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Attorney Manzanero on the Syrian Refugee Crisis: Setting the Record Straight

War, conflict or fear of persecution in the Middle-East and Africa have forced tens of thousands of men, women and children to embark in a dangerous and often deadly journey across the Mediterranean Sea in hopes of finding safety and protection in Europe.

Global and domestic public reactions to this growing humanitarian disaster recently prompted U.S. policymakers to pledge to accept a greater number of refugees, including 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.

But this determination to provide protection to individuals fleeing persecution has abruptly come to a halt in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attack in Paris, France, that killed 130 people and injured about 368 more.

Shortly after the initial demonstrations of solidarity with the French people all around the globe, a significant number of U.S. policymakers and U.S. politicians have sought to win electoral support by choosing Syrian refugees, in particular, as a scapegoat.

On November 19, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, H.R. 4038 the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul’s (R-TX), seeking to stop the relocation of, specifically, Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Governors in thirty-one states have also pledged to refuse resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states.

Both the reactionary rhetoric displayed by these political leaders and the impulsive policies they have adopted are not just baseless, but they are also counterproductive in combating extreme Islamic terrorism and run against U.S. obligations under international law and domestic law.

As far as we know, the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks were all citizens of the European Union, not Syrians, most whom came from marginalized neighborhoods of migrant and minority communities, which European governments, for decades, have failed to assimilate. Some of these communities have become breeding grounds for disenfranchised youth to adopt more radical ideologies. Over 3,000 European citizens have traveled to Syria and joined the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) and other jihadi groups.[1] Noticeably, an estimated 250 U.S. citizens too have joined IS ranks.[2]

Rather than exploiting people’s fears to justify discriminatory policies against refugees – whether from Syria, or elsewhere – U.S. policymakers should avoid the possibility of a similar attack occurring in the United States by promoting policies of assimilation, education, employment, and citizenship in migrant and minority communities in this country. Further, U.S. policymakers should critically analyze how U.S. foreign policy may have, however inadvertently, promoted the rise and radicalization of extreme Islamic groups such as IS.

By advocating exclusionary and prejudicial policies against refugees, U.S. policymakers sponsoring same are denying individuals fleeing persecution in their countries of origin or habitual residence the right to seek protection from same.

Let’s be clear. Providing protection to refugees is a legal obligation, not an option, that the United States has both under international and domestic law. International treaties such the 1951 United Nations Convention Related to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, on the one hand, and U.S. domestic laws, the Refugee Act of 1980, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, create a legal obligation on the U.S. government to provide protection to refugees outside the United States, as well as asylum-seekers present in this country.

The United States has admitted an estimated 1,854 Syrian refugees since 2012. Before their admission, each of these refugees have gone through the most exhausting and comprehensive security screening and background checks required on any one category of individuals considered for admission.[3]

In contrast, over 20 million business and tourist visitors,[4] and hundreds of thousands of students and temporary professional workers are admitted in the United States every year, without undergoing the security and background checks refugees, and in particular Syrian refugees, are subjected to.

The roots of Islamic terrorism are complex and combating it will require a more sophisticated approach than capriciously blaming Syrian refugees.

The United States should continue to comply with its legal obligations under international and domestic law, and protect its global moral standing against any type of extremism by becoming once again a beacon of liberty and a sanctuary for the oppressed.

Silvia Manzanero

Of Counsel, David F. Vedder, P.A.


[1] McDonnell, Patrick J; Zavis, Alexandra (19 November 2015). "Suspected Paris attack mastermind's Europe ties facilitated travel from Syria". Los Angeles Times, in the Sacramento Bee (Los Angeles, USA). Retrieved 20 November 2015.

[2] “Over 200 Americans Have Gone or Tried to Go to Syria to Fight: FBI”, Reuters, Jul. 08, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/08/us-mideast-crisis-americans-idUSKCN0PI2E320150708#K8RdrbKHF449z5a2.97

[3] See e.g. “Fact Sheet: Refugee Security Screening” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Nov. 24, 2015. http://www.uscis.gov/refugeescreening

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