This is who we’re turning away: debunking the myths about refugees

Refugees are the people who have already actually had to live through what we all fear. The justification for President Trump’s executive order is fear. This fear is deeply misplaced, as the actual facts and figures about refugees demonstrate. Giving into that fear though, would mean turning away the people who are bearing the brunt of terrorism, war, and political collapse. It would mean turning them away to almost certain death. And so this post isn’t just about debunking four common myths around refugees with facts and figures. It’s also about showing exactly who it is that we’re turning away.

Wounded Syrian Kid Omran Daqneesh

This is Omran Daqneesh. He is five. His brother was killed in the bombing of Aleppo. This is who we’re turning away. (Source: Time)

Myth #1: The refugee ban will reduce the risk of terrorism.

This is the biggest myth and the stated justification for the executive order. The refugee ban not only won’t reduce the risk of terrorism, it most likely increases it. This may seem counterintuitive, but because refugees are the most thoroughly vetted of any travelers to enter the U.S. (see myth #2), the risk posed by refugees is small. Writing for Vox, Dylan Matthews puts the risk in context, “You have a better chance of getting killed by a train, or by your own clothes catching on fire, than by an immigrant terrorist attack. The odds of a refugee killing you in a terrorist strike are about 1 in 3.6 billion. That’s about four hundred times less likely than being hit by lightning twice. If you look back at significant terrorist attacks in the US like San Bernardino or the Pulse nightclub shooting or 9/11, exactly none of them would have been prevented by this policy.”

The Economist points out that this particular ban also is poorly targeted, “…in the past 40 years, there has been not a single fatal terrorist attack in America carried out by anyone belonging to the seven nationalities targeted by the order.” The article adds that people, “are in fact much more likely to be killed by cows, fireworks, and malfunctioning elevators than an immigrant terrorist. As a means of keeping Americans safe, then, Mr. Trump’s order is almost worthless”

Unfortunately, the ban on refugees does more than just misdirect resources that would be better used elsewhere. It can also be effectively used as a recruiting tool for terrorist organizations. After the Paris attacks in 2015, a bipartisan group of national security experts, former generals, and former cabinet members signed a letter to Congress urging them to continue refugee resettlement. They wrote, “Refugees are victims, not perpetrators, of terrorism. Categorically refusing to take them only feeds the narrative of ISIS that there is a war between Islam and the West, that Muslims are not welcome in the United States and Europe, and that the ISIS caliphate is their true home. We must make clear that the United States rejects this worldview by continuing to offer refuge to the world’s most vulnerable people, regardless of their religion or nationality.”


This is Laith Majid. He is an Iraqi refugee and father, shown here clutching his family and crying tears of joy at reaching temporary safety in Greece after traveling on a flimsy rubber boat. (Source: New York Times)

Myth #2: The vetting process isn’t secure.

It is much more difficult to come to the United States as a refugee than as any other sort of traveler. Nine separate government agencies conduct background checks. From a purely pragmatic perspective, if we’re going to direct additional resources to vetting, those should be put into additional screenings for other legal ways of entering the U.S. As the infographic below shows, the refugee process is already rigorous. Time magazine reports that 50% are rejected and the process takes between 18 and 24 months. International Rescue Committee Vice President Jennifer Sime told congress that, “Short of swimming the Atlantic, the refugee resettlement program is the most difficult way to come to the U.S.”



This is Roujin Sheikho. She is a Syrian refugee, carrying her daughter Widad, and walking with her son Nabih. This is who we’re turning away. (Source: New York Times)

Myth #3: Refugees commit crime in their new countries.

Refugees commit crimes at a lower rate than the general population. Germany has increased it’s acceptance of refugees, which makes it a good test case. The Atlantic reports that, “Recent numbers from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Agency (BKA) suggest that the influx of refugees into the country this fall had a low impact on crime numbers relative to the natural uptick that would happen with any population increase: Although the number of refugees in the country increased by 440 percent between 2014 and 2015, the number of crimes committed by refugees only increased by 79 percent. (The number of crimes against refugees increased as well.)”

Within the U.S. sanctuary cities have seen lower crime and higher economic performance, which is the subject of myth #4

Migrant boat accident in Turkey

This is Alan Kurdi. He was three years old. He was a Syrian refugee who drowned trying to escape. (Source: MSNBC)

Myth #4: Refugees are a drag on the economy.

The opposite is true. The economic evidence is overwhelming that admitting refugees grows the economy. Refugee programs can literally pay for themselves in economic growth, and the employment impact of refugees taking initial low-paying jobs is actually to push natives into higher-paying jobs. Not only do refugees have a generally beneficial role in the economy, they are also particularly important in revitalizing cities that have declined in population in recent decades. The Economist reports that, “…in the past decade refugees have started at least 38 new businesses merely in and around Cleveland, Ohio, creating 175 jobs and a $12m boost to the local economy. Americans are vastly more likely to find employment with a Muslim refugee than to be killed by one.”

It’s Time to Act

Omran, Laith, Roujin, Alan, and millions like them are people who need our help. We have a thorough vetting process in place. It works so well that the probability of being killed by a refugee is lower than the risk of being killed by trains, cows, malfunctioning elevators, fireworks, or your own clothes catching on fire. Refugees are less likely to commit crime than the native population, and help to increase economic growth.

Call your federal representatives (calls are more effective than emails) and ask them to speak out against the ban, but also get involved at the local level. Get a group of friends together who can regularly meet to take action. Work with your local refugee resettlement organization. Join a local advocacy group or your local Democratic or Republican party organizations (it’s important that Republicans get pushback on the refugee executive order from within the party). It’s going to be a long struggle, and effective social movements tend to be made up of small groups of people all across the country working towards the same goals. So find (or form) one of those groups, and let’s get to work!




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