#RefugeesWelcome? Understanding U.S. politics and policy on Syrian refugees

Does resettling Syrian refugees in the United States pose a threat to American national security? The question has dogged public debate in recent weeks. Prominent politicians have called the refugees “a Trojan horse” and suggested that only Christians be admitted, prompting outrage from Muslim-American advocacy groups and beyond.

On February 8, Brookings will host an event featuring scholars Beth Ferris, Bill Galston, and Bobby McKenzie to discuss Syrian refugees and their impact on the United States. As a terrorism specialist, I have been skeptical that the Syrian refugees will prove a major terrorism threat, though the Syrian refugee wave—like others before it—will no doubt have bad apples mixed among the good. So I have been a bit frustrated with the brouhaha over the refugees that has swept the United States, with regular accusations that the Islamic State is using refugees to infiltrate its terrorists into the United States. Although I felt I had some answers, I was still left with many questions on this issue.

Fortunately, I work at Brookings.

Our discussion will look at the refugee challenge from different angles. Beth, an expert on refugee resettlement, will help us understand how the U.S. refugee resettlement program actually works, explaining the selection and vetting processes and how this differs from those of other countries. Bill will shed light on the politics of refugee resettlement in the United States, offering insights into why this has become a political football despite the small numbers involved, as well as scope out the realm of the possible in terms of taking in more refugees in the future. Bobby, who has recently joined our Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, will examine the impact of the over-the-top rhetoric on American Muslim communities. How will this change their political engagement? Is it possible that the anti-Muslim sentiment so painfully on display will make jihadist groups more appealing, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I don’t expect these scholars to have all the answers for solving the many and complex problems related to Syria refugees. But I know I’ll come away smarter and more aware of the nuances of the issues involved.

I look forward to learning about these issues—and I hope you can join us.