On Nov. 16, President Barack Obama fought back against suggestions that the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris meant that the United States should turn its back on Syrian refugees. During remarks at the G20 economic summit in Antalya, Turkey, he said, “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values.”
The comments were aimed directly at the governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan and Texas, who publicly announced that their states would no longer welcome Syrian refugees. Michigan’s stance is particularly significant because the state is home to a large Arab community and approximately 200 Syrians have settled there since their country fell into turmoil in 2011. In September, the Obama administration announced that the U.S. would shelter upwards of 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next 12 months. That is nearly 10 times the number of Syrians who have settled in the U.S. since 2012.
Obama’s comments were also pointed at Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, who each suggested that the U.S. only take in Christian refugees and refuse entry to Muslims. “When I heard political leaders suggest that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing a war-torn country is admitted, that’s shameful,” Obama said. “That’s not American. That’s not who we are.”
Although those opposing the intake of refugees have called for more stringent security checks for Syrians to ensure they have no terrorist connections, the U.S. already has a lengthy and vigorous screening process in place. According to a representative of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, refugees are subjected to the highest level of security checks applied by the United States. The screening process includes investigations by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, a Syrian passport was found near the body of a suicide bomber at the Stade de France. The passport was linked to a refugee who traveled through Greece six weeks ago, which stoked fears that ISIS may be using refugees to infiltrate target countries. However, Syrian passports are known to be regularly stolen and forged, and it has yet to be determined if the suicide bomber was actually Syrian.
Obama also told reporters there would be an “intensification” of the U.S. bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria, but he said deploying ground troops in the region would be a “mistake.”
“We would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before,” he said. “If you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremists, they resurface unless you’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.”