Our Editorial: Keep door open to refugees

The Detroit News

Americans are understandably wary of welcoming refugees from Syria and other nations under the influence of the Islamic State. With ISIS saying it is committed to using the refugee crisis to slip terrorists into the West, and serious questions remaining about how well immigrants are vetted, the fears are not entirely unwarranted.

A presidential election campaign in which immigration in general and Syrian refugees in particular have become a flashpoint hasn’t helped. Nor did the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, last fall, carried out by an American citizen and his wife, an immigrant from Pakistan who had pledged allegiance to ISIS.

But Michigan residents should resist the impulse to slam the door tight on refugees.

News that the state is expected to get up to 5,000 refugees this year, many of them from Syria, is making many residents uneasy.

The United States has had a good track record in resettling refugees. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, only four immigrants have been implicated in terrorist plots, and only in San Bernardino was an attack actually carried out. In Michigan, 500 to 4,500 refugees have been admitted per year over the past 15 years, without incident.

That should reassure those who worry about the vetting process. Getting a refugee into this country is a multi-stage process that takes one to two years. Getting into the U.S. from Syria and other places in the region is far more difficult than getting into Europe.

Certainly, the State and Homeland Security departments should step up the screening in light of the threat from ISIS.

But the reality is that the United States is just as vulnerable, if not more so, from a terrorist attack by a radicalized U.S. citizen than it is a refugee.

Additional safeguards may be necessary. The U.S. could, for example, put in place a form of profiling that identifies those refugees who pose the greatest risk, such as younger males without families.

And the refugees should not be forgotten once they arrive here. Ongoing monitoring and assimilation programs aimed at guarding against radicalization are essential.

Michigan is well-equipped to resettle the 5,000 refugees planned for the state. And it needs them.

Metro Detroit already has a large and deeply rooted Arabic and Muslim population. It has experience in assimilating and serving immigrants from the Middle East.

Many of the refugees will bring the skills the state needs as it tries to build a 21st century. The new arrivals could make an impact on a Metro Detroit region that has lost population over the past two decades.

Resettling Syrian refugees comes with risk. Nobody should downplay that.

But if the screening process is handled with diligence and is combined with a rational assimilation program, resettling refugees here should go forward without significant danger.