Economist - For much of its history, America has been generous to refugees and asylum-seekers from all over the world. After the second world war the country took in more than 650,000 displaced Europeans. After the fall of Saigon in 1975 it welcomed hundreds of thousands of Indo-Chinese refugees. Since the passage of the Refugee Act in 1980 America has taken in another 3m refugees, more than any other country. It is the biggest contributor to both the World Food Programme and the UNHCR. In this section
In the current refugee crisis, though, America is on the sidelines. In recent years it has taken in just under 70,000 refugees a year on average (would-be refugees apply while in other countries; asylum-seekers once they are in America). The number of asylum applications approved tends to be less than half that figure. This pales in comparison with the 1.5m asylum-seekers, many of them Syrian, expected in Germany this year. The White House recently promised to increase the intake of refugees to 85,000 in the next fiscal year (10,000 will be from Syria) and to 100,000 in the one after that. Even this modest increase has been contested: Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, has introduced a bill to “rein in” the administration’s plan to admit more Syrian refugees.
Two factors are responsible for the change of heart. Refugees and asylum-seekers have become ensnared in a partisan fight in Congress over immigration. And the 9/11 terrorist attacks have changed the perception of refugees from vulnerable to threating, which has in turn had a deadening effect on the bureaucracies that process their claims.
Refugees apply for resettlement at American embassies or through the United Nations. If they pass that first hurdle, they are screened by outposts of the Department of State all over the world. They undergo investigations of their biography and identity; FBI biometric checks of their fingerprints and photographs; in-person interviews by Department of Homeland Security officers; medical screenings as well as investigations by the National Counter-terrorism Centre and by American and international intelligence agencies. The process may take as long as three years, sometimes longer. No other person entering America is subjected to such a level of scrutiny.
Refugee resettlement is the least likely route for potential terrorists,
says Kathleen Newland at the Migration Policy Institute, a think-tank.
Of the 745,000 refugees resettled since September 11th, only two Iraqis
in Kentucky have been arrested on terrorist charges, for aiding al-Qaeda