November 18, 2015
The Washington Times
Matt Salmon

Gaps in refugee screening threaten the United States

As news of the heinous attacks in Paris spread, the question on everyone’s mind was simple: How can we prevent another of these deadly tragedies? To be clear, we should not have been unprepared. After all, this is the same ideology that spurred the attack on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and the attacks in Paris just months ago on Charlie Hebdo, and it is the same danger the international community is facing in Iraq and Syria on a daily basis.

It’s clear the radical Islamic threat to the western world has been underestimated. Sadly, that underestimation started right here in the United States. Appealing to the left’s overly sensitive, politically correct sensibilities, President Obama can’t even call our enemy by name, let alone recognize the ideology that is fueling the Islamic State’s conquest in the Middle East and the desire of so many individuals to inflict casualties on innocent civilians around the world.

When he does talk about the threat posed by the Islamic State, or ISIS, he does so using terms that show exactly how out of touch he is with the true nature of the threat. From calling ISIS the “JV team” to claiming that they were “contained” just hours before the Paris attacks, the president has incompetently underestimated and miscalculated ISIS from the get-go.

Faced with the consequences of his failed policies to “degrade” ISIS, the president doubled down on the ludicrous when he labeled the Paris attack a “setback.” A setback is a bump in the road, but this was a direct shot into the heart of Europe, it was a senseless attack on America’s first ally, and it was a disgusting display of an ideology that targets innocents to advance a message of hate. The deaths of some 129 innocent people (including an American) are a tragedy and a call to arms, not a “setback.”

Now, the president is putting his need to win a popularity contest with his liberal European fans above U.S. national security. ISIS has already told us that it is working to embed jihadists as “refugees” inside the Syrian population fleeing the war zone. Paris proves that threat sincere. Instead of plowing ahead without regard to our domestic security, the president should be listening to his military and intelligence leadership that have testified before Congress about their lack of confidence in the existing process.

Months ago, I requested a classified briefing to learn about how the administration planned to screen potential refugees for admittance into our nation. The results of that briefing, held yesterday, weren’t encouraging, but it gets worse. FBI Director James Comey openly told the Senate that screening Syrian refugees is very difficult and admitted that there are “gaps in the system” we have today. That is unacceptable. Even one gap in the system could lead to thousands of American deaths.

The reality is this administration has no viable plan to ensure that incoming refugees mean Americans no harm before granting them entry.

Every time an American military leader honestly assesses the shortcomings in our ISIS strategy, or lack thereof, he is immediately silenced by the White House. Given this commander in chief’s well-documented history of underestimating the threat, are we supposed to blindly trust his glib assurances that “the buck stops here” when vetting Syrian refugees coming to our neighborhoods?

Can anyone seriously fault more than half of the governors in the United States and several members of Congress, including me, for being skeptical of the vetting process and taking action to keep ISIS terrorists from being placed in our communities using taxpayer dollars?

Americans understand the human instinct of families that are facing torture and destruction by their own government to seek safety for themselves and their children. However, exporting Syria’s population to foreign lands and forcing them to assimilate into American society is not the best answer for either America or the future of Syria. One idea would be to establish safe zones in Syria where the Syrian people can stay in their own nation, safe from the violence of this conflict, and not make the harrowing trek to foreign lands. We can and must protect Syrians at home, where they will be able to re-establish that state once ISIS has been defeated.

America is a generous nation. As we speak, U.S. taxpayers are spending billions on foreign aid to assist developing nations, repair damage to other nations by natural disasters, and strike ISIS targets with our coalition allies. Now is the time to prioritize the safety of the American homeland and the American people above feel-good political moves. Until we have a foolproof mechanism to vet and ensure that any refugees from around this war zone will not attempt to attack Americans, we need to pursue a different strategy. It’s the right — and safest — thing to do.

Matt Salmon is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona.

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