Give me your tired, your terrorists

Throughout the last few Presidential election cycles, immigration was a hot button issue, primarily because a majority of Americans believed that Mexicans were taking our jobs, and draining our capacity for social services. This year, Presidential candidates are still talking about immigration, but for a very different reason. For one thing, recent data suggests that more Mexicans are leaving the United States than are coming here. For another, our political discussions about immigration now focus on security rather than on economics. This recent shift in discourse dates back several years to the escalation of Syria’s civil war, where conditions are so bad that nine million Syrians have fled their homeland for the promise of a better life in Europe and beyond.

On September 20 of this year, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the U.S. would accept up to 100,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. Conservative members of Congress balked, saying it would be easy for terrorists to slip into our country by claiming to be Syrian refugees. Then, last month, the debate boiled over when terrorists staged multiple bombing attacks on Paris. Suddenly the anti-immigration rhetoric here escalated, both inside the beltway and throughout the heartland. Congress acted quickly to introduce HR 4038, the so-named “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act.” The bill would prevent Syrian or Iraqi refugees from entering the United States unless they are first cleared by a conglomerate of government agencies, including the FBI, Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence. If that group gives unanimous approval, then a refugee would still be subjected to the normal battery of hurdles that are already in place.

But HR 4038 was also precipitated by a debate about full disclosure. Even before the Paris attacks occurred, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and thirty other State Governors were demanding that President Obama stop allowing any more Syrian or Iraqi refugees into this country until the Feds started sharing complete background information with state agencies. 6th District Rep. Mark Walker of Guilford defended the bill, saying, “While I understand the need to be compassionate towards individuals seeking asylum in the United States, we simply cannot place our national security on the back burner by accepting unidentified Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the United States, especially given our past and present immigration issues.” Meanwhile, opponents of HR 4038, like 12th District Rep. Alma Adams, scolded those who supported the bill, saying, “HR 4038 is extreme and goes against the values so many have fought for in this great nation… it would force us to turn our backs on the most vulnerable Syrian refugees.”

Adams was referring to the fact that most Syrian refugees are women and children. But we should keep in mind that some women from that region have been known to hide bombs under their Burqas, and children are taught how to handle heavy weapons from an early age. On the other hand, there is also something to be said for not singling out a particular nationality or religious group when determining eligibility for re-settlement. After all, terrorists from Syria can enter America through other countries, and not all terrorists are from Syria and Iraq. Tashfin Malik, for example, was brought here last year from Pakistan by her husband Syed Farook, then last week she and Farook murdered 14 people at a San Bernardino party. HR4038 would also do nothing to protect us from homegrown terrorists like Dylann Roof who killed nine people at a church in South Carolina, or Adam Lanza, who murdered 20 children at an elementary school in Connecticut. Clearly, HR4038 is ill advised, nevertheless, we must somehow come to grips with the refugee problem before it grows any more dangerous. Policies and procedures of the past simply are no longer adequate.

In 2009, for example, the United States put in place a program to help Iraqi citizens who had been displaced by our invasions and attacks during George Bush’s ill-advised crusade. But that initiative opened the door for terrorists to enter our country almost unabated. In 2011,Kentucky authorities arrested two of those Iraqi “refugees” because they were plotting to send missiles and cash to their terrorist comrades back home for the express purpose of killing Americans.

Make no mistake, if we continue to allow Middle East refugees into our country, some of them will end up trying to kill us. To think otherwise is naive and dangerous. That’s why I propose a two year moratorium on ALL immigration, so that we can get a handle on potential terrorists who have already entered our borders, while exploring ways to control entry for legitimate refugees going forward. If we continue to let hundreds of thousands of immigrants into America while trying to fix the problem, it would be like trying to work on a transmission while the motor is still running. We need to shut off the immigration engine temporarily while we develop an enforceable, compassionate, and responsible policy for admitting foreigners to America in the future. !

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).