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Let’s demand honesty in refugee rhetoric

Terror attacks around the country in recent months have raised questions about national security. In response, some elected officials have called for dramatic changes to United States refugee policy. To be sure, there are legitimate security concerns in the United States, but when it comes how the debate about refugee policy is being framed, there’s an important element often missing.

In November 2015, 130 people were murdered in Paris by terrorists who were French and Belgian citizens. None of them were refugees or otherwise displaced Syrians. Yet, within a week of the attack the U.S. House of Representatives voted to effectively shut down the refugee program, citing fears that the refugee program would be infiltrated by terrorists. Congress has not attempted to restrict French or Belgian access to the United States.

In December 2015, a natural born U.S. citizen and his Pakistani wife killed 14 in San Bernardino. The wife had entered the U.S. on a fiancé visa. In 2015 the U.S. issued 35,559 fiancé visas and 74,150 visas to Pakistanis. To date, neither the president nor Congress have taken any action on either fiancé visas or Pakistani visas.

Instead of “pausing” or reforming visa categories that actually correlate to the cited terror attacks, several elected officials have decided to use those attacks to stoke fears about Syrian refugees. Of all the legal pathways to enter the United States, the Refugee Admissions Program features the most rigorous screening. It is correct to say the program can’t guarantee perfection (no program can), yet even those who wish to shut down the program don’t deny its security relative to non-immigrant visa entries.

If politicians claim to act on behalf of our security, and if the refugee program is the most rigorous of all U.S. visa screening, then shouldn’t they also scrutinize all the less secure ways people enter our country from around the globe? If security is all the rage this election season, why hasn’t any representative held a hearing or introduced legislation for increasing security on any of the nonimmigrant visa categories, all of which require less screening than refugees?

For example, no politician has called for “pausing” or otherwise reforming business and tourism visas. Neither the B-1 or the B-2 visas require screening at a level comparable to the refugee visas. If the refugee program is so vulnerable, then the threat we face from the relatively insecure B-1 and B-2 visas must be staggering.

Indeed, the 9/11 terrorists arrived on U.S. soil using business and tourist visas (one was a student visa). The Boston Marathon bombers arrived as minors with their parents who obtained tourist visas. Nevertheless, in fiscal year 2015 alone, the U.S. government issued over 7 million B1/B2 visas. And yet, ten months after Paris and nine months after San Bernardino, we have not seen any hearing or legislation intended to pause or otherwise modify pathways into the U.S. that would have made any difference in the terror attacks cited by those stoking fears about refugees. Visa categories for business, tourism, fiancés, and Pakistanis remain unquestioned.

Shutting down legal pathways of entry out of fear isn’t exactly the response of a confident, free nation. It’s also unlikely the federal government will meaningfully curb any pathway that would hamper industry and tourism. But political conservatives, particularly Christians among us, claim to be truth tellers. Congress reacted to Paris and San Bernardino, yes. But have they actually put forth a policy directed at the threat they identify in those attacks? The answer is no, but they claim yes. While claiming to act for the sake of our security, Congress has given attention only to what is already the most secure while ignoring what is least secure. This reveals either incompetence or dishonesty.

National security is a valid priority for the state and citizens can disagree in good faith on the particulars. Southern Baptists have passed numerous resolutions affirming both the responsibility of sovereign nation to protect its people and encouraging ministry to refugees. At the same time our statement of faith calls for us to influence government with the principles of “righteousness, truth, and brotherly love” and to “be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause.”

Americans might disagree on specific policies, politicians have an obligation to correlate their solutions with the problems they identify. And scapegoating vulnerable people with political smoke screens and buzzwords is not the way forward.

For a better understand about how refugee resettlement works, this Q&A explains why, when and how refugees are resettled.

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