Local immigration attorney Rachel Wilson
is afraid that Gov. Doug Ducey doesn't really understand the refugee resettlement process in the United States.
As reported earlier, Ducey said he does not want new refugees coming into the state
, since it has been confirmed that at least one of the Paris massacre suspects came into Europe posing as a Syrian refugee. The fear of similar events happening in the U.S. makes A LOT of sense, but Wilson says that the way the resettlement system works in the country, the chances of someone with connections to ISIS, or any other similar organization, sneaking into the U.S. through the resettlement pipeline isn't likely.
As Wilson explains: Refugees are identified outside of the U.S. by the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees
; once the UNHCR has identified and certified them as refugees (these are people who prove they have a "well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country"); they then go through a background check through the UNHCR (this often involves Interpol, other types of law enforcement and international security agencies), extensive interviews, doctor check ups, etc.; once they go through all that processing, the UNHCR divides them into groups in accordance with the countries that have agreed to accept those refugees, including the U.S.; the U.S. security checks them again; only if they pass that security check, meaning it is proven they do not pose a threat to this country, are they allowed to come to the U.S. The refugees that make it here are teamed up with a refugee resettlement agency, which helps them get off their feet.
The average processing time for refugee applications could take up to 18 months and no less than one year, but Syrian applications can take way longer because of "security concerns and difficulties in verifying their information," according to CNN
"Refugees are basically the most checked over people in the entire immigration system," she says.
Then there are asylum seekers—people who make their way to either one of the U.S. borders and request for asylum in the country. Asylum seekers are taken into immigration detention centers while their case settles. Many times it takes years for them to be released from detention, Wilson adds.
While she isn't familiar with how the refugee resettlement process works in Greece (the suspect we've been speaking of received a Syrian passport in Greece, according to CNN
), Wilson "cannot see that ever being a problem here...that you would have a person come seek asylum and keep passing through to commit an act of terrorism."
Those who oppose opening the borders for Syrian refugees have taken advantage of this very public case. It's another story of demonizing entire groups of people over the actions of a few—people who, let's not forget, are fleeing the exact same violence we are all afraid of: bombings, shootings, etc. (Check out this write up by the American Immigration Council
Wilson's advice to Ducey is that he shouldn't do what Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal did. Jindal issued an executive order
dictating all "departments, budget units, agencies, offices, entities, and officers of the executive branch of the State of Louisiana” to “utilize all lawful means to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the State of Louisiana while this Order is in effect."
In terms of health care, food stamps, and other aid states offer refugees (in collaboration with the feds), "If the government were to start denying those services to refugees, we can see the state involved in the kind of litigation that the state just underwent when it tried to deny (driver's) licenses to DREAMers," she says. "That was a huge expense and the state ultimately lost. I am worried Ducey is making policies without understanding how it works, and because he doesn't understand how it works, he could have legal consequences that he hasn't yet contemplated."
The immigration advocacy group Puente Human Rights Movement
is leading a demonstration Tuesday morning
protesting Ducey's remarks. It's happening at 11 a.m., outside the governor's office in Phoenix, 1700 W. Washington St.