shutterstock_239484691Somewhere in the deepest recesses of my mind, I live in constant fear. Many of us do. It’s a natural reaction. Every day we step outside we are exposing ourselves to those things we fear. I fear a texting driver may hit my car. I fear a person with a gun could shoot up a business I’m patronizing or a nearby school. I fear my health could fail unexpectedly. Do I let this fear consume me? Not at all. But, I don’t completely discard this fear, and I am mindful of how fortunate I am to be alive each day. I am one of the lucky ones. In 1948, with the assistance of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the United States gave my own family an opportunity to survive, and we have thrived thanks to those protections provided by this country.

After the horrific terrorist attacks on Paris, a debate has taken this country by storm: Should we live in fear of Syrian refugees, even though several of the terrorists were Belgian or French? Should we halt the admission of Syrian refugees to this country? Should we reject our own rich history as a nation – a nation made greater due to the influx of a variety of immigrants, including those seeking refuge?

A report published yesterday by the Cato Institute says refugees do not pose a serious security threat to our country. This includes refugees from Syria and other Islamic countries. According to data provided by author Alex Nowrasteh:

  • Of the 859,629 refugees admitted from 2001 onward, only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks on targets outside of the United States and none was successfully carried out.
  • That is one terrorism-planning conviction for a refugee for every 286,543 of them who have been admitted.
  • To put that in perspective, about 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014.

Refugee resettlement is a painstaking process–one that can take years. The screening process involves a series of biometric and investigatory background checks, including collection and analysis of personal data, fingerprints, photographs, and other background information, all of which is checked against government databases pulling intelligence from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. If there is even a hint of suspicion or evidence that a refugee is tied to terrorism, even providing material support, he will not be admitted to the United States.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks, there is also considerable misinformation being circulated about the economic costs of refugee resettlement. The Migration Policy Institute has a Fact Sheet that addresses numerous questions including the economic impact of refugees. The American Immigration Council’s Immigration Policy Center has also published an excellent Fact Sheet. What makes our system so successful is that we assimilate our refugees and do not segregate them from other populations.

Yes, there is always a risk. There is always fear. Xenophobia is nothing new, but we are now witnessing a new chapter in fearmongering. There is a significant amount of political opportunity to be gained by instilling fear in the American public. All I ask is that you get educated on the facts and realize that the risk is much more minimal than what is being stated. The U.S. should not allow these recent horrific tragedies to quickly dictate significant policy changes. To marginalize immigrants now is playing into the hands of ISIS.

All this is ironic considering that a little more than two months ago we were all shocked by the image of 3-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi, face-down on a beach after drowning while seeking safety. We should not forget about Aylan and the fact that these are the refugees we are helping. We cannot turn our backs on a program that has given many, including myself, the opportunities that exist in this country.

Written by Maurice Goldman, Chair, AILA Media Advocacy Committee