trump as a massive national security risk. After listening to him talk you would think that every other refugee resettled in the US is a terrorist in disguise. However, this is far from the truth. While our vetting system can never guarantee a 100% success rate, it is one of the most thorough and demanding immigration vetting systems in the world, and the US government is currently in the process of making it even more stringent.

The reality is that refugees contribute a great deal to our communities and local economies and when they are naturalized after five years they are often model citizens with lower crime rates than the native population. In fact, those who have committed domestic terrorist attacks in the past few years have by and large been legal permanent residents, naturalized US citizens, or citizens by birth. National security and immigration policies that ignore this data and focus solely on tighter borders and increased refugee vetting reflect fear rather than sound reasoning based on facts.

Considering the Response

President Trump has spent much of his first weeks in office cracking down on refugee and immigration policies. He has sought to completely pause the refugee resettlement program for four months, reduce the overall number of refugee arrivals for fiscal year 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000 and implement various systems for publishing lists of crimes committed by immigrants. He has also increased harsh deportation tactics that are separating families and putting people in danger of violence in their countries of origin. These approaches to refugees and immigration have alienated Muslim communities in America and caused millions of immigrants and refugees to live in fear. In the long run, I believe this response to legitimate concerns about violence and terrorist attacks will be far from effective in the long run.

Adjusting the Response to Match the Risk

President Trump’s response to national security concerns does not actually match the legitimate risk of terrorist attacks in the US. If the vast majority of terrorist attacks are carried out by US citizens, then it makes absolutely no sense to focus so much time and energy on more robust vetting procedures and almost none on programs that would combat radicalization. The response must match the risk or the result will not effectively mitigate the risk.

A more holistic approach to this issue is necessary. The vast majority of American Muslims are appalled and horrified when a Muslim commits a terrorist attack in the name of fundamental Islam, so President Trump should be seeking to partner with Muslim Americans across the country to combat radicalization within their communities. Likewise, when a white American carries out an attack in the name of white supremacy the vast majority of white Americans are horrified. President Trump should be helping Americans to understand that racism is still alive and well in the US and that we all need to work together to educate our children and communities about what is right and what is wrong. Churches and religious communities are the perfect partners for just such an initiative.

Seeking to further improve our refugee and immigrant vetting processes is a noble ideal, but it will make little difference to the overall threat of domestic terrorism if it is not coupled with a determination to address radicalization and homegrown terrorism of every kind. I would love to see some of our government leaders speak up for a holistic approach to combating domestic terrorism instead of simply scapegoating refugees as the primary source of risk.