Thinking About the Syrian Refugee Nonsense

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There are so many levels of nonsense tied to the current hysteria about accepting some ten thousand Syrian refugees into the United States. But here’s one. And it’s a big one. If you want to be scared and xenophobic, at least apply some level of logic. To hear the current debate, you’d think the United States is a hermetically sealed immigration Ziploc bag. And now we’re letting in 10,000 refugees from a war zone crawling with violent jihadists. Let’s set aside the reality of that claim for the moment. Are these really the only flows of immigration to the United States? I just the Visa office’s record of non-immigrant visas issued last year by the United States.

The exact title “Nonimmigrant Visas Issued by Nationality (Including Border Crossing Cards)“. Here are some numbers for just last year.

Libya – 4,766

Egypt – 56,456

Nigeria – 141,527

Saudi Arabia – 142,180

Pakistan – 63,948

Afghanistan – 4,421

Bangladesh – 35,025

Syria – 12,671

Lebanon – 28,983

Algeria – 11,676

Iraq – 33,961

Now, this is not an exhaustive list. I’ve simply chosen a short selection of countries which have various sort of native Islamist or jihadist movements. I have not even included European countries like France from which most or all the Paris attackers originated. There’s a decent argument that if we’re thinking about potential terrorists, EU citizens of North African and Middle Eastern descent are at least as suspect as people originating from these regions themselves. In any case, if ISIS wants to seed jihadists into the United States, which I have no doubt they do or will, this is a much easier path.

Also, just so we’re clear, I’m not saying that we’re granting too many visas to people in these countries. It’s much harder to get Visas from these countries or these nationalities than it was before 9/11. But the level of scrutiny applied to refugees, particularly from Syria, is vastly more intensive than anything applied to travel visas, even though people from these countries also get a lot of scrutiny.

It’s also true that refugees are on a path to eventual citizenship as opposed to just getting the ability to enter the country. But in counter-terrorism terms, the big thing is getting into the country. And even if we want to talk about actual immigrants, just to take one country at random, in 2014 6,545 people of Egyptian descent were issued immigrant visas.

Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t issue these visas. My point is to illustrate what I think is a demonstrable and undeniable point: even if you accept the premise (which I don’t and for which there is little or no evidence) that there is a meaningful level of danger in accepting these refugees, it is such a trivial trickle of people compared to the vastly larger numbers of less-aggressively screened people from majority Muslim countries with significant jihadist movements, that the whole argument just collapses under the weight of its own ridiculousness.

Again, if you want to be scared and panicky, at least apply some basic logic.

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