Trump's big mistake on Syria refugees

Story highlights

  • Peter Bergen says there's no evidence of terrorists among Syrian refugees to the United States
  • Syrian refugees are the victims of terrorism, not perpetrators of it, he writes

Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of "United States of Jihad: Investigating America's Homegrown Terrorists."

(CNN)On Friday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that effectively suspends the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States indefinitely. As he signed the order, President Trump said that this was "to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States."

This order will achieve absolutely nothing because there is no evidence of terrorists among the Syrian refugees who are settling in the United States.
All the lethal acts of jihadist terrorism in the States since 9/11 have been carried out by American citizens or legal residents, and none of them have been the work of Syrian refugees.
That shouldn't be too surprising, because the United States has accepted only a minuscule number of Syrian refugees, even though the Syrian civil war is one of the worst humanitarian crises since World War II and has generated a vast outflow of nearly 5 million refugees from Syria.
The United States has taken only around 15,000 Syrian refugees, amounting to a tiny 0.2% of the total number of refugees, the large majority of whom are women and children.
Not only are these Syrian refugees not terrorists, but they are fleeing the brutal state terrorism of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and the brutal non-state terrorism of ISIS.
The refugees are the victims of terrorism, not the perpetrators of terrorism.
Also, any sensible ISIS terrorist is quite unlikely to try to infiltrate the United States as a Syrian refugee.
Anne Richard, a senior US State Department official, testified at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing in November 2015 that any Syrian refugee trying to get into the United States is scrutinized by officials from the National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, State Department and Pentagon.
They must also give up their biometric data -- scans of their retinas, for instance -- submit their detailed biographic histories and submit to lengthy interviews. These refugees are also queried against a number of government databases to see if they might pose a threat -- and the whole process takes two years, sometimes more.
Leon Rodriguez, the director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, who also testified at the November 2015 hearing, said that of all the tens of millions of people who are trying to get into the United States every year, "Refugees get the most scrutiny and Syrian refugees get the most scrutiny of all."
By contrast, Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe do not go through anything like the rigorous process experienced by those who are coming to the States, and the volume of Syrians fleeing to Europe is orders of magnitude larger than it is to the United States.
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The promise of the United States written on the Statue of Liberty is from the Emma Lazarus poem: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
This has been the promise that has been largely extended for more than two centuries to successive waves of immigrants. Many Americans reading this article know this to be true because their own families came to the States hoping for a better life than the one they had left behind.
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Donald Trump's own mother Mary escaped the bone-crushing poverty of Scotland's remote Outer Hebrides for the promise of New York in 1929.
America has not traditionally been the cramped, frightened country of Trump's executive order that bans Syrian refugees.
Next, will the Trump administration rewrite the Lazarus poem that adorns the Statue of Liberty?
"Give me your Pilates-toned, your billionaires, your Botoxed elites yearning for admission to Mar-a-Lago."