TSG IntelBrief: America’s Failure on Refugees
February 7, 2017

America’s Failure on Refugees


Bottom Line Up Front: 

• Despite efforts by the Trump administration to use the situation in the EU as justification for the recent controversial refugee ban, the U.S. does not face anywhere near the same fallout from the global refugee crisis as Europe.

• Europe has been forced to confront an uncontrolled influx of massive numbers of refugees for several years, which increases the possibility that terror groups could infiltrate terrorists by disguising them as refugees; the U.S. does not face the same threat.

• In 2015 alone, approximately one million refugees and irregular migrants entered the EU; that number represents one third of the total number of refugees who have entered the U.S. since 1975.

• There is no comparison between the already-established intensive and controlled vetting process for refugees seeking to enter the U.S. and the ongoing flood of refugees into Europe.


The enormous refugee challenge that the EU has been struggling with for several years has been used recently to frame counterterrorism and anti-immigration narratives and policies in the United States. The situation in the U.S., however, does not compare in any way to the situation in Europe. While the connection between refugees and concerns of terrorism in the EU is overblown, it remains a legitimate concern. The proximity to conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa, vast numbers of refugees, lack of influx controls, and open borders within the Schengen Area expose the EU to the real possibility of terror groups exploiting the refugee crisis to infiltrate operatives into Europe. To be clear, the vast majority of terror attacks in the EU since 2015 have not involved refugees, nor terrorists who entered Europe disguised as refugees. The notable exceptions, however, were several members of the cell involved in the November 2015 Paris attacks and March 2016 Brussels attacks who were believed to have entered Europe disguised as refugees. The Paris and Brussels attacks demonstrated numerous flaws in EU security protocols, chief among them the inability to properly vet individuals entering the continent in such a chaotic situation.

Neither the refugee influx nor the terror threat in the U.S. is comparable to the EU—to say nothing of countries like JordanLebanon, and Turkey that have accommodated staggering numbers of refugees and displaced persons. The number of refugees that the U.S. admits has differed over time, but typically ranges from 75,000-100,000 per year. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. dropped to 28,000 for one year, until new security measures were put into place. In fiscal year 2016, the U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees; the average length of time it takes for a refugee to be resettled in the U.S. is 18 to 24 months, and the process is highly controlled. Looking at those numbers next to the uncontrolled flow of approximately one million refugees and migrants that entered Europe in 2015 alone, the dissimilarities could not be more drastic.

To put that difference into clear perspective, in a one-year period, the EU was forced to handle the influx of one third of the total number of refugees resettled in the U.S. since 1975. The three million refugees that have entered the U.S. since 1975—a 42-year period—have come from across the globe; the demographic groupings of refugees in the U.S. have spiked in relation to specific conflicts (Vietnam, Cambodia, Central America, Myanmar, Iraq, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo). The Trump administration’s controversial executive order on refugees and immigration—titled ‘Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry To The United States’—calls for reducing the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. in fiscal year 2017 to no more than 50,000.

The notion that people are ‘pouring’ into the U.S. without adequate vetting—as has been implied by the Trump administration—is a political device not burdened with the reality of the U.S. visa issuance process, and certainly very far removed from the reality of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. The process for refugee resettlement in the U.S. involves interviews, biographic and biometric checks, and multi-agency intelligence and security reviews; the entire process can take up to two years to complete. Despite President Trump’s efforts to use the situation in Europe as justification for limiting refugee entry into the United States, the highly-controlled processes for refugee admittance into the U.S. cannot be compared to the uncontrolled and chaotic influx of refugees and migrants into Europe. Indeed, the U.S. is far better suited—both economically and in terms of security capacity—to accept and accommodate refugees than any other country in the world. Limiting the number of refugees allowed to enter the U.S. not only fails to enhance domestic security, it increases global instability and sets a dangerous example for the rest of the world.


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