In the week-plus since the ISIS-commissioned terrorist attacks on Paris claimed the lives of 130 people and sent the world into a state of panic, Republican politicians—and that maladjusted person from your high school you’ve lost touch with—have been stoking the fears of Americans by espousing virulent anti-refugee rhetoric. Leading GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio have said we shouldn’t allow in any Syrian refugees, while 31 governors across the country have pledged not to allow these war-torn survivors into their states—this despite the fact that they have zero authority to do so.And Trump, who by the way is married to an immigrant from then war-torn Slovenia (see: the Ten-Day War), has even argued that all mosques in the U.S. should be surveilled, and under a Trump presidency, that all U.S. Muslims could be forced to enter themselves into a database to monitor them. If this sounds like fascism, that’s because it is.
This past week, the House of Representatives passed a bill (that will surely be vetoed by President Obama) calling for tougher screening procedures for Syrian refugees, including that the FBI director must sign off on each and every one of the 10,000 refugees Obama’s pledged to accept over the next year.
And so, on the season finale of HBO’s excellent late-night talk show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the British host went after the GOP for spreading lies about the vetting process that these war-ravaged refugees must face upon entering the U.S.Oliver compared the GOP’s xenophobic posturing to back when, in 1939, the U.S. turned away the MS St. Louis—a boat filled with 937 mostly Jewish refugees seeking asylum from Nazi Germany. The U.S. turned the boat away in what later became known as the “Voyage of the Damned,” when over a quarter of them—roughly 227—ended up being killed during the Holocaust.“It is absolutely fair to be concerned about safety in the wake of these attacks, and it’s fair to wonder who we’re letting in and what sort of screening system is in place. Unfortunately, many of the people talking about it this week don’t seem to have the first idea of what we’re doing,” said Oliver, who then cut to a montage of Republicans complaining how “easy” our vetting process is for Syrian refugees.Then Oliver walked the ill-informed GOP through America’s very stringent vetting process for Syrian refugees.“If you’re a refugee, first, you apply through the United Nations High Commission of Refugees, which collects documents and performs interviews. Incidentally, less than 1 percent of refugees worldwide end up being recommended for resettlement, but if you’re one of them, you may then be referred to the State Department to begin the vetting process,” said Oliver. “At this point, more information is collected, and you’ll be put through security screenings by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security, and if you’re a Syrian refugee, you’ll get an additional layer of screening called the Syria Enhanced Review, which may include a further check by a special part of Homeland Security—the USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] fraud detection and national security directorate.
“And don’t relax yet, because we’ve barely even started.”He continued: “Then, you finally get an interview with USCIS officers and you’ll also be fingerprinted so your prints can be run through the biometric databases of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense. And, if you make it through all that, you’ll also have health screenings which, let’s face it, may not go too well for you because you may have given yourself a stroke going through this process so far. But, if everything comes back clear, you’ll be enrolled in cultural orientation classes—all while your information continues to be checked recurrently against terrorist databases to make sure that no new information comes in that wasn’t caught before.“All of that has to happen before you get near a plane!” Oliver continued. “This process typically takes 18 to 24 months once you’ve been referred to the UN by the United States. This is the most rigorous vetting anyone has to face before entering this country. No terrorist in their right mind would choose this path when the visa process requires far less effort.”
Of course, as Oliver noted, there is no possible way to promise whether someone dangerous might “slip through” the incredibly thin cracks, but this risk is “wildly inflated.”
The satirist then brought up statistics from the Migration Policy Institute saying that of the 784,000 resettled refugees since Sept. 11, 2001, only three resettled refugees have been arrested for planning terrorist activities—“none of which, by the way, resulted in attacks here.”
So the terrorist-to-decent ratio is 1:261,000.
“As reasonable adults, we accept tiny amounts of risk baked into our everyday lives,” said Oliver. “We drive cars despite knowing around 30,000 of us die in them each year. We go swimming despite the fact 10 people a day die from drowning. Twenty Americans every year are killed by cows, but no one is saying we should expel all cows from the country!“Any rational person knows you cannot completely eliminate risk—you can only manage it, and we do it with peanuts, and cars, and swimming, and hamburgers, and men named Mike because we rightly think that they’re worth the risk. And I would argue that, for the tremendous good we could do and the low level of risk involved, refugees are worth it, too.”